Herta Müller Wins 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature

Herta_MüllerSo the Nobel prize this year went to a German language novelist, originally from Romania. Last week when I blogged on the German Lit prize finalists, Müller was among those mentioned & signandsight  put up a translated extract from her new novel. Below are the opening paras & here the link if you want to read on. So, after a decent but not truly major French novelist got the prize last year, it is now the other side of Rhine with a decent but not truly major novelist that is honored. Boringly Eurocentric, those old men in Sweden — their choices outside Europe and/or outside the traditional novelist are so rare as to feel ever more tokenish (Pamuk in 2006, Xingjian in 2000) with the last full-blown poet being the rather traditional Szymborska in 1996. For when the Nobel to a poet of the stature of Adonis? Or Ko Un? A prose writer of the stature of Assia Djebar or Ngugi wa Thiongo?

“Everything I Own I Carry With Me”

An excerpt:

Everything I have I carry with me.
Or: everything that’s mine I carry on me.

I carried everything I had. It wasn’t actually mine. It was either intended for a different purpose or somebody else’s. The pigskin suitcase was a gramophone box. The dust coat was from my father. The town coat with the velvet neckband from my grandfather. The breeches from my Uncle Edwin. The leather puttees from our neighbour, Herr Carp. The green gloves from my Auntie Fini. Only the claret silk scarf and the toilet bag were mine, gifts from recent Christmases.

The war was still on in January 1945. Shocked that, in the depths of winter, I was to be taken who-knows-where by the Russians, everyone wanted to give me something that would be useful, maybe, even if it didn’t help. Because nothing on earth could help. It was irrevocable: I was on the Russians’ list, so everyone gave me something – and drew their own conclusions as they did. I took the things and, at the age of seventeen, drew my own conclusion: the timing was right for going away. I could have done without the list being the reason, but if things didn’t turn out too badly, it would even be good for me. I wanted away from this thimble of a town, where all the stones had eyes. I wasn’t so much afraid as secretly impatient. And I had a bad conscience because the list that caused my relatives such anguish was, for me, tolerable. They feared that in another country something might happen to me. I wanted to go to a place that did not know me.

Something had already happened to me. Something forbidden. It was strange, dirty, shameless, and beautiful. It happened in the park with all the alders, away at the back, beyond the short-grass hills. On the way home, I went to the centre of the park, into the round pavilion where, on public holidays, the orchestras would play. I remained seated for a while. The light pierced the finely-carved wood. I could see the fear of the empty circles, squares, and quadrilaterals – white tendrils with claws linking them. It was the pattern of my aberration, and the pattern of the horror in the face of my mother. In this pavilion I swore to myself: I’m never coming back to this park.

The more I tried to stop myself, the quicker I went back – after two days. To my rendezvous, as it was called in the park.
I went to my second rendezvous with the same first man. He was called THE SWAN. The second man was new, he was called THE FIR. The third was called THE EAR. After that came THE THREAD. Then THE ORIOLE and THE CAP. Later, THE HARE, THE CAT, THE SEAGULL. Then THE PEARL. Only we knew which name was whose. We played at wild animals, I let myself be passed along. And it was summer in the park, and the birches had a white skin, and the green wall of impenetrable foliage was growing among the jasmine and elder bushes.

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6 opinions on “Herta Müller Wins 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature”

  1. Okay, here’s an admission: Yet another recent Nobel laureate whom I’ve never even heard of, and this confession coming from one who has considered himself very well-read and pretty well versed in literature. This is not to diminish Ms. Muller’s achievement, and I congratulate her. I just wonder if, as an American and English-speaker only, I’m somehow missing out on a lot of erstwhile magnificent literature because it isn’t translated into my mother tongue, and if this is so, why? Are we so overwhelmed by the Dan Browns and Stephanie Meyers and Oprah’s choices that a world of great literature is being eclipsed here by the shadow of towering blockbusters?

  2. You’re right, Pierre, but the Nobel is nothing if not symbolic and political, and exactly 20 years behind the times. It’s the 20th year anniversary of the Romanian “revolution,” the “fall of the Wall,” etc — and Herta is a good, albeit depressing writer, still young and fresh in her prose. In 20 years someone with a sense of humor will win. (Provided the world’s still here and a non-Swede — a Finn like Anselm Hollo, for instance– is the Committee head.

  3. Speaking of the “‘fall of the wall'”, since reading Christa Wolf’s extraordinary book One Day A Year, I’ve wondered whether she might be the pick, or a pick another year.

    I would think of her ME file as an inducement, but more likely it stands in her way — indeed, writes her out of the picture.

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