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The Passport (Masks) Kindle Edition

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Length: 93 pages

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This English-language debut by a Romanian-born West Berliner is remarkable for its stylistic purity. Muller's angry tale of an ethnic German anxious to emigrate from his stultifying Romanian village is relayed in deceptively straightforward sentences ("Katharina had sold her winter coat for ten slices of bread. Her stomach was a hedgehog. Every day Katharina picked a bunch of grass. The grass soup was warm and good") that pile up in striking patterns (later, "the second snow came. . . . The hedgehog stabbed"). Intently focused prose animates the parochial town with its corrupt power brokers, gamey folk songs and a tree reputed to have eaten its own apples, as well as the problematic relations among the central character, his embittered wife and their nubile daughter, who, like her mother before her during the war, is forced to grant sexual favors to men of privilege.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.


With the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, Muller depicts the language of the dispossessed -- Jury of the Nobel Prize for Literature Appropriately on the side of underdogs from Ceausescu's dystopia to Ukrainian labour camps... so opening the eyes of non-German readers to new worlds. And that, from Beowulf to Muller, is a noble as well as a Nobel function of literature The Times Especially now, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's a beautiful signal that such high quality literature and this life experience are being honoured Angela Merkel [Muller's] dark, closely observed and sometimes violent work often explores exile and the grim quotidian realities of life under Ceausescu... Her sensibility is often bleak, but the detail in her fiction can whip it alive New York Times Graphically observed... forces the reader to confront the complex tapestry of Eastern European history in the late 20th Century. And although the author left Romania in the 1980s, she remains interested in the issues of oppression and exile, which makes her a universal writer -- Razia Iqbal, BBC Arts Correspondent Muller is courageous and has summoned her surrealist imagination to brilliant effect when exposing the horrors of totalitarianism... The Passport, which was published in Berlin in 1986, months before she fled Romania, is an almost allegorical elegy of village life dominated by the need to escape... Muller uses the quality of European folk tale to brilliant effect. Set in a German village in Romania where the people dream of a different life in the West, the story is true to any country in which fantasy is the only escape from oppression... Politics and truth-telling, the courage of the witness and the weight of the message often decides the Nobel Literature Prize; in Herta Muller all of these elements are present, yet so too is the artist as the lone voice beckoning, intent on telling a story, on shaping a word picture -- Eileen Battersby Irish Times Muller has an eye for the surreal detail of a police state and has made it into strong, muscular literature The Times Praise for The Passport: A phenomenal, moving and humbling novel, perhaps the most memorable read of the autumn Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Herta Muller's language is the purest poetry. Every sentence has the rhythm of poetry, indeed is a poem or a painting Nurnerger Nachrichten Herta Muller portrays a community that is breaking up, a dying village whose German inhabitants all seek to emigrate. At the centre stands the miller Windisch waiting for his passport. Bribing the mayor with sacks of flour proved in vain - so, now, in a rage of helpnessness, he has to allow his daughter to visit the militiaman and the priest, to search for passports and baptismal certificates in their beds. The dirty realities of a totalitarian state... a chilling, far-sighted and lyrical graveside speech for a sad village in a sad land Neue Zurcher Zeitung Praise for The Land of Green Plums: A novel of graphically observed detail in which the author seeks to create a sort of poetry out of the spiritual and material ugliness of life in Communist Romania New York Times A powerful autobiographical account, The Land of Green Plums... will linger on in the mind Guardian The Land of Green Plums is a miracle, a fearless human testimony which operates through the combined force of Muller's tight, understated eloquence Irish Times If W G Sebald's The Emigrants suggested there are still new ways of writing about exile and the Holocaust, The Land of Green Plums promises similar possibilities for the literature of the Iron Curtain Literary Review Praise for The Appointment: A brooding, fog-shrouded allegory of life under the long oppression of the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu New York Times [The Appointment] Muller scatters narrative bombshells across a field of dreams San Francisco Chronicle What heightens this bleak vision is her startling, hallucinatory use of metaphor and surreal imagery -- Jessica Holland Observer At once spare and poetic, this novella-length tale nevertheless attains the epic ponderousness that defines recent Laureates -- Hephzibah Anderson Daily Mail A swift, stinging narrative, fable-like in its stoic concision and painterly detail Philadelphia Inquirer Muller writes with elegant simplicity, in the great tradition of German storytelling - this would not look out of place in Hebel's The Treasure Chest. -- Kate Saunders The Times Muller provides a master class in sparse, clear prose, and conveys the bleakness of humanity, with the occasional touch of dark, bitter magic - fully earning her Nobel Prize for literature this year... Often harrowing, startling, as devoid of decoration as the world she is describing, Muller's work demands to be read. -- Lesley McDowell Independent on Sunday This short novel expands in the mind to occupy an emotional space far beyond its short length or the seeming simplicity of its story. -- Tadzio Martin Koelb TLS The Passport, the first of her novels to be translated into English, is a stunning introduction to her jewel-like prose, hard and clear as a diamond. Sacramento Book Review, USA I am struck by her sparse yet poetic reminds very much of our literature during apartheid, although this one is of a very high literary merit. -- Zakes Mda Sunday Independent, South Africa

Product Details

  • File Size: 1273 KB
  • Print Length: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (September 30, 2011)
  • Publication Date: September 30, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,420 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Born in Romania in 1953, Herta Müller lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats after refusing to cooperate with Ceauşescu's secret police. She succeeded in emigrating in 1987 and now lives in Berlin. She won the IMPAC Award for her novel The Land of the Green Plums, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on December 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
... hundreds of small watercolors by the German Expressionist Emil Nolde, fill a small museum of their own in Berlin, near the Gendarmes' Market in the former East sector. Nolde was himself an anti-Semite and Nazi supporter in the 1920s, but because his paintings were classed by Hitler as "decadent art', he was ordered to refrain from painting of any sort during the years of World War 2. He disobeyed, hiding his watercolors successfully until the end of the war, painting daily in his remote home on the seacoast. Nolde's vision was a dark, tormented one, based on Germanic lore and the gloomy countryside he loved to roam. Whatever his politics, he was a great expressive painter.

The fragmented prose-poem chapters of Herta Müller's novella "Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt" (A Man is Just a Pheasant in the World, feebly re-titled 'The Passport' in English) remind me very strongly of Nolde's "Unpainted Pictures", or of any of the garishly colored, angular paintings of the "Brücke" school, by Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein, Ernst Kirchner, or Otto Müller. Herta Müller, born in the German-speaking Banat Province of Romania, was unquestionably not related to the painter Otto, but her narrative structures in this book are vividly pictorial, with eye-popping colors splashed on every page, white and primary red especially, and with descriptions of setting framing every occurrence. The dialogue in this book is as jagged and irrational as any Expressionist depiction of nudes in a studio or drinkers in a bar. There's something coarse and brutal about nearly every character in The Passport, as there is in the Berlin Street-Scenes painted by Ernst Kirchner or Max Beckmann. A smile in such a portrait automatically becomes a leer.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. J. Owen on December 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
The first thing that struck me about Herta Muller's 1986 work The Passport was to wonder how good the translation would be considering the actual German title (Man is a Great Pheasant in the World) was ignored for a much simpler, but weaker title. I hoped it was just done for the usual American marketing purposes (simpler is better, don't use metaphor when you can use a concrete noun) and plugged ahead, but wondered throughout the book.

`The Pheasant' is essentially a prose poem, with staccato narrative, both in sentence structure as well as chapter organization. Another reviewer has compared it to expressionist painting, and I would agree. I found reading it very irritating at first, but eventually eased into it. Paradoxically, the simpler the prose here the harder it is to grasp at first. Like a poem, the words must be reflected upon, and often re-read, to gather the intent. The short chapters helped me along with that. They worked like film exposures into the lives of these characters, and had a cumulative effect until at the end I loved the book.

The story itself is bleak. It's set in a small village in Ceausescu-era Romania. The protagonist is Windisch, the village miller, who is trying to get passports to take his family to West Germany. He's bringing free flour to the town's mayor, who keeps promising him a passport in return, but it never materializes. As Muller shows us in sometimes surreal glimpses into the town's history and present, we learn how trapped these people are and what it will really take for Windisch to get the passports. We learn of a place where honor and dignity took a back-seat to freedom and the necessity to escape.

This is the first Muller book I've read and I will definitely be checking out others.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Andres C. Salama on January 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
The grey, oppressive life of a rural village in Romania, populated by the German-speaking minority, during the Ceausescu regime. The protagonist is Windisch, the village miller, a middle aged man who lives with his wife and a teenage daughter, and wants to leave Romania for Germany. In order to do that, he needs a passport, and in order to get one he needs to bribe various officials, including the mayor of the small town. Written in 1986 by last year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the German-speaking Romanian-born novelist Herta Muller, it is structured in small chapters, in which not very much happens, just the petty jealousies among the various characters (there is not a single person in the book that is really likable). While the prose is not difficult, the oppressiveness, small-mindedness and dullness of the situations requires a patient reader, but it is a rewarding book (and is not very long).
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on November 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
During the brutal reign of Ceausescu, Windisch wants out of his German village in Romania. In fact he wants out of the country that feels everywhere in his mind as the end instead of a beginning or even a middle. The coffin with the Widow Kroner's name on it symbolizes how he feels as the box remains empty waiting for her to die. Last year to gain a passport to go to West Berlin, he tried bribing the mayor with sacks of flour, but that only left him hungry. The village miller has tried using his daughter and his bitter wife, but so far has been rejected for the passport he needs to go to the west. Amalie with her crystal vase and Katharina who survived five Russian winters by selling her coat and more to make grass soup struggle in the village where women survive by sexual favors to the male elite.

This is a translation of a 1980s indictment of Ceausescu and the Communists who destroyed Romania economically and morally. To survive under the reign even in a tiny remote village, one had to bribe the leaders with whatever one had to include a pretty daughter. The cast makes the tale work while the stark grim brusque writing will stun the audience with its deep message that tyranny at any level destroys.

Harriet Klausner
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