Herta Müller
2009 Nobel Prize Winning Writer

Winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Fiction, Herta Müller is a highly prolific novelist and essayist whose works portray the human destruction of the Romanian dictatorship and the rootlessness of the political exile.


Herta’s works are characterized by pure, poetic language and metonymic metaphors that recur and evolve throughout her tales. The oppressiveness of theme is alleviated by the beauty of her prose and the flashes of humor behind some of her imagery.


Many of Herta’s works reflect aspects of her own history. She won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature with her novel The Appointment,  a portrayal of life as a young factory worker in Communist Romania. Her latest novel, The Hunger Angel, explores the physical and moral absurdity of life in a Soviet Union labor camp. It has been hailed as “exquisite” by the New Yorkerand a “masterpiece” by Financial Times.



Through words and actions, Herta continues to demonstrate her independence from the dogma of church and state. She has been an outspoken critic of those East German writers who collaborated with the secret police and has recently withdrawn from P.E.N. as a protest against its decision to merge with its former DDR branch. She has won a dozen literary prizes, including the Marieluise-Fleißer Prize (1990), the Kranichsteiner Literary Prize (1991), the Kleist Prize (1994), and the European Literary Prize “Aristeion” (1995).


She was born in August 1953 in the German-speaking village of Nitzkydorf, in the Banat district of Romania. She left her village to study German and Romanian literature at the University of Timisoara. Here she became part of the Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of idealistic Romanian-German writers seeking freedom of expression under the Ceaucescu dictatorship. After completing her studies, she was employed as a translator in a machine factory until she was fired for refusing to cooperate with the secret police. During this time she wrote the short stories that make up the collection Niederungen, but she had difficulty satisfying the censors, and this work was not published until 1982, and then in radically modified form. Niederungen was followed two years later by Drückender Tango. In these two works, Herta depicted the hypocrisy of village life and its ruthless oppression of nonconformists. She portrayed the zealously fascist mentality of the German minority, its intolerance and corruption. Not surprisingly, she was sharply criticized at home for destroying the idyllic image of German rural life in Romania.

Herta was working as a teacher when her uncensored manuscript of Niederungen was smuggled to the west and published by the Rotbuch Verlag to instant critical acclaim. After a trip to the Frankfurt book fair, where she spoke out publicly against the Romanian dictatorship, she was forbidden to publish in Romania. She continued to write, however, even as her situation in Romania became more and more intolerable. In 1987, she emigrated to the West with her husband, Richard Wagner. Since then, she has been living in Berlin.

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Metropolitan Books

It was an icy morning in January 1945 when the patrol came for seventeen-year-old Leo Auberg to deport him to a camp in the Soviet Union. Leo would spend the next five years in a coke processing plant, shoveling coal, lugging bricks, mixing mortar, and battling the relentless calculus of hunger that governed the labor colony: one shovel load of coal is worth one gram of bread.


"I've been summoned. Thursday, ten sharp." Thus begins a day in the life of a young factory worker during Ceausescu's totalitarian regime. She has been questioned before; this time, she believes, will be worse. Her crime? Sewing notes into the linings of men's suits bound for Italy. "Marry me," the notes say, with her name and address. Anything to get out of Romania.


Set in Romania at the height of Ceauescu's reign of terror, The Land of Green Plums tells the story of a group of young people who leave the impoverished province for the city in search of better prospects and camaraderie. But their hopes are ravaged, because the city, no less than the countryside, bears everywhere the mark of the dictatorship's corrosive touch. All the narrator's friends—teachers and students of vaguely dissident allegiance—betray her, do away with themselves, or both. As they do so, we see the way the totalitarian state comes to inhabit every human realm and how everyone, even the strongest, must either bend to the oppressors or resist them and thereby perish.


Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on the others. One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion, it’s the hind leg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a taunting sign that she is being watched by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter. Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated by fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator. Once again, Herta Müller uses language that displays “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose”—as the Swedish Academy noted upon awarding her the Nobel Prize—to create a hauntingly cinematic portrayal of the corruption of the soul under totalitarianism.

An Evening with Herta Muller: The 2009 Nobel Prize winner discusses her writing, her life, and more.

Praise for The Hunger Angel "Wry and poetic, and Müller's evocative language makes the abstract concrete as her narrator's sanity is stretched...Boehm's translation preserves the integrity of Müller's gorgeous prose, and Leo's despondent reveries are at once tragic and engrossing."
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Written in terse, hypnotic prose...exquisite."
The New Yorker

“A wonderful, passionate, poetic work of literature...Herta Muller is a writer who releases great emotional power through a highly sophisticated, image studded, and often expressionistic prose.” 
—Neal Ascherson, The New York Review of Books   “This is not just a good novel, it is a great one… Müller is through and through a stylist. Her novel is written in a taut idiomatic German, which breaks into paragraphs of wrenching, Rilkean lyricism...A masterpiece.” Financial Times