Life in a Dictatorship


The winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, Herta Müller, came to Book World Prague to talk to the filled Large Theatre about her work and her new book The Fox Was Ever the Hunter.

Books penned by Herta Müller are no relaxing read - they are taxing and full of complicated human stories. Nonetheless, her works are acclaimed throughout the world, and, besides selling well, have received many awards. As a daughter of German parents living in Romania she has experienced some difficult times in her life, which are reflected in her work. Her life has been marked by Ceausescu's totalitarian regime and her father's wartime SS membership. Fate had dealt her a tough hand indeed. "I've read many books about Nazism and tried to understand my father, why he had joined that movement, and how was it possible for such criminal as Hitler to manipulate the masses. But I still don't understand it," she admitted. During her debate with book fair visitors she recalled how, having moved to Germany, she was under the scrutiny of the state police and how she always knew that her apartment had been searched while she was away. "I had a fox fur at home and they would always cut a piece off - the head, the feet... and then arrange it in such a way that it looked normal. It was a clear threat. My understanding was that they are showing me what they could do to me," she recalls. These experiences formed the bases of her latest novel, The Fox Was Ever the Hunter. 

"Sadly, the heart of the story is real. The rest is extrapolation, playing around with characters," explained the writer. "Living under such pressure is difficult for the psyche, for retaining one's sanity. On the other hand, it gives you a chance to really get to know yourself. Life under a dictatorship forces you to decide if you succumb to fear or stand up to it. Dictatorships are designed to make people afraid, because when people are afraid, it is easier to manipulate them," she added. "I knew that to say what I really thought would land me in jail in less than two days. Therefore I would only say a half of it. All the various meetings made me sick, I was suffocating from all the babble until I reached a point when I realised I had nothing to lose," she recalled. To conclude with, Herta Müller admitted that she never longed to be a writer. She wanted to become a hairdresser or a seamstress, because she liked the way these professions could radically change a person. In a way, her dream has come true - the books she writes change people, their minds, their way of thinking, which is more than changing the way a person looks.