Herta Müller was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature
Publicerat 2009-10-08 20:34
The German-Romanian author Herta Müller was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.
When Peter Englund, the newly appointed permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, got to present his first Nobel Prize winner, it was a personal favourite of his. “Her language is superb - and she has something to say,” he told reporters. In the packed hall of the Stockholm Stock Exchange, Peter Englund made his debut as Nobel Prize presenter - without faltering.
But even the most eloquent sometimes end up speechless, and Herta Müller’s first own comment upon learning she was the winner was: “I am surprised and still can’t believe it, that’s all I can say for now.”
In interview upon interview, however, the permanent secretary of the Swedish academy explained why Herta Müller is so deserving of her Nobel Prize:
“She is outstanding. Her language is superb, she is extremely precise in her words – and she has something to say. She tells about homelessness and alienation, what it is like to belong to a language minority and how people survive under dictatorship.”
For those who want to start reading her, Englund first and foremost recommends The Appointment, a novel about a woman who, as she rides a tram on her way to an interrogation with the Romanian secret police, ponders upon the past. The book also contains a highly tragic but beautiful love story.
However, Englund is quick to point out the overall high quality in Herta Müller’s body of works, and calls her latest novel Atemschaukel “absolutely brilliant”.
“Her writings are about alienation toward the ruling powers but also toward her own family. She had a cruel, alcoholic father and a mother who never recovered from her sufferings in the Soviet camps. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents were horrifically wounded and marked by what they had been through. But the great thing with Herta Müller is that she sees these forces and this remoteness in herself too,” says Englund.
It was Englund who told the news to Müller.
“It made her very happy and even though she was one of the pre-tipped favourites she seemed genuinely surprised. She was almost lost for words but said she will come to Stockholm and promised get her language back in time for December.”
Englund catches his breath and then turns his head to the next journalist. Narrowly watched by the Academy’s office co-ordinator, he takes on microphone after microphone, camera after camera, group after group under the cut-glass chandeliers as his mouth gets drier.
Herta Müller herself was in Stuttgart on Thursday, so a group of journalists flocked outside her home in Berlin in vain. She returned for a press conference in the evening.
Although born in Romania, Herta Müller is first and foremost seen as a German author. Germany is where she lives and she has always written in German, her mother tongue.
Herta Müller has been mentioned as one of the main favourites over the last few weeks, but the Academy does not believe there has been a leak.
“The first speculations came in Germany in August in connection with the release of her latest novel. The speculations continued and were reinforced. I would like to call it intelligent guesses,” says Englund.
The formal decision was not taken until Thursday morning, but in practice the choice was clear when the Academy met a week ago.
This year’s choice consolidates the European dominance in the literature prize.
“As a European, it can be easier to relate to European literature. We are aware of this within the Academy and we try to take it into consideration,” says Englund.
The Stock Exchange hall was more thronged than usual and included a couple of tourists aware of the international event. The new permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy admitted that he wished the event would all be over, although he was aware this would take quite some time.
“Yesterday during our general rehearsal a couple of employees were here in the Stock Exchange hall, but they couldn’t create the same kind of ambience as now. Yes, this was scary. I have been nervous for exactly one year. Last year when I saw (predecessor) Horace (Engdahl) walk through the door it hit me, ‘yes, next year it will be me standing there.’”
Translated by Oliver Grassman
Sanna Torén Björling
A partial list of books by Herta Mueller, winner Thursday of the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature:
Works in English, translated from German:
"The Passport" (1989)
"The Land of Green Plums" (1996)
"Traveling on One Leg" (1998)
"The Appointment" (2001)
Works in German:
"Drueckender Tango" (1996)
"Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt" (1986)
"Barfuessiger Februar" (1987)
"Reisende auf einem Bein" (1989)
"Der Teufel sitzt im Spiegel" (1991)
"Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jaeger" (1992)
"Eine warme Kartoffel ist ein warmes Bett" (1992)
"Im Haarknoten wohnt eine Dame" (2000)
"Heimat ist das, was gesprochen wird" (2001)
"Der Koenig verneigt sich und toetet" (2003)
"Die blassen Herren mit den Mokkatassen" (2005)
For some, the pain of exile is too great even to be named. So it is for Irene, the 35-year-old protagonist of this slender but intense novel. In the 1980s, Irene has emigrated to West Germany from an unnamed Eastern bloc country to escape political persecution. Adrift in Berlin, living first in a refugee hostel and then in an anonymous apartment complex, Irene struggles to maintain her sanity while caught in an ambiguously romantic quadrangle with three men. First there is Franz, a student a decade her junior; then there is his friend Stefan, a sociologist; last is Stefan's friend Thomas, a gay man in perpetual emotional crisis. But Irene's largest preoccupation is with herself, and the novel presents a knife-sharp portrait of her acute isolation and uprootedness. Irene's anxiety as she faces her adoptive homeland's hectoring refugee bureaucracy, her unsentimental observation of Berlin street life and her rigorously controlled homesickness is depicted in spare prose that is never less than striking. The reader with a distaste for indirection, or for the kind of heroine who considers children "eerie because they're still growing," will find this novel slow going. But those patient enough to pick out the plot line amid the poetry will be rewarded with a small trove of unforgettable images. (Oct.) FYI: M?ller, a Romanian refugee living in Germany, is the recipient of the Kleist Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her novel The Land of Green Plums is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.