This is my review of The Appointment by Herta Müller.
Herta Muller never tells us specifically that the setting is Communist Romania under Ceausescu's brutal dictatorship, so this could be the model for any repressive regime. From the opening words, "I've been summoned" to the concluding "The trick is not to go mad", this novella traces a woman's tram ride, largely given over to her stream of internal thoughts. Her mind flits from the sinister Major Albu who always start his interrogations by giving her hand a wet kiss, to her partner Paul who drinks too much, memories of her childhood, her first marriage, her beautiful friend Lilli who has died and observations of the other passengers. Gradually, we learn the reasons behind recent events.
The rambling quality of her thoughts detracts from their dramatic impact. Some points are a little repetitive, such as the fact that there is a touch of teenage incest in the lives of both Lilli and the narrator. The narrator sometimes seems amoral and calculating, but can you blame her in view of the experiences which have shaped her? The novella is generally bleak and unrelenting, yet it is salutary to be reminded how the lives of an individual and those close to her may be blighted by a single abortive attempt to escape to a freer life abroad.
Although some passages are very powerful, such as the suppression of Paul's attempts to produce aerials, an illegal activity since it assists the forbidden process of free communication with the outside world, I suspect the quality of the writing has suffered a good deal in translation. Also, Muller builds up a sense of anticipation which is not borne out by the ending as is the case with, say, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist".