Herta the Word Warrior

Everyone wants freedom. We all strive to achieve our personal version of it. For the lucky ones it involves only an internal struggle, often evidenced by decisions to travel the world without the responsibilities of job or rent. For some it is a distant idea to be peered at through a long and harrowing existence of repression, and for others the power or right to act, speak or think as they want without hindrance or restraint is barely imaginable.

In these darker places of the world, where the political environment squeezes life-force there are people who make it their life’s mission to break out. When Herta Müller was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, her appointment was as surprising to most as the subject behind her books. But this was precisely her ambition: to highlight the suffering under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dictatorship of Romania. And she does so with precise and haunting language. "Twenty years after the end of the East-West conflict, Herta Müller has been rewarded for keeping alive memories of the inhumane side of state communism," said Michael Krüger, of the publishing house Carl Hanser, based in Munich. "She is an impressive example of a European committed literature that succeeds in bringing history into the present-day with analytical sharpness and poetic exactness."

Herta Müller’s struggle to be heard started early. When part of Austria-Hungary became Romania, the people continued speaking German but suddenly found themselves a new minority. By the mid 70s, Nicolae Ceauşescu's dictatorship was choking the country and Müller was agitating for freedom of speech first at university and then at work. After she lost her job as a translator in a factory because she refused to serve as an informant to Communist regime’s secret police, Müller started to write fiction seriously. But her first publication, a collection of short stories called Niederungen in 1982 was heavily censored in Romania and consequently dismissed. Persisting, she smuggled a pure manuscript to Germany where it received exceptional praise. Realising her reach and influence was limited if she stayed in muffled Romania, she made Berlin her hometown in 1987. Sine then Müller has published more than 20 books, both fiction and poetry the most acclaimed being The Land of Green Plums and Everything I Possess I Carry With Me.

Müller’s early life of oppression in Romania is the fundamental part of her identity. It colours everything from the subjects of her work which often echo real life experiences, to her writing method that speak of displacement and purposeful confusion. To the press, she has said, "Simply living in Germany, hundreds of kilometres away, does not erase my past experience. I packed up my past when I left." Her works and words are echoed by a sharp visual identity – a slash of blood red lipstick and exceptionally quirky reading glasses often pushed back, deep into her hair. Müller’s courage shows on her face and in her look. She’s a fighter for freedom and speech and she’s being heard.