'I know you'll return.' These are his grandmother's last words to him. Leo has them in his head as he boards the truck one freezing mid-January morning in 1945. They keep him company during the long journey to Russia. They keep him alive - through hunger, pain, and despair - during his time in the brutal Soviet labour camp. And, eventually, they will bring him back home. Leo spends the next five years shovelling coal, lugging bricks, mixing mortar, and battling the relentless calculus of hunger that governed the gulag: 1 shovel load = 1 gram bread. Herta Muller calls upon her unique combination of poetic intensity and detached precision to conjure the distorted world of that Soviet camp. The heart is reduced to a pump, the breath mechanized to the rhythm of a swinging shovel, and coal, sand, and cement have a will of their own. Hunger becomes an insatiable angel who haunts the camp, but also a bare-knuckled sparring partner, delivering blows that keep Leo feeling the rawest connection to life. Muller has distilled Leo's struggle into words of breathtaking intensity that take us on a journey far beyond one man's physical travails and into the depths of the human soul.