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The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009
Herta Müller

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Prose

 

Excerpts from The Passport

 

THE POT HOLE

Around the war memorial are roses. They form a thicket. So overgrown that they suffocate the grass. Their blooms are white, rolled tight like paper. They rustle. Dawn is breaking. Soon it will be day.

Every morning, as he cycles alone along the road to the mill, Windisch counts the day. In front of the war memorial he counts the years. By the first poplar tree beyond it, where he always hits the same pot hole, he counts the days. And in the evening, when Windisch locks up the mill, he counts the years and the days once again.

He can see the small white roses, the war memorial and the poplar tree from far away. And when it is foggy, the white of the roses and the white of the stone is close in front of him as he rides. Windisch rides on. Windisch's face is damp, and he rides till he's there. Twice the thorns on the rose thicket were bare and the weeds underneath were rusty. Twice the poplar was so bare that its wood almost split. Twice there was snow on the paths.

Windisch counts two years by the war memorial and two hundred and twenty-one days in the pot hole by the poplar.

Every day when Windisch is jolted by the pot hole, he thinks, "The end is here." Since Windisch made the decision to emigrate, he sees the end everywhere in the village. And time standing still for those who want to stay. And Windisch sees that the night watchman will stay beyond the end.

And after Windisch has counted two hundred and twenty-one days and the pot hole has jolted him, he gets off for the first time. He leans the bicycle against the poplar tree. His steps are loud. Wild pigeons flutter out of the churchyard. They are as grey as the light. Only the noise makes them different.

Windisch crosses himself. The door latch is wet. It sticks to Windisch's hand. The church door is locked. Saint Anthony is on the other side of the wall. He is carrying a white lily and a brown book. He is locked in.

Windisch shivers. He looks down the street. Where it ends, the grass beats into the village. A man is walking at the end of the street. The man is a black thread walking into the field. The waves of grass lift him above the ground.

 

THE KING IS SLEEPING

Before the war the village band had stood at the station in their dark red uniforms. The station gable was hung with garlands of tiger-lilies, China asters and acacia foliage. People were wearing their Sunday clothes. The children wore white knee socks. They held heavy bouquets of flowers in front of their faces.

When the train steamed into the station, the band played a march. People clapped. The children threw their flowers in the air.

The train moved slowly. A young man stretched his long arm out of the window. He spread his fingers and called: "Silence. His Majesty the King is sleeping."

When the train had left the station, a herd of white goats came from the meadow. They went along the tracks and ate the bouquets of flowers.

The musicians had gone home with their interrupted march. The men and women had gone home with their interrupted waving. The children had gone home with empty hands.

A little girl who was to have recited a poem for the King when the march had finished, when the clapping had finished, sat in the waiting room and cried, until the goats had eaten all the bunches of flowers.

 

THE BURNING GLOBE

The neighbour's spotted pigs are lying in the wild carrots, sleeping. The black women come out of the church. The sun-shine is bright. It lifts them over the pavement in their small black shoes. Their hands are worn from the rosaries. Their gaze is still radiant from praying.

Above the skinner's roof the church bell strikes the middle of the day. The sun is a great clock above the midday tolling. Mass is over. The sky is hot.

Behind the small, old women the pavement is empty. Windisch looks along the houses. He sees the end of the street. "Amalie should be coming," he thinks. There are geese in the grass. They are white like Amalie's white sandals.

The tear lies in the cupboard. "Amalie didn't fill it," thinks Windisch. "Amalie's never at home when it rains. She's always in town."

The pavement moves in the light. The geese sail along. They have white sails in their wings. Amalie's snow-white sandals don't walk through the village.

The cupboard door creaks. The bottle gurgles. Windisch holds a wet burning globe on his tongue. The globe rolls down his throat. A fire flickers in Windisch's temples. The globe dissolves. It draws hot threads through Windisch's forehead. It pushes crooked furrows like partings through his hair.

The militiaman's cap circles round the edge of the mirror. His epaulettes flash. The buttons of his blue jacket grow larger in the centre of the mirror. Windisch's face appears above the militiaman's jacket.

First Windisch's face appears large and confident above the jacket. Then Windisch's face is small and dejected above the epaulettes. The militiaman laughs between the cheeks of Windisch's large, confident face. With wet lips he says: "You won't get far with your flour."

Windisch raises his fists. The militiaman's jacket shatters. Windisch's large, confident face has a spot of blood. Windisch strikes the two small, despondent faces above the epaulettes dead.

Windisch's wife silently sweeps up the broken mirror.

 

Excerpts from: Herta Müller, The Passport, 2009, translated by Martin Chalmers, London, Serpent's Tail
Original title: Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt
Translation copyright © Serpent's Tail, 1989
Published by permission of Serpent's Tail

Excerpt selected by the Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy.

 

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