New book on Herta Müller: introducing the Nobel prize winner


Image (c)

When Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in Literature back in 2009 it’s fair to say that she was little known in the English-speaking world; only five of her books existed in English translation then, and The Times announced the award with the headline ‘Herta Müller – who she?’. Müller’s previous brush with English-language fame had been back in 1998, when her novel Herztier had won the International Impac Dublin prize, in Michael Hofmann’s translation as The Land of Green Plums. Even in German, she had a much lower profile than the other recent German-language winners of the Nobel Prize, Elfriede Jelinek and Günter Grass.

Cover of Herta Müller ed. Haines and MarvenWith all this in mind, my colleague Brigid Haines and I decided to put together a volume on Herta Müller which would cover all her major works and themes, introducing her to the wider audience that would follow – we hoped – from the award of the Nobel prize. Fast forward a few years, and here it is!

Our volume features original contributions from Katrin Kohl, Alex Drace-Francis, Valentina Glajar, Moray McGowan, Beverley Eddy, Norbert Otto Eke, Karin Bauer, Wiebke Sievers, Jean Boase-Beier and Rebecca Braun, as well as essays by Brigid and me.

The chapters focus on the major works Reisende auf einem Bein (Traveling on One Leg), Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger (The Fox was the Hunter even back then, so far unpublished in English translation), Herztier (The Land of Green Plums), Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (The Appointment) and her most recent novel Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel), as well as on key themes and issues within her work such as Müller’s poetics, the Romanian background of her texts and the role of the Securitate (the Romanian secret police), Müller’s collage publications, and gender and sexual politics. Several chapters look at Müller in an international context, considering her reception abroad (particularly in Poland and the Netherlands), her work in English translation, and the effect of the award of the Nobel prize on the author’s image; and all quotations are translated, so readers have access to works which haven’t (yet!) been translated into English.

In the chapter I wrote for the volume, ‘Life and Literature: Autobiography, Referentiality, and Intertextuality in Herta Müller’s Work’, I examine the links between the author’s life and her writing. The autobiographical elements of Müller’s work were emphasised particularly in the articles which introduced the author after the award of the Nobel Prize – understandably, because her texts do draw on her own experiences in Romania, as she herself acknowledges in her non-fiction essays. However they are by no means straightforward autobiography: Müller’s distinctive poetic style transforms real life into non-realist fiction. What is more, she continues to rewrite key episodes from her own life, bringing into question the whole notion of autobiography – Müller continually reassesses the meaning of her past, and thus rewrites her own life through literature.

Brigid Haines and Lyn Marven, eds, Herta Müller (OUP, 2013)

BCLT / TA translation mentorship scheme

I’m delighted to be taking part in a new translation mentorship scheme run by the British Centre for Literary Translation and the Translators’ Association for the next six months.

As part of the programme, I will be mentoring translator Jamie Lee Searle, a London-based translator of literary fiction and non-fiction from German into English, and part-time tutor at QMUL. Here is Jamie’s response to being selected for the mentorship:

I was delighted to find out I had been selected for the mentoring scheme, and especially when I heard who I’d been partnered with. Having already worked with Lyn on a translation project last year, I am very much looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from her experience in the world of literary translation. I’ve been concentrating on translation full time for a couple of years now, and am sure this partnership will inspire me even further to pursue new projects and raise my profile as a translator. Read more on her blog!

The mentorship scheme, in its second year, supports talented up-and-coming translators by pairing them with mentors for six months. This year the languages included in the scheme are: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

The programme is sponsored by the Foyle Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK, and the German mentorship is supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum. You can read more about the programme, and the mentors and mentees, on the BCLT website.