- Reviewed by
Edited by Brigid B. Haines and Lyn L. Marven. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. xiii + 272 pages + 2 b/w illustrations. $80.00.
Conceived as a critical companion to Müller’s works, this volume features thirteen essays organized into three main groupings: explorations of Müller’s poetics and the Romanian background; individual readings of Müller’s main prose texts and volumes of collages; and a section that ranges from analyses of gender and life-writing in Müller’s works to the author’s worldwide reception through the media and the medium of translation. Haines and Marven’s “Introduction” offers a helpful and engaging overview of Müller’s life and works, an excellent commentary on the critical reception of Müller’s works to date, and a detailed overview of the volume’s essays.
Based on the premise that Herta Müller’s essays can contribute to understanding the fictional works, Katrin Kohl examines Müller’s creation of fictional spaces and her methods of creating fictional and nonfictional narratives out of real-life experiences. Analyzing Müller’s collections of essays—Der Teufel sitzt im Spiegel, Hunger und Seide, Der König verneigt sich und tötet, and Immer derselbe Schnee und immer derselbe Onkel—Kohl discusses Müller’s contribution to poetics in a discourse inaugurated by Plato and Aristotle. Examining the “vital role of the real” in Müller’s work, Kohl shows how Müller “seeks new ways of counteracting the pernicious impact of actual political systems on the lives of individuals” (17). In addition, Kohl probes Aristotelian precepts (mimetic principles and close observation) in Müller’s methods of transforming reality into text in Atemschaukel (2009). Alex Drace-Francis explores Müller’s complex relationship to Romanian culture and language by examining the socio-historical context of the German community in the Banat, Müller’s attitude towards language and its influence on her, and Müller’s 2005 Romanian-language collection of collage poems, Este sau nu este Ion, which reflects Müller’s “familiarity with and fondness for colloquial registers” (11). Drace-Francis argues that Müller’s engagement with Romanian shows both her “complex familiarity with Romanian experiences” and “tendency to defamiliarization” (33, 48). This essay, which presents also an informative discussion on the influence of Romanian artists and writers such as Tristan Tzara, Paul Celan, and Maria Tănase, could have benefited from engaging with Iulia-Karin Patrut’s and Paola Bozzi’s ground-breaking studies on Müller’s use of Romanian language and folklore. Analyzing Müller’s recent political writing, Cristina und ihre Attrappe, “Die Securitate ist noch im Dienst,” interviews, and public statements, Valentina Glajar demonstrates how Müller’s work “makes a significant contribution to Romania’s cultural memory” against “collective [End Page 155] amnesia” and the “concealment of communism” as part of a Romanian “methodology of forgetting” (50). Glajar offers also an insightful analysis of the informative network of the Securitate (the Romanian Secret Police) focusing on Securitate collaborators who spied on Müller and her fellow German-Romanian writers.
Moray McGowan provides a close reading of Müller’s Reisende auf einem Bein, arguing that the novel “constructs a densely poetic, subtly ambivalent relationship between the city and the self” (65). In a detailed grammatical and stylistic analysis in which she also draws from various German-language texts that employ the trope of traveling “auf einem Bein,” McGowan probes the ambiguity of the novel’s title, proposing a “re-importation of the notion of migration” as “a mode of consciousness or experience, rather than a sociological fate” (81). Analyzing the use of metaphor in Müller’s Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger, which she classifies as “arguably the most difficult of Müller’s novels,” Beverley Driver Eddy addresses the novel’s “complex lyrical illuminations of the damage” suffered by individuals in a repressive society (87, 84). Following her analysis of Romania’s “unique literary climate,” Eddy presents a helpful typology of Müller’s use of metaphor, distinguishing four main modes of working which provide...