From the winner of the IMPAC Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, a fierce and devastating novel about a young woman's discovery of betrayal in the most intimate reaches of her life
"I've been summoned. Thursday, ten sharp." Thus begins a day in the life of a young factory worker during Ceausescu's totalitarian regime. She has been questioned before; this time, she believes, will be worse. Her crime? Sewing notes into the linings of men's suits bound for Italy. "Marry me," the notes say, with her name and address. Anything to get out of Romania.
As each tram stop brings the young woman closer to the appointment, her thoughts stray to her father and his infidelities; to her friend Lilli, shot trying to flee to Hungary; to her grandparents, deported after her own husband informed on them; and to Paul, her lover, her one source of trust despite his drunkenness. In her distraction, she misses her stop and finds herself on an unfamiliar street. And what she discovers there makes her fear of the interrogation pale by comparison.
Bone-spare and intense, The Appointment powerfully renders the humiliating terrors of a crushing regime and its corrosive effects on family and friendship, sex and love.
The hardships and humiliations of Communist Romania are on display in this taut novel by the winner of the European Literature Prize (Müller, author of the well-received Land of Green Plums, emigrated to Berlin after being persecuted by the Romanian secret police). The narrator, an unnamed young dress-factory worker of the post-WWII generation, has been summoned for questioning by the secret police; she has been caught sewing notes into men's suits destined for Italy, with the desperate message "marry me" along with her address. Accused of prostitution in the workplace (and told she is lucky the charge is not treason), she loses her job, and her life becomes subject to the whims of Major Albu, who summons her for random interrogation sessions. Her major preoccupation is holding on to her sanity.
This is a nearly impossible feat in a society where opportunity is limited, trust is a commodity as scarce as decent food or shoe leather, and even sinister Party henchmen are shown to be trapped in a ridiculous charade. As she travels to a questioning session, the woman spools out the tale of her past: her attempt to achieve independence after a first marriage, only to hastily fall into a second one with Paul, an alcoholic who fashions illegal television antennas for the black market; and her friendship with the beautiful and doomed Lilli, a fellow factory worker.
The sharp generational divide following the war and the dreadful ways in which people learn to cope with the Communist regime are threaded throughout as are some lighter moments, shaky though they may be. Appropriately disorienting and tightly wound, this perfectly controlled narrative offers a chilling picture of human adaptation and survival under oppression.