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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Herta Müller in Alhondiga Bilbao (27.03.2014)

On March, 17 I had the opportunity to attend  the opening of Gutun Zuria 2014 in Alhondiga Bilbao. Without any doubt the festival started with an important figure: Herta Müller, Literature Nobel Prize 2009.



Born in 1953 in Timisoara, Romania, into a family of Danube Swabian (German) minority, in her works she focuses mostly on living conditions in Romania under the Ceausescu dictatorship. The explanation of her Nobel Prize mentioned "the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicting the landscape of the dispossessed". All that, plus the theme of this year's Gutun Zuria - "Frontier stories" - set my expectations really high.

Unfortunately, I have to say I came out disappointed. Somehow it felt to me, as if Herta Müller was constantly repeating herself (how many times did she mention growing up among cows? 5,6?) and the meeting wasn't really THAT long for that to happen! She also disappointed me at the end of the event - when she was signing the books. All the authors I have seen up to now, at the events like this, try to get a bit personal and at list put a short dedication or the reader's name. Not her. She was just mechanically repeating the same signature, not even looking at the people who were approaching the table...



The borders she talked about were mostly connected to her upbringing:

- taking are of cows vs. growing up in a city

- borders on a farm (raspberries that a neighbor had but she couldn't eat)

- 1st language (dialect of a village) vs. official language

- being a woman in men's world

- growing up in a silence of the oppressed and minorities (prejudices against German; BTW Germans also isolated her: one of the reasons was the dialect she'd learned - it was not the proper German)


She also talks about being born "on assassins' side". Eventhough she knew it was not her fault, the experience proved to be very difficult.


Most of her life, as she says, she was "the enemy of the state". When she finally could go to live in Germany (1987) it was only her second visit to the country. The 1st time she went to a Book Fair in 1984. Leaving Romania, till the very last minute she was not allowed on the train and when finally there she noticed that the dates in her passport were wrong. She was absolutely sure it was done on purpose to make her entrance to Germany even more difficult. She didn't receive the German nationality - Romanian Secret Service took care of that by lying that she was their spy. She had no means to prove otherwise.


Her life, both in Romania and in Germany, was mostly protected by her publishing success and all the literary awards. She was no longer anonymous and that saved her from some stronger oppression, or as for Romania - even torture.


She's not considering herself a writer and probably that's why she practically didn't talk about her writing. She only mentioned that "living is the opposite of writing" and  that she doesn't know how to write (if she would, she would stop).

As much as I was disappointed by the whole conversation, I have to admit her novels are impressive. I would recommend "The Land of Green Plums" to anyone who wants to see how totalitarian system affects normal people's lives. After all, as Herta Müller says: "language is a tool of totalitarian governments", so what better way to demonstrate it than a novel?