Category Archives: Nobel Prize

The Passport – Herta Muller

I found it exceptionally difficult in deciding which book I should read first in 2010. I wanted to start the year well. I had a good selection of four that I kept ‘umming and ahhing’ over until I decided on a book that combined some of this years reading resolutions. The Passport by Herta Muller matches a lot of my resolution criteria in one go. It is a translated piece of work, its short book and she’s a prize winning author winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. Short and yet challenging was my thought before reading it, would that prove a correct guess?

I hadn’t heard of The Passport or its author Herta Muller until she won the aforementioned Nobel Prize for Literature last year and so really went into reading this with no preconceptions and maybe this is why in many ways it proved a very interesting and quite different read. The book is set in a German village in the Danube plains of Romania and looks at how the villagers are surviving trapped under the dictatorship of Ceausescu.  It’s a place where people believe that the apple tree is possessed by the devil and that you must always watch the movements of owls. It’s also a place everyone wants to escape from, if only they can get their hands on passports or bribe, beg and steal them. It is through the eyes of the village miller Windisch as he cycles about the village that we the reader observe short sharp scenes of the villagers lives.

“The light is still burning in the joiner’s house. Windisch stops. The window pane shines. It reflects the street. It reflects the trees. The picture passes through the lace curtain. Through its falling posies of flowers into the room.A coffin lid leans against the wall beside the tiled stove. It’s waiting for the death of Widow Kroner. Her name is written on the lid. The room seems empty despite the furniture, because it’s so bright.”

It is through a chapter; though they are more snapshots of two pages maximum, called ‘A Big House’ that we learn about the regime the villagers are all under as Windisch’s daughter Amalie teaches her class. In fact Amalie ends up playing a very important role in how her family end up getting passports in order to escape this trap they have found themselves living in and in quite a disturbing way. She is also the constant worry of her father as he becomes aware she may be sexually active. Along with all that goes on in his village as well as his daughter and the misery of his marriage, which is a union of loss and consolation rather than love, the tale through Windisch’s eyes is quite a bleak and desperate one but I do feel it is definitely one that should be told.

I will admit in parts the book lost me as it’s doesn’t have a rigid pattern and a paragraph or two might need a re-read in order to make sense, in some ways this was part of the books beauty. The true beauty of the book is Muller’s prose which is a delight to read and is so poetic, even if sometimes you might not be quite sure what she is referring to or making a metaphor of. Each tale also reads slightly differently, some being very surreal, some being told through slight repition which differs slightly each time, some even like song and some with short sentences, some with long. It’s like an author trying everything which again makes for very interesting reading. These surreal snapshots with walls that talk and owls that can kill by landing on a roof, that bring to life the village in a way, for example through the villagers dreams, that I haven’t read in a book about the war and its after effects.

An interesting and intriguing book, if 2010 keeps on like this I will have some quite amazing and unusual reading experiences ahead of me which I think could be very exciting, don’t you?

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The Hostess & The Alien: A Nobel Prize Winner

I watched the fascinating BBC show ‘Imagine’ tonight which featured the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007 Winner Doris Lessing. I can sadly say that as of yet I have never read any Doris Lessing, and yet I dare to call myself a book lover. I have seen several of her novels since but have just never picked one up. This is more than likely to change after this show.

The show seemed designed to show how amazing she was, agreed, and also to give some of the background into who the writer is and why she writes what she does. The film opened with the announcement that she had won the Nobel Prize, to her returning from shopping to the paparazzi to be told the news of her win ‘oh Christ’ she replied. I knew I was going to like something about this woman.

Her background has been something that she has said her books are based on, particularly her latest novel ‘Alfred & Emily’ which is based on the lives of her father and mother both in a biographical sense in one half, then imagined as if there had been no war and they had never met (she was his nurse) in the way they did or have had a relationship. Her parents seemed to have a strange relationship; she couldn’t wait to leave home and yet now is so grateful to them for bringing her up with imagination and a love of books. She discusses how displeased her parents where with her second husband especially after the way her first marriage ended.

Her personal life has also been one deemed shocking when she divorced her first children and left her children behind. This was something she wasn’t keen to discuss on the documentary firstly saying ‘I have written about all this in great detail’ she then admits she just ‘couldn’t stand the life’. She now thinks that she would have turned into her mother ‘living a life she couldn’t bare’ or she would have become an alcoholic. She discusses this situation a lot in her autobiography ‘Under My Skin’. She is exceptionally upfront, another admirable quality.

I loved that her first novel ‘The Grass is Singing’ got the review ‘that book is a book and a half, that woman is a writing mother f***er’ from no less than James Baldwin in 1950. Discussing a still dangerous topic of racism back then it was an instant hit novel starting of a long spanning career.

The documentary talked to fellow authors on how they felt her work had inspired them, such as Maggie Gee and people she knows like A.S. Byatt. They also spoke to some of her readers whose lives she changed. One was a woman who wrote t her saying how her novels changed her, back when books were an expense. Lessing wrote back saying if she couldn’t afford books she would send her some. The reader has now started a youth reading group for those who don’t get the opportunity to read as much or talk about books. Lessing also wants to change the amount people can read where they can’t even afford food in Africa where she grew up. She is truly inspirational.

Lessing does sadly feel her last book was her last, she isn’t sure that she has the time. I am now off to get one of her books; I’ll do it on readitswapit as I am still under the Book Buying Ban… not that I am sticking to that particularly well. ‘Imagine’ was a fascinating insight to a fascinating woman, her books and her life.

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