Herta Müller in The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Did you sing when you were alone like that?

MÜLLER

Little songs we learned in kindergarten, things like “Ein Männlein steht im Walde.” But I also talked to myself a lot, and with the plants. I was convinced I could speak with everything.

INTERVIEWER

Did you talk to God?

MÜLLER

I wouldn’t have dared to. Even back then, I didn’t want to get more involved. He sees enough as it is, I thought. And I had my hands full just watching the cows. I had to make sure they didn’t get into the fields because the fields belonged to the state. And sometimes if the cows hadn’t eaten, they’d go crazy and start running all around. Not all the cows in Romania were like what people saw on TV. Most of them were pretty scrawny, but Ceausescu had this herd of fattened cattle they would ship in advance to some village in the countryside. Then the TV would come and take pictures of him with the fat cows grazing in the background. But I had to be very careful that the ones I was watching didn’t get into the field or else my parents would have had to pay a fine they couldn’t afford. And then in the evening I would lead the cows back to the village.

INTERVIEWER

In your contribution to the Nobel symposium on witness literature, you wrote about waiting for the trains to pass.

MÜLLER

I didn’t have a watch, so I had to wait for the fourth train to pass through the valley before I took the cows home. By then it was eight o’clock—I had spent all day in the valley. I needed to watch the cows, but the cows didn’t need me at all. They had their everyday life and grazed away and weren’t interested in me in the least. They knew exactly who they were—but what about me? I’d look at my hands and feet and wonder what I really was. What material was I made of ? Obviously something different than the cows or the plants. And being so different was hard for me. I’d look at the plants and animals and think to myself, They have a good life, they know how to live. So I tried to get closer. I talked to the plants, I would taste them and I knew what each one tasted like. I ate every weed I could find, thinking that once I’d tasted the plant I would be a little closer to it and that I could change into something else, that I could change my flesh, my skin into something that was more like the plant so that it would accept me. Of course, that was really just my loneliness, which was compounded by the worries I had with looking after the cows. So I studied the plants, I picked the flowers and paired them up so they could get married. Whatever I knew people did, I thought the plants did, too. I was convinced that they had eyes and that they moved at night and that the linden tree near our house visited the linden tree in the village.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve written about making up new names for plants as well. Like thornrib or needleneck instead of milk thistle.

MÜLLER

Because I didn’t feel the plant listened to the name milk thistle. So I tried out other names.

Plant names are a complicated thing. The most beautiful names are the folk names, the ones the peasants use, the ones people give to the plants because of how they look or what they do. The scientific names seem so remote. It’s sad but I’ve even been to florists in Berlin where they don’t know the simplest plant names.