Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Appointment: Herta Muller (Romania)

‘I’ve been summoned, Thursday, ten sharp.’ So begins one day in the life of a young clothing-factory worker during Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime. She has been questioned before, but this time she knows it will be worse. Her crime? Sewing notes into the linings of men’s suits bound for Italy. ‘Marry me’, the notes say, with her name and address. Anything to get out of the country.As she rides the tram to her interrogation, her thoughts stray to her friend Lilli, shot while trying to flee to Hungary; to her grandparents, deported after her first husband informed on them; to Major Albu, her interrogator, who begins each session with a wet kiss on her fingers; and to Paul, her lover and the one person she can trust. In her distraction, she misses her stop and finds herself on an unfamiliar street.And what she discovers there suddenly puts her fear of the appointment into chilling perspective. Bone-spare and intense, The Appointment is a pitiless rendering of the terrors of a crushing regime.

Romania suffered perhaps more than any other Eastern European country under the brutal repression on the Ceaucescu regime. Several Romanians work at the nursing home with me, and they have hinted at the things that they saw and experienced during this time, so I suppose I was hoping that reading this book may help me to understand, if one ever really can.

Author Herta Muller was born in Romania in 1953. She lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats following her refusal to cooperate with Ceausescu's Secret Police. One of the lucky ones, she eventually managed to emigrate in 1987 and now lives in Berlin.

This is for me a difficult book to review, as I found it difficult to understand. It seemed to flit between different scenes, as the narrators mind flitted around her own thoughts and experiences. In many ways it can be seen as the narrators life story, at least of her adulthood, as it contains so many different underlying threads. The main thread is however fear, fear or others and what they may say to incriminate you if you do anything deemed to be out of the norm. This may seem a small and insignificant fear to us, but under the notorious Ceeausescu regime, it carried with it the real fear ot interrogation and death. That then is the narrators fear as the story unfolds.

As the blurb suggests, she has been summoned to appear before her inquisitors, the notorious Secret Police. This is not her first interrogation, and is not likely to be the last. As she sits on the tram en route to her appointment, her thoughts begin to wander to what brought her to this point and everything that has happened in her life up until now. The one person that she can rely on is her husband Paul, but this too turns out to be a sham, as when she misses her stop, she sees something that sheds light on tne nature of her relationship and brings her fear into sharp focus witn an almost chilling perspective.   

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