Herta Müller’s Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel) in the Context of Twentieth-Century Forced Migration in East-Central Europe

Ernő Csongor Kiss


My paper elaborates Herta Müller’s Gulag novel, Atemschaukel (2009; published in English under the title of The Hunger Angel in 2012), in the historical, political and ethical contexts of twentieth-century forced migrations by placing the novel among those exodus narratives that have unfolded the parallel history of Romanian-German and Jewish communities during and after the Second World War. Given the fact that the memory of forced migrations and of the Gulag is a “soft memory” (Etkind 2004), there are no consensual remembrance policies in any concerned East or East-Central European country regarding their history. In the absence of official ownership, the legacies of these colletive and individual traumas became predominantly text-based (rather than image- or monument-based). One must therefore study those aesthetical forms by which literature is able to encode the physical, psychological, moral, social-political conditions of any totalitarian rule—and thus, attempt to establish the perceptional and sensational frames on which the universe of the Gulag can be re-constructed. Accordingly, my paper gives an amplifying view of the tendencies by which Müller’s Atemschaukel both preserves and subtly re-orchestrates the conventions of the genre of the Gulag novel. One of the main achievements of her (politics of) aesthetics consists in re-creating the image of the labor camp through an ethically grounded conception of literary testimony, which, at the same time, gains and fulfills a mediative (mimetic) function.


Herta Müller, Oskar Pastior, Romanian German minority, Gulag, soft memory, Atemschaukel, mediative (mimetic) literary testimony, the experience of double imprisonment, exile literature, Péter Forgács

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2018.323

Copyright (c) 2018 Ernő Csongor Kiss

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