Herta Müller

Biography

Herta Müller (2012). Photograph: Lesekreis (Wikimedia Commons)

Herta Müller was born in the village of Nitzkydorf (now Niţchidorf), a German-speaking enclave in the Banat region of western Romania. She began writing as a teenager, publishing poems and short prose in state magazines and newspapers as a high school and university student. After leaving education, Müller starting being harassed by the Securitate. She had caught their attention as an associate of the literary circle known as Aktionsgruppe Banat, of which her then husband, Richard Wagner, was a founding member. As with all authors under the Ceauşescu regime, Müller’s writing was subject to intense scrutiny and her debut novel Niederungen (Nadirs, 1982) was published in a heavily edited version. Despite this, Müller was allowed to visit the West in order to publicise her work and received high acclaim from the West German literary establishment when a revised edition of Niederungen was published by Rotbuch in 1984.

However, the secret police continued to mount pressure upon Müller and her friends, most of whom eventually resolved to emigrate. Müller left Romania for West Berlin in 1987 and her experience of being an immigrant (albeit a German-speaking one) was one of alienation. Her 1989 novel Reisende auf einem Bein (Travelling on One Leg, 1989) is read by critics as a fictional product of this era. After arriving in Berlin, the thematic focus of Müller’s writing shifted from the critiques of Banat-Swabian village society and accounts of childhood loneliness (in Niederungen, Drückender Tango [Oppressive Tango, 1984] and Barfüßiger Februar [Barefoot February, 1987]) to more obvious engagements with the terrors of the Ceauşescu regime in novels such as Der Fuchs war schon damals der Jäger (Even Back Then, the Fox Was the Hunter, 1992) and Herztier (The Land of Green Plums, 1994). This was also the theme of several essay volumes.

In many ways these two dominant and related themes, oppression within the crypto-fascist community of her upbringing and oppression under communist dictatorship, have come to determine her reception in Germany, where she has often been called upon to act as a spokesperson of the society in which she grew up. She is viewed as a token example of an anti-communist dissident. In fact Müller is much more, and her writing betrays larger concerns which reconcile and exceed these themes, namely power, those who exercise it, and the individuals who are crushed as a result.

The unusual multiplicity of Müller’s experience, as a daughter of an SS-man and of a survivor of Soviet forced labour, a victim of communist terror yet an outsider within Romanian society, is only a partial explanation for her enduring popularity. She writes with hyper-accuracy, using vivid and precise imagery as well as minute detail to describe both mundane and life-changing experiences with great intensity. She also displays a mistrust of language as a means for communicating truth, instead regarding words as tools to spark an imaginative explosion of − sometimes unexpected, sometimes undesirable − associations.

Much of Müller’s writing has the potential to be read as autofiction, with female protagonists and settings familiar to those aware of her biography contributing to the mistaken impression that she is an author trapped in a cycle of rewriting her own history. In fact Müller addresses many of the issues of 20th-century history in microcosm, telling stories which speak to those who grew up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. However, it is perhaps telling that it was the appearance of her first sympathetic male protagonist, Leo Auberg, which immediately preceded her being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009. Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel, 2009), a novel about the experience of ethnic Germans deported to carry out forced labour in the Soviet Union, is the text which appears to move furthest away from her own life story and has been very well-received by critics.

Atemschaukel is also Müller’s last novel-length work to date, although she continues to produce collections of collages – which have always been an important part of her creative process. Her writing has already been translated into many languages, a process that has intensified since 2009 with her essays and lectures proving popular as well as her novels. She also continues to use her post-Nobel fame as a platform from which to speak out about contemporary injustice in regimes all over the world in various newspaper columns and interviews.

Compiled by Jenny Watson (Swansea)

Bibliography

Prose Fiction

Niederungen (Bucharest: Kriterion, 1982 [repr. Berlin: Rotbuch, 1984])

Drückender Tango (Bucharest: Kriterion, 1984)

Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1986)

Barfüßiger Februar (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1987)

Reisende auf einem Bein (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1989)

Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1992)

Herztier (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1994)

Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1997)

Atemschaukel (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2009)

Essays and Short Prose

Der Teufel sitzt im Spiegel: Wie Wahrnehmung sich erfindet (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1991)

Eine warme Kartoffel ist ein warmes Bett (Hamburg: Europäische Verlaganstalt, 1992)

Der Wächter nimmt seinen Kamm (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1993)

Hunger und Seide (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1995)

In der Falle (Göttingen: Wallstein, 1996)

Der König verneigt sich und tötet (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2003)

Immer derselbe Schnee und immer derselbe Onkel (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2011)

Collage Collections

Im Haarknoten wohnt eine Dame (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2000)

Die blassen Herren mit den Mokkatassen (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2005)

Este sau nu este Ion (Is He or Isn't He Ion) (Lași: Polirom, 2005)

Vater telefoniert mit den Fliegen (Carl Hanser Verlag: Munich, 2012)

Audio Texts

Die Nacht ist aus Tinte gemacht: Herta Müller erzählt ihre Kindheit im Banat (Berlin: Suppose, 2009)

English Translations of Müller’s Work

Nadirs [Translation of Niederungen by Sieglinde Lug] (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999)

The Passport [Translation of Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt by Martin Chalmers] (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1989)

Travelling on One Leg [Translation of Reisende auf einem Bein by Valentina Glajar and André Lefevere] (Evanston, IL: Hydra Books/Northwestern University Press, 1998)

The Land of Green Plums [Translation of Herztier by Michael Hofmann] (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 1996)

The Appointment [Translation of Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet by Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm] (New York/London: Metropolitan Books/Picador, 2001)

The Hunger Angel [Translation of Atemschaukel  by Philip Boehm] (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 2012)

Compiled by Jenny Watson (Swansea)

 

Criticism

Apel, Friedmar: ‘The Poetry of Herta Müller – Aesthetics, Mysticism and Politics’ (Akzente 44.2, 1997, 113-125)

Arnold, Heinz Ludwig [ed.]: Herta Müller (Text und Kritik [special issue] 155.2, 2002)

Bauer, Karin: ‘Tabus der Wahrnehmung: Reflexion und Geschichte in Herta Müllers Prosa’ (German Studies Review 19.2, 1996, 257-278)

— [ed.]: Ethik und Poetik im Werk Herta Müllers (Literatur für Leser [special issue] 34.2, 2011)

Eddy, Beverley: ‘Testimony and Trauma in Herta Müller’s Herztier’ (German Life and Letters 53.1, 2000, 56-72)

Eke, Nortbert Otto [ed.]: Die Erfundene Wahrnehmung: Annäherung an Herta Müller (Hamburg: Igel, 1991)

—: ‘“Sein Leben machen/ist nicht/sein Glück machen/mein Herr”: Zum Verhältnis von Ästhetik und Politik in Herta Müllers Nachrichten aus Rumänien’ (Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 41, 1997, 481-509)

Glajar, Valentina and Brandt, Bettina [eds.]: Herta Müller: Politics and Aesthetics (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013)

Gross, Sabine [ed.]: Libuse Moníková, Herta Müller: Sprache, Ort, Heimat (Monatshefte [special issue] 89.4, 1997)

Haines, Brigid [ed.]: Herta Müller (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998)

—: ‘“The Unforgettable Forgotten”: Trauma in Herta Müller’s Reisende auf einem Bein’ (German Life and Letters 55.3, 2002, 266-81)

Haines, Brigid and Marven, Lyn [eds.]: Herta Müller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Heinz, Franz: ‘Kosmos und Banater Provinz: Herta Müller und der unliterarische Streit um ein literarisches Debut’ in Beiträge zur deutschen Literatur in Rumänien seit 1918 ed. by Anton Schwob (Munich: Südostdeutsches Kunstwerk, 1985, pp. 103-112)

Johannsen, Anja K.: Kisten, Krypten, Labyrinthe: Raumfigurationen in der Gegenwartsliteratur: W. G. Sebald, Anne Duden, Herta Müller (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2015)

Köhnen, Ralph [ed.]: Der Druck der Erfahrung treibt die Sprache in die Dichtung: Bildlichkeit in Texten Herta Müllers (Franfurkt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997)

Lützeler, Paul Michael and McGlothlin, Erin [eds.]: Schwerpunkt Herta Müller (Gegenwartsliteratur [special issue] 10, 2011)

Kegelmann, Rene: ‘Physical and Mental Spaces in Herta Müller’s Novel Atemschaukel’ (Études Germaniques 67.3, 2012, 475-487)

Marven, Lyn: Body and Narrative in Contemporary Literatures in German: Herta Müller, Libuse Moníková, Kerstin Hensel (Cary, NC: Clarendon Press, 2005)

—: ‘“In allem ist der Riss”: Trauma, Fragmentation, and the Body in Herta Müller’s Prose and Collages’ The Modern Languages Review 100.2, 2005, 396-411)

—: ‘Herta Müller’s Herztier (The Land of Green Plums)’ in The Novel in German since 1990 ed. by Stuart Taberner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 180-194)

Moyrer, Monika: ‘Der widerspenstige Signifikant: Herta Müllers collagierte Poetik des Königs’ (The German Quarterly 83.1, 2010, 77-96)

Müller, Julia: Sprachtakt: Herta Müllers literarischer Darstellungsstil (Cologne: Böhlau, 2014)

Patrut, Iulia-Karin: Schwarze Schweater – Teufelsjunge: Ethnizität und Geschlecht bei Paul Celan und Herta Müller (Cologne: Böhlau, 2006)

Predoiu, Grazziella: Faszination und Provokation bei Herta Müller: Eine thematische und motivische Auseinandersetzung (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2001)

Schau, Astrid: Leben ohne Grund: Konstruktion kultureller Identität bei Werner Söllner, Rolf Bossert und Herta Müller (Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2003)

Compiled by Jenny Watson (Swansea)

 

Interviews

‘Herta Müller and Claire Messud in conversation’ (American PEN Centre, 23 May 2012 [video interview, with English interpreter]), online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlgMZVZeU1I&noredirect=1

‘Herta Müller: Ein Portrait’ [documentary in German, 30 November 2013], online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhohIgOuhJg

‘Herta Müller: Writing Against Terror’ [film interview produced by the Nobel Prize organisers with English subtitles, 2010], online at  http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=1553

‘Questions to Herta Müller’ (Centre for Contemporary German Culture, Swansea University, 16 July 2012 [video interview with translation]), online at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h70qJfIwxxc

Aguilera, Carlos A.: ‘“Mir war der rumänische Fasan immer näher als der deutsche Fasan”’ (Akzente, 5, 2008), online at http://www.hanser-literaturverlage.de/extras/specials/herta-mueller/interview.html

David, Thomas: ‘Herta Müller im F.A.Z.-Gespräch: Im Erzählen seinen Halt finden’ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9 October 2009), available online at http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buecher/herta-mueller-im-f-a-z-gespraech-im-erzaehlen-seinen-halt-finden-1873844.html#lesermeinungen

Eddy, Beverley: ‘Herta Müller: Art Transcends Boundaries’ (Provincetown Arts, 13, 1997-1998, 45-46)

—: ‘“Die Schule der Angst”: Gespräch mit Herta Müller, den 14. April 1998’ (The German Quarterly 72.4, 1999, 329-339).

Geißler, Cornelia and Scholz, Martin: ‘Herta Müller im Interview: “Ich bin ein lustiger Mensch”’ (Frankfurter Rundschau [Kultur], 24 August 2012), online at http://www.fr-online.de/kultur/herta-mueller-im-interview--ich-bin-ein-lustiger-mensch-,1472786,16959508.html

Greiner, Ulrich: ‘“Ich hatte so viel Glück!”: Ein Gespräch mit Herta Müller’ (Die Zeit, 15 October 2009), available online at http://www.zeit.de/2009/43/Interview-Herta-Mueller

Haines, Brigid and Littler, Margaret: ‘Gespräch mit Herta Müller’ in Herta Müller ed. by Brigid Haines (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998, pp. 14-24)

Holden, Anna Luca: ‘Interview with Herta Müller and Philip Boehm’ (German Life and Letters 68.2, 2015, pp. 324-332)

Jaggi, Maya: ‘Herta Müller: A Life in Books’ (The Guardian, 30 November 2012), available online at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/nov/30/herta-muller-life-in-books

Klammer, Angelika: ‘“Wie lange bleibt man eitel?” Gespräch mit Herta Müller zu ihrem Roman Atemschaukel’ (Volltext: Zeitung für Literatur 4.1, 2009, 32-36), available online at http://www.angelikaklammer.com/interviews.php?idx=2

Müller, Wolfgang: ‘“Poesie ist ja nichts angenehmes”: Gespräch mit Herta Müller’ (5 July 1996), online at http://www2.dickinson.edu/glossen/heft1/hertainterview.html

Rohter, Larry: ‘Naming Her World, Part by Part’ (New York Times, 18 May 2012), available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/19/books/herta-mullers-literature-born-of-isolation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Compiled by Jenny Watson (Swansea)