Müller, Herta 1953–
Müller, Herta 1953–
PERSONAL: Born August 17, 1953, in Nitzkydorf, Romania; immigrated to Germany, 1987; married Richard Wagner. Education: Attended the University of Timisoara.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Picador, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a teacher and as a translator in a machine factory, both in Romania.
AWARDS, HONORS: Marieluise-Fleißer Prize, 1990; Kranichsteiner Literary Prize, Darmstadt, 1991; Kleist Prize, Germany, 1994; European Literary Prize, 1991; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (with Michael Hoffman), 1997, for The Land of Green Plums.
Niederungen (stories), 1982, translation by Sieglinde Lug published as Nadirs, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1999.
Drückender Tango (stories), c.1984.
Barfuessiger Februar: Prosa (title means "Barefoot February"), Rotbuch-Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1987.
Reisende auf einem Bein, Rotbuch-Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1989.
Die Teufel sitzt im Speigel: Wie Wahrnehmung sich erfindet, Rotbuch-Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1991.
Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jager (novel), Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1992.
(Editor, with Verona Gerasch) Beitrage zum Kolloquium, Jans von Bulow, Leben, Wirken und Vermachtnis: Veranstaltet von der Abteilung Musikgeschichte der Staatlichen Museen Meiningen am 6. und 7. Mai 1994 im Rahmen der Meininger Landesmusiktage zum 100, Staatliche Museen (Meiningen, Germany), 1994.
Herztier (novel), Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1994, translation by Michael Hoffman published as The Land of Green Plums, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Hunger und Seide: Essays, [Germany], 1995.
In der Falle, Wallstein (Gottingen, Germany), 1996.
Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (novel), Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1997, translation by Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm published as The Appointment: A Novel, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Reisende auf einem Bein, [Germany], translation by Valentina Glajar and Andre Lefevere published as Traveling on One Leg, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1998.
(Author of epilogue) Theodor Kramer, Die Wahrheit ist, man hat mir nichts getan: Gedichte, (title means "This Truth, It Has Not Hurt Me: Poems"), P. Zsolnay (Wien, Austria), 1999.
Im Haarknoten wohnt eine Dame, (title means "A Lady Lives in the Hair-Knot"), Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 2000.
Beobachtungen, Alb-Donau-Kreis (Ulm, Germany), 2000.
(Contributor of essay) Kent Klich, Children of Ceausescu, photographs by Kent Klich, Umbrage Editions (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Yoko Tawada and Alissa Walser) Wenn die ein Pferd wäre, könnte man durch die Bäume reiten: Prosa, Swiridoff (Künzelsau, Germany), 2001.
Die Handtasche: Prosa, Lyrik, Szenen & Essays, Swiridoff (Künzelsau, Germany), 2001.
Der König Verneigt Sich und Tötet, C. Hanser (Munich, Germany), 2003.
Die Blassen Herren mit den Mokkatassen, C. Hanser (Munich, Germany), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Herta Müller was described by a critic in the Times Literary Supplement as "one of the most gifted writers in the German language." Müller grew up in Romania, where she was a member of the German-speaking minority, and left her village to attend the University of Timisoara, where she studied German and Romanian literature. She also joined a group of Romanian-German writers who, despite the rule of the repressive regime of Nicholai Ceausescu, believed in freedom of expression. Her short stories, novels, and essays describe the Romanian dictatorship and the ruin it has brought to that country, as well as the rootlessness of political exiles. Müller has garnered prestigious awards for her writing, including the coveted German Kleist Prize and the 1997 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, which she shared with Michael Hoffman, for her 1996 novel The Land of Green Plums.
After graduating from school, Müller worked as a translator in a machine factory, but was fired because she would not cooperate with the secret police. During this time she wrote Niederungen, a collection of short stories, but could not get permission from the government censors to publish it in its complete form. Two years later she wrote another collection, Drückender Tango. Both of these works show the hypocrisy of life in Romania's German-speaking villages and their zealous oppression of nonconformists. In a review in World Literature Today, Rita Terras described the village in Niederungen as "a landscape of the soul … the battered existence of a narrator wallowing in despair…. There is no end to the list of unfortunate incidents, and the village idyll turns into a nightmare populated by black-garbed, backward, superstitious, German-speaking farmers dwelling among the tattered white flowers of death and harvests of corn."
Romanians criticized her for ruining their image, but when Niederungen was smuggled out of Romania, it was published in Germany and won instant acclaim. Müller traveled to Germany, where she spoke against the Romanian government, and after that was forbidden to publish anything in Romania. Despite this, she continued to write, and in 1987, after two years of waiting for permission, left Romania and immigrated to Berlin with her husband, Richard Wagner.
Müller's The Land of Green Plums (originally published in 1994 in Germany as Herztier) begins with the student narrator describing Lola, her roommate who, like the narrator, has come from a small village and is unprepared for city life. Lola is promiscuous, and finally hangs herself; after her death, she is expelled from the Communist party. Suspicion is contagious: soon the narrator is under suspicion too, and ends up leaving the university. Larry Wolff wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the book is "a novel of graphically observed detail in which the author seeks to create a sort of poetry out of the spiritual and material ugliness of life in Communist Romania." Margaret Walter noted in the Sunday Times Books that the narrator "has no real stories to tell: she can offer only heartbreaking glimpses" of her family, the city she lives in, and her own troubled life.
The novel's title comes from a scene in which the narrator watches the police stealing green plums from the trees. "They knew where the plum trees were in every precinct they policed," Müller writes. "The green plums made them stupid. They ate themselves away from their duty. They reverted to childhood, stealing plums." Wolff remarked: "Ms. Müller's vision of a police state manned by plum thieves reads like a kind of fairy tale on the mingled evils of gluttony, stupidity and brutality…. As the narrator ponders Lola's pathetic fate, the novel encompasses not only the political persecution of dissidents and the harassment of a national minority but also the particular kinds of oppression and vulnerability that women experience under a regime of policemen." He also asserted that the book "addresses issues of vampirish complicity in the bloody rituals of an oppressive regime, whose hungry subjects, whether stealing fresh offal or green plums, ingest political poisons with historically protracted, corrosive consequences."
The next significant novel published by Müller is Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet, published in English as The Appointment: A Novel. With thematic concerns similar to The Land of Green Plums, The Appointment looks at how the repressive culture in Romania under Ceausescu affects one factory worker. Using the first person voice and a stream-of-conscious narrative style, this female factory worker reflects on her life, the people she is close to, those who have betrayed her, and friends and family members that are no longer living. The now-unemployed worker has been charged with prostitution because she has been putting her name, address, and plea to marry her in the men's suits she sews. The suits are being sent to Italy and she hopes someone there will help her escape her current existence. Writing in the Chicago Review, Jason M. Baskin commented: "Müller's psychological acuity makes The Appointment both more and less a fable: it is a disturbingly precise representation of individual consciousness under siege, yet it lacks the kind of discernable architecture that would allow the reader analytical distance." Summarizing the novel's appeal, a Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that The Appointment was "sensitive, observant, unrelenting—and compelling."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Müller, Herta, The Land of Green Plums, translated by Michael Hoffman, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Chicago Review, Jason M. Baskin, review of The Appointment: A Novel, p. 138.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2001, review of The Appointment, p. 969.
New York Times Book Review, December 1, 1996, Larry Wolff, review of The Land of Green Plums, p. 38.
Sunday Times Books (London, England), August 2, 1998, Margaret Walter, review of The Land of Green Plums, p. 9.
Times Literary Supplement, October 6, 1989, review of Reisende auf einem Bein, p. 19.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1985, Rita Terras, review of Niederungen, p. 586.
Dickinson College Web site, http://www.dickinson.edu/ (October 30, 2005), Beverley Driver Eddy, biography of Herta Müller.