Herta Müller’s The Hunger Angel is a strange, depressing, and fascinating look at post-World War II Europe. The narrative is one I hadn’t heard before: internment and forced labor of Germans in Soviet work camps as payment for damages sustained by the USSR during the war. While the novel is technically fiction, it is based on real-life events experienced by Müller’s mother and a personal friend, poet Oskar Pastior. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole forced labor of Germans after World War II thing…
Although I found the mood of the novel rather somber, Müller’s writing is sometimes downright hilarious!
Once a dusty raisin was lying underneath the little white formica table. And I danced with the raisin. Then I ate it. And then there was a distance deep within me.
The Hunger Angel was originally written in German, so reading passages like the above in the English translation made me feel like there was something lost in translation. After finishing the book and reading Müller and translator Philip Boehm’s afterwards, however, I no longer feel that way; I think the author was trying to convey the physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration of the characters. In that light, it’s easy to understand how people’s conversations, thoughts, and actions wouldn’t always make sense!
All in all I really enjoyed reading the book. The Hunger Angel was unique for me because I had never heard this particular post-World War II narrative. I’ve picked up a few more books by Herta Müller and I’m curious to see how they compare.