The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller

The hunger angel by Herta Muller

German  title Atemschaukel

Translator Philip Boehm

Source – review copy

Well this is the third book from the German /Romanian Nobel winning writer  Herta Muller ,Every time I try her books I found myself more drawn into her style and quirky imagery and wordplay .She is a true one-off, this book is another that is set partly in her homeland of Romanian but this time it is in the mid forties as the war is drawing to an end .We see how the German Romanian suffered at the hands of the Soviets .

What can be said about chronic hunger .Perhaps that there’s a hunger that can make you sick  with hunger .That it comes in addition to the hunger you already fell .Then there is a hunger which is always new ,which grows insatiably ,which pounces on the never-ending old hunger that already took such effort to tame .

Leo on hunger when he has been at the camp a while .

We meet Leo he is in his teens and he is a German Romanian just like Herta Muller is herself .We see his life as he is caught up in the post world war two events ,as Romania side with the Germans the Soviets are now rounding up all the German connected Romanians Like Leo to send to the Labour camps ,WE see how this young man caught up in this copes with the horrors of a labour camp we see how a normal man ,this man has a poet’s eye as you will see from who it based on ,has to struggle and change to cope with the system in the camps and is thus on the other side is a broken man and maybe not as free as he seems  .It seems that Muller largely based Leo on Oskar Pastior a German Romanian like Muller ,she was friends with him and they had planned to write this book together meeting near the end of his life and making a journey to the place he had been sent in the old soviet union (now in Ukraine ) to get a feel for the man here is him reading one of his own poems in German  but Oskar passed  away before they could  finish the project ,so this is her take on his time in a labour camp from what she learned in the time they spent together ..

There are also other partners .

I’ve danced with the teapot .

With the sugar bowl .

With the biscuit tin.

With the telephone .

With the alarm clock .

With the ashtray .

With the house key .

This poem on the last page sounds like Paitor from the two poems I ve read and is Leo when he is free or is he ?


Well it is an easy piece to compare this to Aleksandra Solzhenitsyn one day in the life .. and in some ways Darkness at noon by Koestler .Both of which show the horror of the labour camps or soviet prison system (yes I know darkness never says it is russia but it is implied that it is ).It does and it doesn’t ,I feel it is Muller own unique style that maybe sets this above the others and the clever use of the Hunger angel metaphor ,each person has their own Hunger angels in their minds what form it takes is unique to each of them .Another hard look into her own origins and that of her fellow German Romanians .Like in her other books they always seem stuck between two worlds and not of one place or the other not Romanian or German and this is rather like Muller’s writing that always seems misplaced not quite german and not quite east european , it is always uniquely her .Another great read for Lizzy’s and Caroline’s German lit month

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite book set in the labour camps ?


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Nov 27, 2012 @ 23:57:12

    Another one making its way into translation? A friend has just lent me Land of Green Plums which I’ll read soon, I admired The Passport though as you can see from my review sometimes I found it difficult because I wasn’t familiar with the allusions (see
    Interesting that it’s a different translator…


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 28, 2012 @ 10:01:03

      Hi Lisa yes different publishers at the time passport was done by serpents tail and all since by granta so think they choose a different translator this is a slightly easier read than passport IMHO maybe because he has translated a number of her books so understands how best to put her in English


  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 08:58:50

    This does sound interesting – another one for the tbr pile!

    Favourite book set in labour camps? Well, the quintessential volume is of course “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” which I intend to re-read soon (but in the approved Willetts translation!) However, I am currently reading Solzhenitsyn’s “In The First Circle” which is set in a different kind of camp – still full of zeks (prisoners) but in a unit just outside Moscow doing scientific work. It’s absolutely brilliant so far – Solzhentsyn is a vastly underrated writer.


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  4. Seamus Duggan
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 09:12:01

    Just browsing the GermanLitMonth reviews. I was hoping to read and of the Green Plums but had a slow month. Maybe this month. This sounds interesting.
    I must reread Darkness at Noon too. It’s very hazy in my mind although I know I loved it.


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  9. Mytwostotinki
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 12:31:32

    A beautifully written, impressive book! I liked it a lot. The great GULag works are of course Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma stories, that dwarf by far everything Solzhenitsyn has ever written, and Gustaw Herling’s A World Apart. I read also Alexander Weissberg-Cybulski’s Conspiracy of Silence (Koestler’s main source for Darkness at Noon) and Lev Klejn’s The World Turned Upside Down (the GULag as seen by an anthropologist/ethnologist who was a prisoner).


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November 2012


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