Herta Müller

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Herta Müller
Müller in 2019
Müller in 2019
Born (1953-08-17) 17 August 1953 (age 69)
Nițchidorf, Timiș County, SR Romania
OccupationNovelist, poet
NationalityRomanian, German
Alma materWest University of Timișoara
Notable works
Notable awards

Herta Müller (German: [ˈhɛʁta ˈmʏlɐ] (listen); born 17 August 1953) is a Romanian-born German novelist, poet, essayist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Nițchidorf (German: Nitzkydorf), Timiș County in Romania, her native language is German. Since the early 1990s, she has been internationally established, and her works have been translated into more than twenty languages.[1]

Müller is noted for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror, usually in the setting of the Socialist Republic of Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceaușescu regime which she has experienced herself. Many of her works are told from the viewpoint of the German minority in Romania and are also a depiction of the modern history of the Germans in the Banat and Transylvania. Her much acclaimed 2009 novel The Hunger Angel (Atemschaukel) portrays the deportation of Romania's German minority to Soviet Gulags during the Soviet occupation of Romania for use as German forced labor.

Müller has received more than twenty awards to date, including the Kleist Prize (1994), the Aristeion Prize (1995), the International Dublin Literary Award (1998) and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award (2009). On 8 October 2009, the Swedish Academy announced that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, describing her as a woman "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed".[2]

Early life[edit]

Müller was born to Banat Swabian Catholic[3] farmers in Nițchidorf (German: Nitzkydorf; Hungarian: Niczkyfalva), up to the 1980s a German-speaking village in the Romanian Banat in southwestern Romania,until 1920 part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Her family was part of Romania's German minority. Her grandfather had been a wealthy farmer and merchant, but his property was confiscated by the Communist regime. Her father was a member of the Waffen SS during World War II, and earned a living as a truck driver in Communist Romania.[2] In 1945, her mother,born 1928 as Katarina Gion, then aged 17, was among 100,000 of the German minority deported to forced labor camps in the Soviet Union, from which she was released in 1950.[2][4][5][6] Müller's native language is German; she learned Romanian only in grammar school.[7] She graduated from Nikolaus Lenau High School before becoming student of German studies and Romanian literature at West University of Timișoara.

In 1976, Müller began working as a translator for an engineering factory, but was dismissed in 1979 for her refusal to cooperate with the Securitate, the Communist regime's secret police. After her dismissal, she initially earned a living by teaching in kindergarten and giving private German lessons.


Müller's first book, Niederungen (Nadirs), was published in Romania in German in 1982, receiving a prize from the Central Committee of the Union of Communist Youth. The book was about a child's view of the German-cultural Banat.[8] Some members of the Banat Swabian community criticized Müller for "fouling her own nest" by her unsympathetic portrayal of village life.[9] Müller was a member of Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of German-speaking writers in Romania who supported freedom of speech over the censorship they faced under Nicolae Ceaușescu's government, and her works, including The Land of Green Plums, deal with these issues.[10][11] Radu Tinu, the Securitate officer in charge of her case, denies that she ever suffered any persecutions,[12] a claim that is opposed by Müller's own version of her (ongoing) persecution in an article in the German weekly Die Zeit in July 2009.[13]

Reading The Hunger Angel, Potsdam, July 2010

After being refused permission to emigrate to West Germany in 1985, Müller was finally allowed to leave along with her then-husband, novelist Richard Wagner, in 1987, and they settled in West Berlin, where both still live.[14] In the following years, she accepted lectureships at universities in Germany and abroad. Müller was elected to membership in the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in 1995, and other honorary positions followed. In 1997, she withdrew from the PEN centre of Germany in protest of its merger with the former German Democratic Republic branch. In July 2008, Müller sent a critical open letter to Horia-Roman Patapievici, president of the Romanian Cultural Institute in reaction to the moral and financial support given by the institute to two former informants of the Securitate participating at the Romanian-German Summer School.[15]

The critic Denis Scheck described visiting Müller at her home in Berlin and seeing that her desk contained a drawer full of single letters cut from a newspaper she had entirely destroyed in the process. Realising that she used the letters to write texts,[16] he felt he had "entered the workshop of a true poet".[17]

The Passport, first published in Germany as Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt in 1986, is, according to The Times Literary Supplement, couched in the strange code engendered by repression: indecipherable because there is nothing specific to decipher, it is candid, but somehow beside the point, redolent of things unsaid. From odd observations the villagers sometimes make ("Man is nothing but a pheasant in the world"), to chapters titled after unimportant props ("The Pot Hole", "The Needle"), everything points to a strategy of displaced meaning ... Every such incidence of misdirection is the whole book in miniature, for although Ceausescu is never mentioned, he is central to the story, and cannot be forgotten. The resulting sense that anything, indeed everything – whether spoken by the characters or described by the author – is potentially dense with tacit significance means this short novel expands in the mind to occupy an emotional space far beyond its size or the seeming simplicity of its story."[18]

2009 success[edit]

Müller's nail scissors, which she used to cut words from printed materials, hanging in the Nobel Prize Museum.

In 2009, Müller enjoyed the greatest international success of her career. Her novel Atemschaukel (published in English as The Hunger Angel) was nominated for the Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Prize) and won the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award.[19] In this book, Müller describes the journey of a young man to a gulag in the Soviet Union, the fate of many Germans in Transylvania after World War II. It was inspired by the experience of poet Oskar Pastior, whose memories she had made notes of, and also by what happened to her own mother.

In October 2009, the Swedish Academy announced its decision to award that year's Nobel Prize in Literature to Müller "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."[2] The academy compared Müller's style and her use of German as a minority language with Franz Kafka and pointed out the influence of Kafka on Müller. The award coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism. Michael Krüger, head of Müller's publishing house, said: "By giving the award to Herta Müller, who grew up in a German-speaking minority in Romania, the committee has recognized an author who refuses to let the inhumane side of life under communism be forgotten"[20]

In 2012, Müller commented on the Nobel Prize for Mo Yan by saying that the Swedish Academy had apparently chosen an author who 'celebrates censorship'.[21][22]

On July 6, 2020 a no longer existing Twitter account published the fake news of Herta Müller's death, which was immediately disclaimed by her publisher.[23]


Although Müller has revealed little about the specific people or books that have influenced her, she has acknowledged the importance of her university studies in German and Romanian literature, and particularly of the contrast between the two languages. "The two languages", the writer says, "look differently even at plants. In Romanian, 'snowdrops' are 'little tears', in German they are 'Schneeglöckchen', that is 'little snow bells', which means we're not only speaking about different words, but about different worlds." (However here she confuses snowdrops with lily-of-the-valley, the latter being called 'little tears' in Romanian.) She continues, "Romanians see a falling star and say that someone has died, with the Germans you make a wish when you see the falling star." Romanian folk music is another influence: "When I first heard Maria Tănase she sounded incredible to me, it was for the first time that I really felt what folklore meant. Romanian folk music is connected to existence in a very meaningful way."[24]

Müller's work was also shaped by the many experiences she shared with her ex-husband, the novelist and essayist Richard Wagner. Both grew up in Romania as members of the Banat Swabian ethnic group and enrolled in German and Romanian literary studies at Timișoara University. Upon graduating, both worked as German-language teachers, and were members of Aktionsgruppe Banat, a literary society that fought for freedom of speech.

Müller's involvement with Aktionsgruppe Banat gave her the courage to write boldly, despite the threats and trouble generated by the Romanian secret police. Although her books are fictional, they are based on real people and experiences. Her 1996 novel, The Land of Green Plums, was written after the deaths of two friends, in which Müller suspected the involvement of the secret police, and one of its characters was based on a close friend from Aktionsgruppe Banat.[25]

Letter from Liu Xia[edit]

Herta Müller wrote the foreword for the first publication of the poetry of Liu Xia, wife of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo, in 2015.[26] Müller also translated and read a few of Liu Xia poems in 2014.[27] On 4 December 2017, a photo of the letter to Herta Müller from Liu Xia in a form of poem was posted on Facebook by Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu, where Liu Xia said that she was going mad in her solitary life.[28]



Müller signing one of her books in September 2009
Cover of Drückender Tango, Bukarest 1984

Lyrics / found poetry[edit]


  • Theodor Kramer: Die Wahrheit ist, man hat mir nichts getan ("The Truth Is No One Did Anything to Me"), Vienna 1999
  • Die Handtasche ("The Purse"), Künzelsau 2001
  • Wenn die Katze ein Pferd wäre, könnte man durch die Bäume reiten ("If the Cat Were a Horse, You Could Ride Through the Trees"), Künzelsau 2001


Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Welle (www.dw.com), Deutsche. "Literaturnobelpreis geht an Herta Müller | DW | 08.10.2009". DW.COM (in German). Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  3. ^ "Preisverleihung in Frankfurt: Herta Müller rechnet mit evangelischer Kirche ab". Der Spiegel. November 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  4. ^ The Expulsion of 'German' Communities from Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War Archived 2009-10-01 at the Wayback Machine, Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, European University Institute, Florense. HEC No. 2004/1 p.65. (See also Flight and expulsion of Germans from Romania during and after World War II)
  5. ^ "Herta Mueller – Split Between Two Worlds". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  6. ^ "Mueller wins Nobel literary prize". 8 October 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  7. ^ "Alumni". www.daad.de (in German). Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  8. ^ "Interview With Herta Mueller". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  9. ^ Ilka Scheidgen: Fünfuhrgespräche. Zu Gast (u. a.) bei Herta Müller. Kaufmann Verlag, Lahr 2008, S. 64
  10. ^ Nagorski, Andrew (2001), "Nightmare or Reality?(Review)", Newsweek International
  11. ^ "The Land of the Green Plums", Quadrant, 43 (6): 83, June 1999
  12. ^ "Adevărul". 18 November 2009. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  13. ^ "Herta Müller: Securitate in all but name (31/08/2009) - signandsight". www.signandsight.com. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  14. ^ "German Nobel euphoria – DW – 10/08/2009". dw.com. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  15. ^ "EVZ.ro – Scandal românesc cu securiști, svastică și sex, la Berlin și New York". Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  16. ^ Due to Scheck's many grammar and vocabulary errors in the interview, it can be assumed Scheck didn't really mean "from those letters she was recombining her own literary texts" (3'45") and instead meant she was recombining the letters to write texts.
  17. ^ BBC World Service, The Strand, Interview with Denis Scheck about Herta Müller, Thursday 8 October 2009
  18. ^ Koelb, Tadzio (1 January 2010), "The Passport", The Times Literary Supplement
  19. ^ ""Speech by Erika Steinbach on occasion of the award of the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award"". Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Herta Mueller wins 2009 Nobel literature prize", Yahoo! News.
  21. ^ Flood, Alison (26 November 2012). "Mo Yan's Nobel nod a 'catastrophe', says fellow laureate Herta Müller German writer blasts decision to award this year's Nobel prize for literature to man who 'celebrates censorship'". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Nobel laureate Mo Yan takes swipe at critics in lecture". AFP via Ahram Online. 9 December 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  23. ^ Zeitung, Berliner (6 July 2020). "Totgetwittert? Wie falsche Meldungen gemacht werden". Berliner Zeitung.
  24. ^ "An Evening with Herta Müller" Archived 2009-10-13 at the Wayback Machine, Radio Romania International, 17 August 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  25. ^ "The Banat Action Group → Herta Mueller". Infloox. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  26. ^ Liu, Xia (3 November 2015). Empty Chairs: Selected Poems. Graywolf Press. ISBN 978-1-55597-725-2.
  27. ^ "Herta Müller translated Liu Xia's poems". Poetry East West. 28 April 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  28. ^ "Chinese dissident's widow sends desperate letter". France 24 English. AFP. 14 December 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  29. ^ Müller, H. (1999). Nadirs. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-3583-0.
  30. ^ Herta Müller (1998). Traveling on one leg. Internet Archive. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-1641-2.
  31. ^ Wolff, Larry (1 December 1996). "Strangers in a Strange Land". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  32. ^ "The Hunger Angel". Archived from the original on 12 November 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  33. ^ Kilzer, Katharina (9 October 2009). "Eine Erinnerung: Als Herta Müller den Müller-Guttenbrunn-Preis erhielt". FAZ.NET (in German). Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  34. ^ Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine. Z-g-v.de (2002-01-17). Retrieved on 2009-10-26.
  35. ^ Post, Chad W. (10 April 2013). "2013 Best Translated Book Award: The Fiction Finalists". Three Percent. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  36. ^ Frenzel, Marc (10 September 2014). "Hannelore Greve Literaturpreis 2014 geht an Herta Müller". kulturport.de (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  37. ^ "HERTA MÜLLER". ORDEN POUR LE MÉRITE (in German). Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  38. ^ "Preis für Verständigung und Toleranz an Barrie Kosky und Herta Müller – neue musikzeitung". nmz (in German). Retrieved 12 October 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bettina Brandt and Valentina Glajar (Eds.), Herta Müller. Politics and aesthetics. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2013. ISBN 978-0-8032-4510-5. pdf (excerpt)
  • Nina Brodbeck, Schreckensbilder, Marburg 2000.
  • Thomas Daum (ed.), Herta Müller, Frankfurt am Main 2003.
  • Norbert Otto Eke (ed.), Die erfundene Wahrnehmung, Paderborn 1991.
  • Valentina Glajar, "The Discourse of Discontent: Politics and Dictatorship in Hert Müller's Herztier." The German Legacy in East Central Europe. As Recorded in Recent German Language Literature Ed. Valentina Glajar. Camden House, Rochester NY 2004. 115–160.
  • Valentina Glajar, "Banat-Swabian, Romanian, and German: Conflicting Identities in Herta Muller's Herztier." Monatshefte 89.4 (Winter 1997): 521–540.
  • Maria S. Grewe, "Imagining the East: Some Thoughts on Contemporary Minority Literature in Germany and Exoticist Discourse in Literary Criticism." Germany and the Imagined East. Ed. Lee Roberts. Cambridge, 2005.
  • Maria S. Grewe, Estranging Poetic: On the Poetic of the Foreign in Select Works by Herta Müller and Yoko Tawada, New York: Columbia UP, 2009.
  • Brigid Haines, '"The Unforgettable Forgotten": The Traces of Trauma in Herta Müller's Reisende auf einem Bein, German Life and Letters, 55.3 (2002), 266–281.
  • Brigid Haines and Margaret Littler, Contemporary German Women's Writing: Changing the Subject, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Brigid Haines (ed.), Herta Müller. Cardiff 1998.
  • Martin A. Hainz, "Den eigenen Augen blind vertrauen? Über Rumänien." Der Hammer – Die Zeitung der Alten Schmiede 2 (Nov. 2004): 5–6.
  • Herta Haupt-Cucuiu: Eine Poesie der Sinne [A Poetry of the Senses], Paderborn, 1996.
  • Ralph Köhnen (ed.), Der Druck der Erfahrung treibt die Sprache in die Dichtung: Bildlickeit in Texten Herta Müllers, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997.
  • Lyn Marven, Body and Narrative in Contemporary Literatures in German: Herta Müller, Libuse Moníková, Kerstin Hensel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Grazziella Predoiu, Faszination und Provokation bei Herta Müller, Frankfurt am Main, 2000.
  • Diana Schuster, Die Banater Autorengruppe: Selbstdarstellung und Rezeption in Rumänien und Deutschland. Konstanz: Hartung-Gorre-Verlag, 2004.
  • Carmen Wagner, Sprache und Identität. Oldenburg, 2002.

External links[edit]