Herta Müller’s “The Passport” -Kicking Off “50 in 16”

Herta Müller’s novel “The Passport” is my first entry in my big reading project the year (reading fifty novel-length works by women in 2016). I had read her short story “Nadirs” last year and had mixed feelings about it, and while some of my issues with her writing style remain, I can say definitively that “The Passport” is not only a better book, but one I also enjoyed reading much more than “Nadirs”. The narrative here is simple -a German in Romania seeks permission to resettle into Germany proper- but it isn’t the plot that drives the book forward here.

Muller relies on the weight of her prose. It’s brusque and direct, almost to the point of banal simplicity in its short, declarative sentences -mostly in the present tense. I’m stuck by how easy it would be to satirize this mode of construction. The superficial obviousness of her prose might sometimes wear thin, but it’s undeniably powerful. Maybe we’ve all just read too much bad fiction that apes Hemingway.

This was definitely a book that took a while for me to warm up to. And it’s probably not one I’d have picked up were it not for my goal of fifty women in 2016. I’m really glad though, because it was a damn good book and one that stuck in my mind rather a lot over the last week or so.



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