am not homeless. Just abroad. A foreigner abroad.”
on One Leg
Portrait of Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel Laureate
Anca Luca Holden, visiting
lecturer in German studies, is currently completing her
dissertation discussing the works of Romanian-born German
authors Herta Müller, recent recipient of the Nobel Prize
for Literature, and Richard Wagner, another critically acclaimed
ethnic German writer, and the
on the reconceptualization of “German” cultural
identity in the 21st century.
Müller is the 12th woman to
win the Nobel in its 109-year history. In announcing the
award, Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish
Academy, described her as a writer “who, with the concentration
of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape
of the dispossessed.”
Holden will give a presentation
on “The Question of ‘German’ Cultural
Identity in the 21st Century: Herta Müller and the 2009 Nobel
Prize for Literature” as
part of the Liberal Arts Luncheon series, at noon on Thursday,
Nov. 19, at the Smith College Club, lower level.
she offered insights into Müller’s
writing for the Gate.
Who is Herta Müller?
Anca Luca Holden
Holden: Herta Müller is an ethnic German poet
and novelist born in 1953 in the Banat, a region in the
southwestern part of Romania that was colonized in the
18th century by German-speaking ethnic groups known as “Danube
the publication in 1984 in Germany of the uncensored version
of Müller’s first text Niederungen,
(Engl. Nadirs), a collection of short stories,
and her refusal to work for the Securitate, the
Romanian secret service, Müller was banned from publication
and subjected to continuing brutal interrogation and ill-treatment.
She immigrated to Germany in 1987 with her then-husband Richard
Wagner—another critically acclaimed
ethnic German writer. Since then, Müller has been living
in Berlin and has emerged not only as a remarkable writer
but also as an extremely outspoken critic against all forms
Müller’s award coincides with the 20th
anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of communism
in Europe. Unlike previous Nobel winners, Müller is relatively
unknown outside of literary circles. This could be attributed,
at least in part, to the fact that there is little in the
lives of most readers, who have not experienced totalitarian
regimes, that resonates with what Müller has gone through.
Gate: What is the significance
of her writings?
has authored numerous novels and collections of essays, short
stories, and collage poems, which earned her many prestigious
literary prizes. In her works, she revisits persistently,
almost obsessively, the themes of oppression, dictatorship,
and exile. It is not just her experience of totalitarianism
as an ethnic German, but particularly the woman’s experience
of tyranny that interests Müller. Praised for her “extreme
precision with words” (Peter Englund) and the
capacity of conveying traumatic experiences in a poetic style,
are considered “an impressive example of a European committed
literature that succeeds in bringing history into the present-day
with analytical sharpness and poetic exactness” (Michael
Krüger, Carl Hanser Publishing House).
should I read first by Müller? Why?
ALH: Five of Müller’s
works have been translated into English: (1989),
The Land of Green Plums (1996), Traveling
on One Leg (1998),
Nadirs (1999), and The Appointment (2001). With the exception
of The Passport you can access from Müller
novels, including her 2009 novel Atemschaukel (Everything
I Possess I Carry with Me). Many consider The
Land of Green Plums as Müller’s best novel, which won the International
IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Of the five works listed here,
my favorite is The Appointment. However, I encourage
you to read excerpts from all of these novels to see which
one grabs you the most.