By Siobhan O’Leary
Herta Müller has already been published in 25 languages, including English, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and French, and that number is sure to grow (and grow quickly) now that she has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Praised by the Nobel judges for depicting the “landscape of the dispossessed” with “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose,” she is only the twelfth woman to be awarded the prize.
Born in a German-speaking part of Romania, Müller fled to Germany in 1987 to escape the censorship and threats of the Ceausescu regime after she refused to become an informant for the secret police. But her literary career began when she was still living and working in Romania in 1982, when the uncensored manuscript of her first collection of short stories, “Niederungen” (“Lowlands”) was smuggled to Germany, published, and celebrated by critics. In her 20 books, Müller has returned constantly to the themes of oppression and exile, of being a German in Romania and of being a Romanian in Germany.
Herztier (published in the US by Northwestern University Press as The Land of Green Plums) is probably her most celebrated work, the story of five Romanian youths and a young woman studying to become a translator under the Ceausescu regime. As the Publishers Weekly review proclaimed, “few books have conveyed with such clarity the convergence of terror and boredom under totalitarianism.”
Michael Krüger, publisher of Carl Hanser Verlag, which has published all of Müller’s works, made a statement on Hanser’s website saying that, “By giving the award to Herta Müller, 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.”
“I am surprised and still cannot believe it,” said Müller in a statement posted on Hanser’s website. “I can’t find the words at the moment.” Hanser’s Facebook page was atwitter with congratulatory messages.
Müller has previously been awarded the Kleist prize, the Franz Kafka and the Impac awards. Her latest novel Atemschaukel (the English working title is “Everything I own I carry with me”) was published in August of this year. It follows a 17-year-old-boy who is deported to a Ukrainian labor camp, likely echoing her own mother’s experience of spending five years in a labor camp in what is now the Ukraine. It is on the shortlist for the German Book Prize, which will be presented during the Frankfurt Book Fair. She now lives in Berlin.
For more information about translation rights available to Müller’s works, contact Friederike Barakat at email@example.com.