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herta muller

I have been scouring the bookstores for German lit translated into English for several years. At Borders and Barnes & Noble, when I ask for these books, the response usually is “Huh?”

But that’s hardly surprising. In the U.S., we’re all Americans aren’t we? “Regular people” in America don’t read, and regular people certainly don’t read literature put out by those Nazis.

Americans do have an appetite for German lit after a fashion. Look at the bookstores and you will find titles, many of them, on Hitler, National Socialism, the Holocaust, and so on. But look for a book about Germany before 1932 or after 1945, and you may as well look for a needle in a haystack.

It is as if Germany didn’t exist before 1932 and is irrelevant after 1945. This is not the case with books about France, Italy and Britain, for instance. The books available cover more or less the entire spectrum of their history. But the Germans are caught in an Anglo-American time warp: their Nazi period.

So, I do hope that we will see, and quickly, Ms. Muller’s notable works translated ably into English and that Borders and Barnes & Noble will train their earnest, young booksellers to say something other than “Huh?” the next time someone asks after German lit in English.
— Siddhartha Banerjee

It is quite a shame to see that 95% of the messages are complaints about the Nobel committee not awarding the prize to an American author. There have already been 12 authors awarded the prize in its existence, and not one from Romania, which is the native country of Herta Müller. And after all, who needs to be told by the Swedish Adademy that Philip Roth or Don DeLillo are great authors ?

Instead, the prize, once again, pays homage to a figure which is representative of many traditions, many themes, many events. And this will allow more readers to access the works of Herta Müller which are, at present time, rarely translated (either in English, in French or in other languages) and, when they are, remain out of print.

Why is this award a great idea ? Because Müller is a very good writer, of course, dealing with one of the most terrible of the 20th century political regimes (Ceausescu’s Romania). And awarding the prize to her is, at the same time, awarding it to all writers from eastern Europe who raised voice against communist dictatures. Among them is Soljenytsin of course, and Heiner Müller, the famous playwright, died in 1995. Everyone who is interested in European literature, and in particular German writers, should bear in mind that Europe, at the present time, is celebrating the twenty years of the fall of communism, and of the Berlin Wall. This, too, gives a lot of sense to this prize. Müller continues the work of the greatest writers of the 20th century, as Camus who declared during his banquet speech in 1957 that the writer “cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it”.

Furthermore, the personal history of Herta Müller nourishes her more recent works and resonates with books by other Eastern European writers who lived exile. Everyone knows Canetti, of course, and Herta Müller is one of her inheritors, as is Claudio Magris and his great book “Danube”. It reminds me also of Panaït Istrati, famous emigrant from Romania, who wrote mainly in French between the two World Wars, and whose books were forbidden in his native country under communism (another European author not published in English, and that is a shame).

At last, this award reminds us that there is a very rich and varied literature in German today (Grass and Jelinek of course, but also Peter Handke, Siegfried Lenz, Christa Wolf), and that it is worth reading some of it, and not only the horrible best-seller by Bernhard Schlink that everybody knows.
— O. Bondy

I would really like people to stop making the confusion between “Europe” and “Western Europe”. She is not a Western writer, she is from Romania (like myself) and wrote about communism in Romania, though in German. Writing about the “disposessed” and a trauma most people in the West (the West that’s been capitalist for more than 20 years, unlike Romania) have no idea about is anything but “Western”. Except for our skin colour, I have no idea why Romanians have to be put in the cathegory “Western”, “European” or anything else when our culture is so diffferent. Hell, our country has only been independent the last 20 yrs.

And oh, yeah, whoever said Tolstoy should have won the Nobel prize. The Nobel prize was inaugurated after Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both dead.
— Alexandru

Western are those cultures which trace their heritage to Classical antiquity. Romania is a Western country, Romanian a very Western language, and totalitarian communism a Western invention (because from Moscow) with German, albeit betrayed, roots.

Also, Tolstoy died in 1910. The first Nobel prize was awarded in 1901.
— D

“And in reviewing ‘The Appointment’ in The New York Times Book Review in 2001, Peter Filkins wrote that Ms. Müller used the thuggery of the government ‘as a backdrop to the brutality and betrayal with which people treat one another in their everyday lives, be they spouses, family members or the closest of friends.’

This is a very accurate portrayal of Romanian society, and one that, sadly, continues two decades after the revolution. The brutality that was fostered by communist oppression is now flourishing under the mad rush of capitalistic acquisition.

People still hoard as if there isn’t enough to go around, still loath - even friends, lovers and spouses - as if they are not to be trusted, still lie, cheat, scheme and oppress each other as if they are in the middle of the ocean fighting for one piece of flotsom to keep from drowning.

Sure, mansions are being built everywhere, there’s more stuff to buy, and people are making more money (in some cases), but there is inadequate infrastructure, old women and small children beg and dig through the trash on a daily basis to fend off starvation, corruption abounds, and social, economic and familial deception is rampant. There is basically no sense of community, only concern for self.

Underlying everything is a deep sense of individual and collective self-loathing which is constantly being expressed by people trying to convince themselves and others that Romanian has the best of everything. In it’s overt and ugly psychic repression - merely covered up by a new pair of jeans, a used Mercedes brought in from Germany, and glitzy TV shows which mimick American culture - Romania is nearly as ugly today as it was during the Ceaucescu days. You just have to look a little more closely now.

As an American living there ofI and on for two years, I experienced all of this first-hand.

It’s as if the supreme brutality created under the former Communist regime has permanently tainted the Romanian people. Of course, no brutal regime can be in power and enforce it’s policies without a large part of the populace being brutal oppressors themselves. Sadly, not much has changed in Romania since the days when Muller lived there. Just some new buildings, a lot of new cars, and masses of people fighting their way to some perceived personal Utopia than might help them forgot their horrific history.
— Aether

I’m glad to learn of another writer I had not heard of before. This is one of the constructive functions the Nobel can serve. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the works of several writers whom I first learned of due to the Nobel, and I began to focus on others who were known to me by reputation only. (Claude Simon, Soyinka, Oe, and Coetzee were in the former category for me; Gordimer, Paz, and Naipaul in the latter.)

That said, the current panel does seem a bit Eurocentric recently (I can say this - I’m I europhile, married to a French woman). Some comments from the Nobel secretary earlier this year suggested they view US literary culture as provincial or self-absorbed. There’s some truth to that for US readers as a whole, but it certainly wasn’t true of John Updike - his reviews, over several decades, establish him as one who read writers from all over, and brought many to the attention of US audiences.

Good point about poets, playwrights, and those who write mainly short stories. I suspect short story specialists are often put in the shade by novelists who go for the “grand gesture”. Playwrights may suffer because most of us don’t read plays, and so if we know their work at all it is through stage productions. If we loved the play, it can be hard to say how much of that was the actors, the director, etc., and how much was the playwright’s contribution. (Will a film screenwriter ever win the Nobel? I mean someone who is known primarily for that, unlike Faulkner the occasional screenwriter.) And as for poets, well, poetry is what gets lost in translation.

I started to read Herta’s “Securitate in all but name.” I cannot believe what I read is part of a novel. The dry and matter-of-fact description of what she encountered in Romania could have been written by millions of amateurs. I could not help but wonder if her fame results from her demonization of Romania to make Europeans feel morally superior. Anyway, I am not impressed by the piece. To judge how politically-motivated the committee was, let’s wait and see who had won the peace award tomorrow.

I am an American photographer based in Bucharest and I very much appreciate Muller’s work as it helps me understand why Romania is the way it is today, why they are obsessed with material possessions, paranoid of the camera and led by a corrupt government.

Davin Ellicson

What a shame… I’ve never heard of Herta Muler before. I’ve read two of hers articles and I cried and I cried and I wanted to tell her that I love her.
I am a Romanian who knows what she is writing about. Is her writing reveling, influencing, touching… so far, YES.
I hope her words will touch your hearts too even though cannot be touched in the same way as mine or others like me. And I hope it is going to be a reminder for those narrow minds whose voices I still hear “was so good during Ceausescu’s time” and a plead for everyone to raise to the human condition and leave the bones for dogs.
Congratulation Herta! Multumesc pentru tot ceea ce esti.
— Gabriela Petrache

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