Traveling on One Leg Essay - Critical Essays

Herta Müller

Traveling on One Leg

Set just two years before the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, TRAVELING ON ONE LEG follows the emigration of its heroine Irene from her native Romania to West Berlin. Yet politics are never much foregrounded in Herta Muller’s novel. The primary focus is on Irene’s romantic and personal struggles in Germany, the country of her ancestors.

Living amongst drunken soldiers and a pathetic exhibitionist on the Black Sea shore of Romania, the thirtysomething Irene falls in love with Franz, a German student on holiday. After making love to Franz in his tourist hotel, the two agree to meet again once Irene has obtained permission to emigrate to Germany.

The man who greets Irene at the airport in West Berlin, however, is not Franz but his sister’s boyfriend Stefan. From these inauspicious beginnings, the novel takes off to chronicle Irene’s pursuit of the elusive Franz, while rejecting the ardent advances of Stefan. While Franz rejects her, Irene finally finds herself in a tenuous love relationship with Stefan’s bisexual friend Thomas.

A reader used to straightforward, realistic prose may find that Muller’s jumpy, elliptical and highly subjective narration takes some time to get used to. Yet once a reader embraces Muller’s unique style, TRAVELING ON ONE LEG offers a haunting narrative of romantic longing, fear, despair. Ultimately, the novel suggests that genuine human connections can remain a real possibility in the urban landscape of West Berlin, a city depicted here in its last days of Cold War division.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCV, November 15, 1998, p. 565.

Library Journal. CXXIII, October 15, 1998, p. 100.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, September 21, 1998, p. 74.