the observer Sun 08 November 2009
She won the Nobel prize for literature a month ago, but this short book is currently the only novel by Herta Müller available first-hand in English (Granta will be reissuing The Land of Green Plums soon). Set in a stagnant Romanian village under Ceausescu's dictatorship, it tells of a miller's desperate attempt to secure a passport to West Germany. Müller's sentences are short and plain as she evokes a joyless existence, where death and clocks are a constant presence. What heightens this bleak vision is her startling, hallucinatory use of metaphor and surreal imagery. An apple tree grows a mouth and eats its own apples, and a butterfly "flies through the tailor's cheek", passing "out of the back of the tailor's head, white and uncrumpled".