28 February 2017

A long tram ride

Herta Müller. The appointment. Translated by Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm. New York: Picador, 2010.

The appointment reminds me of my daily commute when I was still working at an office in Manila. It’s long, repetitive. I didn't quite like where I was going. The difference between me and the first-person narrator of the novel is that she’s observant of her surroundings, while I’m busy inside my mind. And when she goes inside hers, she dissects memories, while I weave fantasies.

She’s far more eloquent, too. Not to mention her problems are bigger than mine. But those go without saying.


I’ve had great experiences so far with Nobel Laureates. Well, that simply meant Jose Saramago and Mario Vargas Llosa. The next Nobel Prize-winning author I acquainted myself with was Herta Müller.

I’m reminded of Saramago, because of the language. Hers is as readily distinct. She doesn’t use quotations and question marks. Her sentences don’t flow smoothly like a water stream, though the narrative — set at a tram ride going to said appointment and moves between the present and flashbacks concerning around five characters — feels like it’s carried out in one swoop, and has the surprise of poetry:
She didn’t grow any younger, but she did stand still as time passed. Apathy makes you neglect your appearance, but she wasn’t like that. Her dishevelment was more on the inside: either she had found pride in her loneliness, or else she was so cut adrift that she was no longer herself. Neither happy nor sad—merely beyond all changes of facial expression. There was more life in a glass of water. When she dried herself she became like the towel, when she cleared the dishes she became like the table, and she became like the chair when she sat down. (p. 75-76)

My copy of the book comes with Müller’s Nobel lecture, wherein she has summed up what it means when we say words create worlds:
Where [words] catch the lived experience by surprise is where they reflect it best. In the end they become so compelling that the lived experience must cling to them in order not to fall apart.

It seems to me that the objects don’t know their material, the gestures don’t know their feelings, and the words don’t know the mouth that speaks them. But to be certain of our own existence, we need the objects, the gestures, and the words. (p. 228)

Some underlined bits:
Are you disappointed in me, he asked. Or have I changed.

No, were were both exactly the same as when we met. Love can’t go on just running in place, but that’s what our love had been doing for two and a half years. (p. 29)

secrets don’t go away when you tell them (p. 32)

I continued trying on clothes in the hope of becoming so beautiful I would begin to exist. (p. 39)

dancing isn’t work, it’s pleasure, if not an innate gift, a predisposition. (p. 106)

I felt ageless, for the most part I couldn’t tell if I was free or lonely. (p. 150)

That happiness doesn’t need time so much as luck. (p. 164)

Top Shelf