I was telling Ryan the other day that reading calms me down.
When I’m feeling anxious (which has been happening a lot lately), my default is to read. To escape. Usually, this does the trick. I come out of my reading haze refreshed and a bit more centered. This doesn’t work with reading the news or reading blogs. As funny as the girls over at GFY HQ are, even their (hilarious) sartorial commentary can’t do for me what a good book can.
What I’m saying is that reading is my therapy.
So, I picked up The Hunger Angel, a book with a plot so completely foreign to any experience that I’ve ever had, ready to be transported. I think that it was unfair (and probably stupid) of me to seek the calm that I usually get from books in this book. The story isn’t about calm, it isn’t about allowing the reader to get lost in a fantasy world, it’s certainly not about any world that any of us would want to live in, it’s about hunger. And it’s brutal. And it’s beautiful.
The Hunger Angel, by Herta Müller and translated by Philip Boehm, won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is the story of Leo, an ethnic German from Transylvania, and the five years that he endured as a forced laborer in a Soviet camp after World War II.
Light reading, right?
I knew before reading the book that the author’s mother had been the inspiration for the book. And that Müller began to write the story with the help of another survivor, Oskar Pastior, who died three years before the book was published. Those facts were in the back of my mind while reading, which probably didn’t help my near-total inability to shut out the outside world while reading this book. And, if anything, this book is one that you need to focus on and sink into. The prose is so thick and so gorgeous that it deserves and demands your full intention.
I know that there are a few books that I’ve read a few years too early or a few too late, but I think that my timing with The Hunger Angel was probably only off by a few weeks. I think that I needed to be calmer before looking for calm in this book. In the end, it broke my heart a little that the book made me more anxious than anything. (Like I said, it’s brutal.) I almost didn’t write anything about the story because I know that I would love it if my timing had been better. It really is one of the best pieces of fiction that I’ve ever read and excels on so many fronts. Any failure to extol its virtues really says more about me than it does about the book. (I guess this entire review has said more about me than it has about the book.)
So, I’d say read it. It’s powerful and phenomenally well-written (the translator really needs a round of applause for his work), but don’t go looking for warm, fuzzy, good-book feelings in this one.
Happy Wednesday (and sorry for all the feels)!
Programming Note: I’ve updated my 2014 Reading List! No images this year, but I’ll be better about writing, at least a little, about each book that I read this year. You’ll be able to find the list at that link, and I promise the posts will be less about me and more about the books!