Nobel Prize in literature to Herta Muller
Posted 08 October 2009 - 01:35 PM
She was born in 1953 in a German enclave in Romania and did not learn to speak Romanian until she was 15. During the turmoil in the country she escaped to Berlin in 1987 and has remained there since, always writing in German.
I must confess that I have not yet read any of her work, but I will certainly do so now. Her main theme is alienation and the feeling of nowhere being quite at home. She writes about a Europe that was, but will never come back. As far as I have gathered, she is not a "difficult" author and that her language is absolutely beautiful - of course to appreciate that she should be read in German. But she is translated into twenty languages so there should be no problems.
The Swedish Academy has in the past made some very weird choices, but this year I feel that they have made a good one. Of course there has been rife speculation in the weeks preceeding today. The Israeli writer Amoz Oz was a favorite, so were Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.
There is a quite good article about Herta Muller here:
Posted 08 October 2009 - 02:15 PM
Here is a quote from the Guardian article:
Born in Romania in 1953, Müller refused to cooperate with Ceausescu's Securitate, lost her job as a teacher and was the subject of repeated threats until she emigrated in 1987. She now lives in Berlin, where she has been the recipient of a multitude of literary awards, including Germany's most prestigious, the Kleist prize, the Frankz Kafka and the 100,000 euro (£85,000) Impac award for Hertzier. The story of five young Romanians living under Ceausescu's dictatorship, Müller has said that she wrote it "in memory of my Romanian friends who were killed under the Ceausescu regime", and that she "felt it was my duty". The New York Times called it "a novel of graphically observed detail in which the author seeks to create a sort of poetry out of the spiritual and material ugliness of life in Communist Romania".
Posted 08 October 2009 - 02:23 PM
There was a well-done report on National Public Radio (U.S.).
Another, briefer news story -- also on NPR -- started with expectations that the Prize might go to someone from what used to be called the Third World. Peter Englund, secretary of the Swedish Academy, seemed to want to stress the universal significance of Muller's experiences both as a victim of totalitarianism and censorship, and as a member of an oppressed minority (Germans in Romania).
Though Englund said the award was not timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, that's how it was perceived by many observers.
"By giving the award to Herta Mueller, who grew up in a German-speaking minority in Romania, [the committee] has recognized an author who refuses to let the inhumane side of life under communism be forgotten, 20 years after the end of the East-West conflict," said Michael Krueger, head of Mueller's publisher Hanser Verlag.
Posted 08 October 2009 - 05:37 PM
I recommend Arved Viirlaid's Graves Without Crosses as an indispensible book as well. To read it in the original Estonian is mesmerizing as much as it is horrifying. Extremely readable, it is an unforgettable novel based on real-life events. The English language version, translated by a well-known and gifted Estonian academician, nevertheless does not do the original justice in the quality of writing. Some of the translation is too direct, thereby making it cumbersome in English. For example: Often when someone familiar appears at the door, the inhabitant exclaims "You!" before the visitor can state his/her business. This sounds quite awkward in English, while in Estonian, to exclaim "Sina!" is more a part of the vernacular. Other than that, the story is just as gripping as in the original.
Müller's The Appointment, The Passport (A Surreal Tale of Life in Romania Today), Land of Green Plums and Traveling on One Leg are available in English. I await the translation of Atemschaukel, the Nobel Prize winner.
Posted 08 October 2009 - 06:10 PM
Posted 09 October 2009 - 02:38 AM
I do not in any way try to correct you, but people who are not familiar with the workings of the Nobel committee could be led to believe that Herta Muller was awarded the prize for her novel "Atemschaukel". This is not so, an author is awarded the prize for their collected works; the author's entire output is taken into consideration, a kind of life time achievement if you want to put it that way. That is also the reason why the prize is always awarded to people of a fairly advanced age, and in the circumstances Muller is regarded more or less as a sweet sixteen.
A great many authors have been recommended for the prize but as they have only had one great work to their credit - although it might be a great book - they are not considered.
Posted 10 December 2009 - 08:44 AM
Having recently finished The Land of Green Plums (in English), I can say all of the above is true for that novel. Set in Romania under the dictatorship of Ceauşescu, who is never mentioned by name, Plums is the story of a group of young friends, one woman and three men, brought together by the suicide of a mutual friend, who dissent from the Communist Party orthodoxy and are hounded for it by the secret police. Most eventually manage to leave the country. Some betray the narrator, and others commit suicide. The novel begins and ends with the sentence "When we don't speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves."
Her main theme is alienation and the feeling of nowhere being quite at home. She writes about a Europe that was, but will never come back. As far as I have gathered, [ . . . ] her language is absolutely beautiful
Muller has an allusive, impressionistic style that leaves the reader to fill in many blanks, reflecting the way the dissident friends, once they've graduated from the university and taken jobs in different parts of the country, have to piece together the truth from code and what's left unstated as they read each other's letters. Naturally there is no happy ending for any of these characters. Muller portrays a society both fearful and dreary.
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