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The Hunger Angel
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2013
Herta Müller, has written a stunning, haunting novel about suffering and survival in the Soviet work camps following World War II. In The Hunger Angel, Müller presents us with Leo Auberg, a young, closeted gay man in German controlled Europe. One day, late in the war, he is picked up suddenly and shipped off to a labor camp in Russia where he suffers with fellow inmates through cold, harsh working conditions and, most acutely, hunger.

In spare prose, Müller dramatizes the constant struggle that Leo and the others face when they are tempted and taunted by their individual hunger angel. The angels, however, are closer to demons, and they are alternately real and imagined. In any case, they are constant reminders of the deprivation that these men and women suffer as they perform hard labor in the cruel Siberian landscape.

s the war ends, there is hope among the inmates that they will get to return home. With this hope, though, comes the dread of realizing how permanently scarred they have been by the camp. Though Leo returns home, he never finds his place among his family and friends again. Though he eventually escapes hunger, he never escapes his hunger angel
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2013
In January 1945 the 17 year-old Leo, from an ethnic German family in a Romania that's been overrun by the Red Army in its westward gallop, is led off to internal exile in a Soviet forced labour camp. Here, if the cold, the working conditions or disease don't kill you, then the hunger angel just might.

The angel personifies hunger: hunger that assails you day and night from outside, but also burrows into your body, penetrating the very core of your being and all your waking thoughts and dreams:

"Hunger is an object. The angel has climbed into my brain... He knows where I come from and he knows what he does to me... He lingers in every capillary like quicksilver. First a sweetness in my throat. Then pressure on my stomach and chest... He whispers to himself and to me... When he comes, he comes with force. It's utterly clear: one shovel load = one gram bread."

The angel, then, is the second principal player in Hertha Mueller's remarkable book. It unfolds in short chapters, a number of them devoted to inanimate objects such as the building materials Leo works with, investing them with personality. If the novel reads like first-hand testimony, that's because the author acknowledges the contribution of the poet Oskar Pastior, who was able to pass on his personal experiences in detail before he died.

Vividly imagined and expertly conveyed, `The Hunger Angel' is not however a grim read. Not a comedy either, it's true; still, we know that Leo will survive his five-year ordeal. But he returns home uncertain of his place in the world and unsure of relationships with his family, who had presumed him dead.

If such things interest you, I didn't come across a single proof-reading error. And the translation by Philip Boehm is a wonder in itself; you may also enjoy his translation of `Death in Danzig' by Stefan Chwin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2014
My guess is that only a certain minority of people will really understand this book. It is about the way that some extreme forms of suffering - such as being falsely imprisoned - force us to take refuge in particular areas of the mind. Leo Auberg - sent at 17 to a Russian labour camp - therefore finds beauty in ugliness and an 'angel' in his five-year starvation. He says: "I was overcome by Fenya's ugliness. But in time I came to see that it was beauty turned inside out, and that made her the object of my veneration." And he becomes so lonely that things take on life. So, for instance, he says: "I'm not ashamed to say that the handkerchief was the only person who looked after me in the camp." The book describes the appalling life that the 1,000 Germans - taken to pay back for Hitler's sins - endure during their five years in the camp. Fewer than 700 survive. While the physical reality is depraved, the mental life for someone such as Leo is exalted in a strange way as the brain desperately tries to make sense of what is happening and to keep him alive. But I think that you need to have had some of this kind of experience yourself, or a high level of understanding, in order to follow what the Nobel Prize-winning author is describing. The book is a challenge. Primo Levi's "If this is a man" is easier to read because it doesn't climb into the recesses of the mind on every page. And this book is closer to poetry - with its metaphors, use of language and minimal plot - than to the usual novel format.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 February 2014
In 1945, the Russians forced thousands of German Romanians into forced labour in their country. This novel follows 17 year old Leo Auberg, wrenched away from home to a new life, defined by constant hunger.
There are many books on such camps, but Ms Muller's work is entirely original and poetic, taking us inside Leo's head...recollections of home contrast with what's happening to him now; doubts as to whether his family even care about him; his personification of the 'hunger angel':
'The hunger angel climbs to the roof of my mouth and hangs his scales. He puts on my eyes and the heart-shovel goes dizzy, the coal starts to blur. He wears my cheeks over his chin. He sets my breath to swinging , back and forth...my brain twitches, pinned to the sky with a needle, at the only fixed point it has left, where it fantasizes about food...The hunger angel looks at his scales and says:
You're still not light enough for me. Why don't you just let go?'
Although Leo survives his 5 years in Russia, his life back home is scarred by the things he endured but cannot talk about. Stunning work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2014
'The Appointment' is a true masterpiece and I looked forward to this greatly. Sadly I finally gave up on it half way. A Rumanian German is sent to the camps by the Russians after the war. There are many deeply moving heartbreaking books about the camps but this is neither; the world she creates is two dimentional and in the end simply doesn't deliver. Pity.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2013
the events described are independent although a pattern appears near the end there is no happy ending for the characters
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