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The Passport, By Herta Müller

Herta Müller provides a masterclass here in sparse, clear prose, and conveys the bleakness of humanity, with the occasional touch of dark, bitter magic – fully earning her Nobel Prize for literature this year.

Windisch is a miller living in a German-speaking village in Ceausescu's Romania. It is his dream to get a passport and escape to West Germany: the Romanians don't like the Germans and are happy for them to go, but still, acquiring the passport is not easy. In this world, relationships between spouses are devoid of warmth or tenderness; parents are suspicious of their children and women are regarded as little better than whores.

Windisch's hope of a passport away is a poisoned chalice, however: it lies almost exclusively with his attractive daughter, Amelie, a nursery-school teacher, who is literally screwed by the Church and the State, those anonymous institutions that were meant to protect her.

Often harrowing, startling, as devoid of decoration as the world she is describing, Müller's work demands to be read.