Friday, October 09, 2009

Herta Müller - Who?

So while the rest of us are scratching our heads and feeling uncomfortably ignorant about who the 2009 Literature Nobel Prize actually is, blogger M.A Orthofer was spot on in his predictions and had even put up a page about Herta Müller. (But then again he has become really adept at reading last minute changes in the bookies' odds!). He calls her :
A quirky, perhaps predictable choice
for the way that she seems to fit all the criteria the Nobel committee appear to be looking for :
Bicultural/ethnic minority background (German in Romania -- a pretty exotic/unusual one, at least from some foreign perspectives) -- not a literary reason, but nationality and language always seem to matter...Anti-totalitarian writing -- and how: much of her writing deals with life under Ceauşescu, in horrific detail...Writes both poetry and prose.
A summary of her life and work can be found on Nobel Prize site and she sounds a courageous woman writing important work in very difficult times. (She should surely have infiltrated our consciousness rather more, as this is not the first international literary award she has won - she won the IMPAC Dublin award for The Land of Green Plums in 1998.)

The Atlantic sums up the American reactions to the award [found via]. Particularly telling is Lev Grossman's (of Time magazine's) comment :
In the past decade, about half of the Nobel laureates in literature have been writers of whom few readers in the U.S., academics and literary journalists included, had or have any real awareness. What Americans may not realize is that Müller's selection isn't much less surprising in Germany...Almost no one considered her a figure of global literary eminence...If the past is any guide, the Nobel won't make Müller a household name in America -- it certainly hasn't done much for Elfriede Jelinek (who won in 2004) or Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (2008). That may simply be because there is little in the lives of most Americans that resonates with what Müller has gone through.
But, across the world, Ulrich Baron at the Spiegal Online gives a quite different perpective of the win :
Herta Müller's is a political voice that can also sing poetic. Her writing unites the great virtues of literature. Her work pleads for justice that transgresses all borders. It was correct and important to award her the Nobel Prize.
And he links to an extract, translated into English, from her latest novel Everything I own I Carry With Me.

Her novel The Appointment is available from Macmillan. Peter Filkins wrote of it in The New York Times [found via]:
The Appointment is more a test of endurance than pleasure ... the kind of novel you might be glad you finished, but sorry that you started, no matter the bleak complexity within it.
No doubt there will be more to chuck into this debate later on, and I will append here anything else interesting I come across!

Postscript :
In awarding the 2009 Nobel prize for literature to Herta Müller, as well as rewarding an outstanding writer, the Swedish Academy is, I think, doing two things. It is once again challenging the self-satisfied Anglo-centrism of the English-language publishing business, with its rather narrow definitions of what constitutes good writing, and it is widening our ideas of Europe. And it is perhaps in its failure to engage with European literatures that the English culture, for all the advantages of the global reach of the English language, shows itself at its most provincial.
Martin Chalmers, Herta Müller's translator explains why she matters, on The Guardian blog.


Chet said...

The links to Ulrich Baron at Spiegal Online and the extract from Müller's novel are broken.

bibliobibuli said...

sorry Chet. fixed now. the gremlin creeps in if you accidentally leave a space. i shoulda checked but i was in a dash this morning.

Burhan said...

never heard of her. she's obviously relatively unknown. still too soon to tell whether the nobel will bring her to the fore of world literature, like symborska. or whether people will still not read the works, like kertesz.

Chen said...

Ah, but 8 of her books have been translated into Swedish, so she is by no means unknown here. Many of my friends regarded her as one of the favorites long before we knew.