Some of you may have read Karen’s My Train of Thought’s On…awhile back on her Did You Know? Nobel Prizes Literature post.

If so, you might have noticed that out of 106 Nobel Prizes for Literature 13 have been awarded to women.


Okay. I won’t get into any equality debate. Or the men are better writers than women argument. (Yawn..Oh, sorry). All, I’ll say is have you read Herta Muller?

Her novels are a reflection of her own struggles of living under the repressed dictatorship of Ceausescu’s’ Romanian regime. They are filled with betrayals, rebellion, corruption and forced labor camps. To read any of them is heartbreaking and haunting.

Photo source: wikipedia.org

Recipients of Nobel prizes for literature often, in my opinion, win because of their humanitarian and political stance.

But that is not enough. Their writing must be stellar.

Herta Muller’s writing is stunning. An example is her talent to take a simple object and describe it with such eloquence as she did in her lecture – Every word knows something of a vicious circle – which she delivered in 2009 when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Read how she begins:

DO YOU HAVE A HANDKERCHIEF was the question my mother asked me every morning, standing by the gate to our house, before I went out onto the street. I didn’t have a handkerchief. And because I didn’t, I would go back inside and get one. I never had a handkerchief because I would always wait for her question. The handkerchief was proof that my mother was looking after me in the morning. For the rest of the day I was on my own. The question DO YOU HAVE A HANDKERCHIEF was an indirect display of affection. Anything more direct would have been embarrassing and not something the farmers practiced. Love disguised itself as a question. That was the only way it could be spoken: matter-of-factly, in the tone of a command, or the deft maneuvers used for work. The brusqueness of the voice even emphasized the tenderness. Every morning I went to the gate once without a handkerchief and a second time with a handkerchief. Only then would I go out onto the street, as if having the handkerchief meant having my mother there, too.

The handkerchief is what Muller grasped unto as she went on to described her own struggles with the Communist regime and her stubborn refusal to join the party. She continued for several paragraphs describing how dictatorships deprive dignity and then returned to a more personal description.

No other object in the house, including ourselves, was ever as important to us as the handkerchief. Its uses were universal: sniffles; nosebleeds; hurt hand, elbow or knee; crying, or biting into it to suppress the crying. A cold wet handkerchief on the forehead for headaches. Tied at the four corners it protected your head against sunburn or rain. If you had to remember something you made a knot to prompt your memory. For carrying heavy bags you wrapped it around your hand. When the train pulled out of the station you waved it to say good-bye. And because the word for tear in our Banat dialect sounds like the Romanian word for train, the squeaking of the railcars on the tracks always sounded to me like crying. In the village if someone died at home they immediately tied a handkerchief around his chin so that his mouth stayed closed when the rigor mortis set in. In the city if a person collapsed on the side of the road, some passerby would always take a handkerchief and cover his face, so that the handkerchief became the dead man’s first place of peace.

And finally ended her lecture with a universal truth.

It seems to me that the objects don’t know their material, the gestures don’t know their feelings, and the words don’t know the mouth that speaks them. But to be certain of our own existence, we need the objects, the gestures, and the words. After all, the more words we are allowed to take, the freer we become. If our mouth is banned, then we attempt to assert ourselves through gestures, even objects. They are more difficult to interpret, and take time before they arouse suspicion. They can help us turn humiliation into a type of dignity that takes time to arouse suspicion.

Can it be that the question about the handkerchief was never about the handkerchief at all, but rather about the acute solitude of a human being?

Is it any wonder that she was awarded the Nobel Prize?

To read the entire speech click here.

So what are your thoughts, do you prefer to read books written by men or women or does it matter? 

28 thoughts on “HERTA MÜLLER

  1. I’ve never understood the men vs. women writers’ debate. So silly to think one is better at an art because of their gender. One might gravitate toward writers of the same sex because they may better relate to their words, but even that only holds true to a degree. I’ve read books with female protagonists written by men that capture the character perfectly and vice versa.

    Muller’s writing is indeed stunning. Hopefully, the number of women winning Nobel Prizes in literature will steadily increase in proportion to the men.


  2. I enjoyed reading your post today, Carol. I am going to press the entire read now. I shared in one post, it seems you have to suffer something in order to write well. Actually, from the heart really. So happy we ran across each other here on WordPress.


  3. Thank you, Carol, for sharing Herta Müller’s work. I always admire so much writers who can convey so much so skillfully. One can learn a lot from them.


  4. To me it’s not important whether a man or a woman has written what I read – it’s the content, of course. As far as the handkerchief is concerned I can certainly relate to that, having spent the first decade of my life in Croatia (communist Yugoslavia) before the family fled communism and the handkerchief thing has stayed with me all my life – I always have a clean handkerchief in my handbag: just in case! It provides me with a sense of being equipped for all sorts of eventualities, not unlike those recounted by Herta 😀 These cultures overlap when it comes to that. And if considered deeply, having a handkerchief does symbolize acute human solitude in that it provides a sense of security … much like a child’s “security blanket” ? only for grown ups. Thank you for this post as I had not read Herta’s book but surely will now.


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  6. Yes, I can see why she won the Nobel Prize. The days of handkerchiefs are almost gone. Every once in a while I find one in the wash I do each week. This tells me my husband still uses one on occasion. However, I don’t have one anymore. They vanished in one of the many moves I’ve made.


  7. I have not heard of Muller until today and it is a pleasure to read such beauty in words. I do not have a preference of male or female writers. However I do appreciate it tremendously when the author shows me something I have never seen before through her/his writing. To me, that’s the joy of reading – to see different sides to the same story, or to be taken on a journey and experience a whole new world 🙂


  8. When I gathered the Nobel Prize statistics, I found some intriguing pieces of information. I am glad that you chose Herta Müller for this blog post, Carol. Her speech is quite impressive. Last year’s winner inspired me to blog the statistics.
    It really does not matter if a man or a woman writes a book. It is important what and how it is written that counts.
    Who selects the nominees, and which criteria do they apply? Another interesting question: is the group of decision makers influenced by the writer’s gender – or is it really about the book


  9. I read Müller’s Land of Green Plums a few years ago and was looking forward to discussing with the group who had chosen it and then, for a mixture of reasons, the group folded. I have always felt frustrated not to have had this discussion. I found it quite tricky to understand and I wash’t sure how much was translation and how much was me not always following the author.
    I read both men and women happily, I just wish we could grow out of the presumption that female = less important in whatever field.


    • It is difficult to say how good the translation is but I it could also be the writing and the culture. I find it helpful to read comments on Goodreads and Amazon as well as Reviews from newspapers to get a better grasps of the meaning of books, especially books of such literary high standards.


  10. I loved this article. Truly the essence of simplicity with the deepest of meanings. Thanks Carol, I love coming here and being introduced to some excellent writing! 🙂


  11. excellent post, Carol… I have in common one thing with Herta: I was born in Romania, too… 🙂 Otherwise, I don’t really think she’s “deserved” the Nobel prize that caused a big polémique-controversy… but my opinion doesn’t matter! 🙂 my very best, tons of inspiration and have a sunny Friday! 🙂 cheers, Mélanie – Toulouse, France


    • On the contrary, I think all opinions matter.
      Not too sunny here but nevertheless I will try to have a sunny Friday in my heart. Cheers and warmth to you.
      Thank you for commenting.


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