Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our February Author: Herta Müller

The Land of Green PlumsThis month we took on Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller's novel, The Land of Green Plums.  A good place to start learning more about this author is her eloquent Nobel lecture, which is packed with autobiographical detail that parallels the experiences of the narrator in the book as well as insights into her use of language and image that are key to appreciating her work.

In this article from Sign and Sight, Müller details her experiences with the Romanian Securitate. (The Guardian reports on the backlash: Herta Müller 'has a psychosis', claims Romanian agent who spied on her.) In an interview with Radio Free Europe offers additional biographical detail including this, not irrelevant to the book at hand,
My mother was deported to the USSR. She spent five years in a labor camp, paying for the "collective guilt" of Hitler's deeds. They called that internment "Aufbauarbeit," "reconstruction work". My grandfather never got used to those changes. He was a poor man now. He couldn't go to the barber's three times a week to get shaved, like he used to. And that was no small thing, mind you. That was his social life. He used to go there to meet the community, his peers. It was a ritual which he was forced to give up. What happened to him was socially degrading. And my grandfather, and that whole generation of grandfathers turned outcasts by the new regime, have never ever accepted socialism. Then my mother returned from the USSR in 1950, after five years in the labor camp, after she'd witnessed death and famine...
Although I could find no other interviews with the author in English, there are plenty of critics weighing in on her importance as a writer.  A good place to start is with fellow Romanian Norman Manea in the New York Review of Books: summary or podcast.  Lyn Marven's assessment on OpenDemocracy offers many good insights, including this one the book's title,
The translated titles lose Müller's invented compound-nouns, and refuse the oddness of the long phrases. Their effect in English is apparently too, well, alien. But Müller's linguistically inventive work already challenges German readers. Her poetic language also draws on Romanian: Herztier is a German "translation" of a Romanian wordplay with inima (heart) and animal (beast)
For more observations on Müller's use of language, see this review at Dialog International.

Children Of CeausescuFor a visual break from exploring Herta Müller's prose, sample these heart-wrenching photos from the AIDS epidemic among Romanian children by Kent Klich from his book Children Of Ceausescu. Müller wrote the accompanying text.

Finally, just for a glimpse of Müller in person, here is a clip (with subtitles) of her speaking passionately about the plight of the individual in the face of dictatorship at the Prague Writer's Festival:


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