Cover image for The faithful river
The faithful river
Żeromski, Stefan, 1864-1925.
Uniform Title:
Wierna rzeka. English
Publication Information:
Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 179 pages ; 20 cm.
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Muller takes an unflinching look at the alienation and complexity of a rapidly changing Eastern Europe, focusing on a group of young friends in Ceaucescu's Romania.

Author Notes

Born in Romania in 1953, Herta Müller lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats after refusing to cooperate with Ceausescu's Secret Police. She succeeded in emigrating in 1987 and now lives in Berlin. The recipient of the European Literature Prize, she has also won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for her previous novel, The Land of Green Plums.

Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009.

(Publisher Provided) Herta Müller was born in Nitzkydorf, Romania on August 17, 1953 to German parents. She studied German studies and Romanian literature at Timisoara University. While there, she became part of the Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of idealistic Romanian-German writers seeking freedom of expression under the Ceaucescu dictatorship. After graduation, she worked as a translator in a machine factory, but was fired for refusing to cooperate with the secret police. Her first short story collection, Niederungen, was published in 1982 in a censored form. She immigrated to West Germany in 1987.

She is a novelist, poet and essayist whose works depict the harsh conditions of life in Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceausescu regime. Her works include Herztier or The Land of Green Plums; The Appointment; Der Fuchs War Damals Schon der Jäger or The Passport; and Atemschaukel or Everything I Possess I Carry with Me. She has won numerous awards including the Marieluise-Fleißer Prize in 1990, the Kranichsteiner Literary Prize in 1991, the Kleist Prize in 1994, and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Two unique and courageous novels, one set in Argentina, the other Romania, that depict young women coming of age under totalitarianism. In 1975, Sara, the heroine of Kozameh's brief novel, was arrested; she remained a political prisoner for more than three years. Sara's well-drawn prison life, full of brutalities as well as comforts from her companeras, is the centerpiece of the book. At the same time, Sara's life after prison, when she is nightmarishly unable to assume anything resembling a normal life, is the most affecting. No doubt painful to write, this autobiographical novel would have been improved by more context; more of Sara's life, especially before her arrest, would have lent the book greater historical depth. Sent to school in the city, the nameless narrator of Muller's novel falls in with a group of three young men. Repressed by Ceausescu's police state, they're capable of only a sort of mild political rebelliousness that expresses itself more as a state of mind than through action. The narrative follows this quartet from school to early adulthood, when the government places them in dreary jobs throughout the country, and they are forced to communicate by coded letters. Boredom, deprivation, continual governmental harassment and betrayal by friends slowly destroy these young people. By the novel's end, hope is gone, and suicide becomes either a welcome fantasy, as in the case of our narrator, or a solution, as it is for several of her friends. Recipient of Germany's most prestigious literary award, the Kelist Prize, Muller has written a novel of despair in a prose that glistens, creating vivid images to document a monochromatic world. --Brian Kenney

Publisher's Weekly Review

Five Romanian youths under the Ceausescu regime are the focus of this moving depiction of the struggle to become adults who keep "eyes wide open and tightly shut at the same time." Through the suicide of a mutual friend, the unnamed narrator‘a young woman studying to become a translator‘meets a trio of young men with whom she shares a subjugated political and philosophic rebelliousness. The jobs the state assigns them after graduation pull each to a different quadrant of the country, and this, as well as the narrator's new friendship with the daughter of a prominent Party member, strains their relations. The group manages to maintain its closeness anyway, through coded letters bearing strands of the sender's hair as a tamper-warning. As the friends begin to lose their jobs and grow weary of being followed, threatened and pulled in for semi-regular interrogations, each one thinks increasingly about escape. Terrifyingly, the narrator finds herself changing into a stranger: "someone who keeps company with misery, to make sure it stays put." Making her American debut, Müller is well-served by the workmanlike translation; though her lyrical writing falters badly at times (such as the baffling, repeated metaphor that gives the book its title), it also soars to rarefied heights. Most importantly, few books have conveyed with such clarity the convergence of terror and boredom under totalitarianism. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this new novel by the Romanian-born Müller, winner of Germany's prestigious Kleist Prize, a young woman and four of her friends struggle to maintain some degree of normalcy during the final decay of Ceausescu's regime in Romania. Throughout, the systematic tightening of the dictator's deathgrip, which slowly squeezes out every possible private aspect of individual and family life, haunts unrelentingly. The spare, discordant writing shifts from the stark realities of the present to dreamlike fragments of the heroine's childhood and life in the country, effectively juxtaposing urban and rural, where a semblance of humanity manages to survive. In the country, Grandmother wanders through fields singing and collecting sparrow's feathers; Grandfather spends his days playing chess and visiting the barber for a haircut; and city guards and children gorge on little green plums, which the country folk say is like "swallowing your death," the soft pits "burning your heart up from the inside." Many Western readers should come to appreciate Müller, whose work recalls the writing of Croatian Slavenka Drakulic (e.g., Marble Skin, LJ 1/94). Recommended for both public and academic libraries supporting world literature.‘Kathleen Marszycki, Rathbun Free Memorial Lib., Wethersfield, Ct. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In the last third of the 20th century, German literature has been enriched by an influx of immigrants who have turned to writing to communicate anxieties, fears, and discomforts. Many of them have struggled to make the German language their literary idiom, with a degree of success. M"uller arrived in West Germany in 1987, having escaped Ceau,sescu's Romania, and soon turned to fictionalizing her experiences. This is one of her most compelling and riveting tales, particularly for audiences just starting to appreciate pre-Glasnost life. Her style is intentionally stark. Short sentences, juxtaposition of unusual images and ideas, and language verging on the poetic make this work dense yet flowing. Hofmann's outstanding translation preserves M"uller's terse, poetic feel but avoids stiffness and stuffiness. The story presents the lives of a group of university students from provincial villages, who come to the city and discover that life there is in many ways as bleak and terrifying as it was in the hinterlands. Those seeking freedom of expression and thought are branded enemies of the state and must perish, even if by suicide. The only viable options are to succumb to the will of the state or emigrate, which few can do. This work transcends its own culture. All collections. C. L. Dolmetsch; Marshall University