language has different eyes: die Sprache hat andere Augen

HertaMüllerLynMarvenThe Romanian-German writer Herta Müller is 60 today. Four years since the Times introduced her Nobel literature win with “Herta Müller – who she?” a new book about her is finally out in English.

Here’s her Nobel Prize acceptance interview in German, with English translation.

She describes seeing the world in two languages: “Language has different eyes.” She sees things fom the perspective of both languages, whichever she is using, wherever she is. It’s not always clear to her from which view she is writing.

Growing up in the German minority in communist Romania, her criticism of the regime was well received abroad, but not at home, and she emigrated in 1987.

Her first impression of West Berlin was intense. There was so much to read – text in German everywhere she looked, suddenly surrounded by colour instead of grey, grey, grey…

Text and colour come together in her more recent collage poetry with words cut out of magazines, in both Romanian and German here. If like me, you know one language far better than the other, you can feel the gap between what you see and what you comprehend. Yet the same eyes have clearly arranged these visual verses, bridging the gap between the languages.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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