Herta Who?

Michael really nails it:

As widely noted, the popular reaction (in the US, especially) to the announcement of who took the Nobel Prize in Literature is: ‘Herta who ?’ — just like last year it was … ‘J.M.G. who ?’ (?), etc. etc. A knee-jerk reaction that’s so predictable and widespread that the European media even take note (and make fun): a dpa report gets the headline «Herta who?» – US-Medien klagen über Entscheidung (‘US media complain about decision’) in Die Zeit — or, as De Morgen put it much more clearly in a Dutch translation of the same piece: Amerikaanse media: “Müller, who the f*** is Müller?”.

Surprisingly, the ‘Herta who ?’-attitude extends to outlets who really should know better: there are many examples, but surely among the most outrageous is The Washington Post, with Mary Jordan’s Author’s Nobel Stirs Shock-and-‘Bah’

Like most parochial Americans, I had no clue who Herta Mueller was when the award was announced, but unlike many of my countrymen and -women I was at least able to fairly quickly pick up the fact that she’s considered by many as Germany’s leading author, or at least among them.

Of course, Americans have never heard of her, so why really gives a damn about an author who is one of the leading writers in the world’s fourth-largest economy?

But if I could tone down the irony for a moment, it seems like the Swedes have climbed out of their Jelinek-Pinter-Pamuk slump (too weird, too obvious, too mixed) really hit a groove. After reading some book by JMG Le Clezio, I think he’s a great pick, and from all (knowledgeable) reports, Mueller sounds like a great one too.


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I don’t know why everyone was so surprised: Mueller was 4/1 odds, behind only Amos Oz, at Ladbrokes. I took a look at her background a bit and thought her themes / topics too provincial and past-date to merit such an award. Clearly, my young American view of the world is out of alignment with the powers that be in Europe.
Not to say that Mueller is a poor choice. I have no doubt that she’s a good writer, at all; it just seemed oddly insular when there are so many worthy authors in other parts of the world. Felt the same about Pinter. I’m not a proponent of the top US choices, either. Just seemed, I don’t know, very 1980s to choose an old Cold Warrior.

I don’t think it’s typical American pbias. The response from Europe, particularly Germany, is pretty lukewarm. No one seems really crazy about her, no one’s in love with her, no one seems to be rushing around screaming “Oh, this is great, you’ve GOT to read Herta Mueller.”
http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/european-reaction-to-nobel-is-varied-and-sometimes-harsh/

Basically, I have to wonder if Herta Muller is scoffed in the U.S. because she isn’t American or because they’ve never heard of her. And if they’ve never heard of her, whose fault is that, Americans for not seeking out her books or publishers for not providing them? And why would publishers not provide these books if they’re deemed so good that much of Germany puts her on the bestseller lists, she’s won numerous awards, and now the Nobel folks decided to give her the nudge too?
I’m sure there are many (many) American and worldwide writers who deserve this prize as well. I’m sure Muller does too. It’s just that there seem to be two arguments floating around, one about the anger in the U.S. over the alleged European-centric behavior, and the other revolving around the “Herta who” point.
Hm. Too many questions. Never a good sign…

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