The Nobel Prize Winner For Literature

2009 - Herta Müller

Born: 17 August 1953; Nitchidorf, Romania

Residence at the time of the award: France

Prize motivation: "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed"

Prize share: 1/1


Books Written By Herta Müller


About Herta Müller

Herta Müller is a German-Romanian writer. In her twenties, she worked as a translator in a machine factory, but had to stop when the Romanian secret police wanted her as a spy. Her first book 'Niederungen' (1982, English title: 'Nadirs') dates from this period, but was censored in Romania. In 1987 she emigrated to Germany. Herta Müller writes short stories, novels, poems and essays, but all her work deals with the experience of oppression, of exile and of conforming to family and state.

Herta Müller is a German-Romanian writer. In her twenties, she worked as a translator in a machine factory, but had to stop when the Romanian secret police wanted her as a spy. Her first book 'Niederungen' (1982, English title: 'Nadirs') dates from this period, but was censored in Romania. In 1987 she emigrated to Germany. Herta Müller writes short stories, novels, poems and essays, but all her work deals with the experience of oppression, of exile and of conforming to family and state.

From 1973 to 1976, Herta Müller studied Romanian and German literature in Timişoara, where she befriended authors from the "Aktionsgruppe Banat," a group of writers opposed to the Ceauşescu dictatorship and the official literature of the ruling socialist party. For Herta Müller, her father's service as an SS soldier in the "Panzer Division Frundsberg" provided a frightening example of how individuals can be corrupted by ideology and opportunism – and inoculated her at a young age against similar structures within the communist ideology. Upon completing her studies, Herta Müller worked as a translator in a machine factory in Timişoara. In 1979 she was approached by the Romanian secret police (Securitate), but she refused to spy on her colleagues and foreign guests, and as a result she lost her job and could only find occasional employment.

Her first book Niederungen (English title: Nadirs) dates from this period, although it wasn't until 1982 that a censored version appeared in Romania. In 1984 she published a collection of short prose in Romania entitled Drückender Tango; that same year an uncensored but abridged edition of Niederungen came out in Germany, making her name as a writer overnight. Told from the perspective of a young girl, with all her fantasies and fears, the book depicts the confinement, corruption, intolerance, and oppression of a Swabian village in the Banat. In the German media, Herta Müller openly criticized the communist dictatorship: as a result she was prohibited from publishing and repeatedly summoned by the Securitate for interrogations, where she was confronted with absurd accusations, reviled as a prostitute, charged with black marketeering, and threatened with death. In 1987 she emigrated to Germany together with writer Richard Wagner, her husband at the time. Since then she has lived in Berlin.

Even there, however, she was persecuted and threatened by the Securitate, in the perfidious manner described in her 2009 book Cristina und ihre Attrappe which is based on materials in her secret police file the author was able to obtain. The dossier revealed that only her reputation in Germany protected her from a trial that had already been prepared, on the trumped-up charge of being a foreign agent.

In the first book she wrote in Germany, which appeared in 1989 as Reisende auf einem Bein (English title: Traveling on One Leg), she portrayed the difficulties of finding a foothold in strange surroundings. Other novels followed about daily life in a dictatorship, difficult friendships, and the long arm of the secret police reaching into the private sphere - such as her 1994 book Herztier (English title: The Land of Green Plums) or the 1997 Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (English title: The Appointment). Further publications include essays on her own poetics (Der König verneigt sich und tötet, 2003) and several volumes of collages combining images and text, most recently Die blassen Herren mit den Mokkatassen (2005).

In 2009 she published the novel Atemschaukel, about the deportation of the Romanian-German minority to the Soviet Union. Originally she wanted to write this novel together with the poet Oskar Pastior, who himself had been deported for five years of forced labor in what is now Ukraine. It is his detailed recollections that provide the basis of the novel. While they were still in the preparatory phase, Oskar Pastior died, and Herta Müller was forced to write the book alone. Atemschaukel is not only a moving depiction of the unknown deportation of the Romanian-Germans; in the voice of the protagonist Leo Auberg, it is also Herta Müller's literary monument to Oskar Pastior.



Reviews

The Hunger Angel - Herta Müller

By Newport, Wales

Herta Müller, has written a stunning, haunting novel about suffering and survival in the Soviet work camps following World War II. In The Hunger Angel, Müller presents us with Leo Auberg, a young, closeted gay man in German controlled Europe. One day, late in the war, he is picked up suddenly and shipped off to a labor camp in Russia where he suffers with fellow inmates through cold, harsh working conditions and, most acutely, hunger.

In spare prose, Müller dramatizes the constant struggle that Leo and the others face when they are tempted and taunted by their individual hunger angel. The angels, however, are closer to demons, and they are alternately real and imagined. In any case, they are constant reminders of the deprivation that these men and women suffer as they perform hard labor in the cruel Siberian landscape.

The war ends, there is hope among the inmates that they will get to return home. With this hope, though, comes the dread of realizing how permanently scarred they have been by the camp. Though Leo returns home, he never finds his place among his family and friends again. Though he eventually escapes hunger, he never escapes his hunger angel.

 

The Hunger Angel - Herta Müller

By Neasa MacErlean

My guess is that only a certain minority of people will really understand this book. It is about the way that some extreme forms of suffering - such as being falsely imprisoned - force us to take refuge in particular areas of the mind. Leo Auberg - sent at 17 to a Russian labour camp - therefore finds beauty in ugliness and an 'angel' in his five-year starvation. He says: "I was overcome by Fenya's ugliness. But in time I came to see that it was beauty turned inside out, and that made her the object of my veneration." And he becomes so lonely that things take on life. So, for instance, he says: "I'm not ashamed to say that the handkerchief was the only person who looked after me in the camp." The book describes the appalling life that the 1,000 Germans - taken to pay back for Hitler's sins - endure during their five years in the camp. Fewer than 700 survive. While the physical reality is depraved, the mental life for someone such as Leo is exalted in a strange way as the brain desperately tries to make sense of what is happening and to keep him alive. But I think that you need to have had some of this kind of experience yourself, or a high level of understanding, in order to follow what the Nobel Prize-winning author is describing. The book is a challenge. Primo Levi's "If this is a man" is easier to read because it doesn't climb into the recesses of the mind on every page. And this book is closer to poetry - with its metaphors, use of language and minimal plot - than to the usual novel format.