by Herta M(infinity)ller ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1996
Young lives of quiet desperation under dictator Ceauescu are the poignant focus of Kleist Prize--winner M(infinity)ller's third novel but her first to be translated into English. Systematic oppression snuffs first the spirit, then the existence, of those few young Romanians brave enough to dare to think independently. Sharing a college dorm room in the city with Lois and four other women, the narrator inhabits a Big Brother--like world where loudspeakers blare proletarian music all day, where a longing for privacy is suspect, and personal belongings are regularly searched. Lola, a girl from the provinces, has adjusted to the awful poverty of student life. She joins the Communist Party to gain some small status. She exchanges sex for food to supplement her pinched diet. And she keeps a journal of surrealist observations to lift her spirits. But none of it helps: She eventually hangs herself. Shaken, the narrator befriends a trio of male students, Georg, Edgar, and Kurt, discovering in them a questioning, restless spirit much like her own. Together, they walk, talk, read forbidden books, and ultimately are brought in for police interrogation and intimidation. Graduation throws them back among the masses in the working world, but they stay in touch by letters and visits in spite of ongoing state harassment. When all but one of them lose their jobs, however, the pressure becomes unbearable: Georg, beaten by thugs and deeply depressed, is allowed to emigrate to Germany, where he jumps (or is pushed) to his death from a window in Frankfurt; Edgar, the narrator, and the narrator's mother are also permitted to depart, leaving Kurt, still employed, behind. He soon finds his own release, at the end of a rope. Not a pretty picture by any means, but, still, a powerful, affecting story--one that makes clear the real value of small triumphs and fleeting moments of happiness when they occur in the context of deprivation and incalculable loss.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996
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