German author Herta Mueller wins Nobel Prize for Literature

9th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The author is celebrated for her depictions of the grim daily life under Romanian communism and the harsh treatment of Romanian Germans.

Stockholm – Romanian-born German author Herta Mueller won the 2009 Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday for her work inspired by her life under Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania.

The Nobel jury hailed Mueller, 56, as a writer who "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, described Mueller as "a great artist of words."

Mueller was born in a German-speaking region of Romania and fled the country two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She has long been cited as a probable winner, and the award finally came just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism.

"I am stunned and still cannot believe it. I can't say any more right now," Mueller was quoted as saying in a letter released by her German publisher, Carl Hanser Verlag.

The grim daily life under Ceausescu's oppressive regime and the harsh treatment of Romanian Germans has featured strongly in her works. Her first published book had to be smuggled out of Romania to avoid censors.

"One can say that her work is a combination of, on the one side, a fantastic language -- she's very distinctive, you need only read half a page to realise this is Herta Mueller -- and its composition, its short sentences, full of imagery, and its also her extreme precision and how she uses the language," Englund told Swedish radio.

Mueller "has a story to tell. And it's not just about daily life in a dictatorship, it's also about being an outsider."

"Being outside the language of the majority, being outside the history that has befallen you, even being outside your own family. And then to change countries and realise that it doesn't change all of this," he added.

"It's a very, very strong story."

Mueller was born on August 17, 1953 in western Romania to parents of the German-speaking minority. Her father was in the Nazi SS during World War II and the Romanian communists deported her mother to a labour camp in Soviet Ukraine after the war.

Mueller was sacked from her first job as a translator in the 1970s after refusing to work for Ceausescu's hated Securitate secret police.

She devoted her life to literature. But her first collection of short stories, Niederungen, in 1982 -- published as Nadirs in English -- was censored by the Romanian regime and only published in full two years later in Germany after being smuggled out.

Mueller depicted the exile of German Romanians in the Soviet Union in her latest novel Atemschaukel from 2009.

She fled Romania for Germany in 1987, after being prohibited from publishing in her country, and it was then that she was fully discovered by the literary world.

Her major novels include The Passport, published in 1986 in Germany and translated in 1989, as well as The Appointment, translated in 2001, which describes the anxiety of a woman summoned by the Securitate.

In a 2007 article for German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, Mueller described Ceausescu, who was shot dead at the end of an uprising, as "a parvenu with water taps and gold cutlery with a real weakness for palaces."

She said Romania had developed "collective amnesia" over its repressive past.

"They're pretending that it disappeared into thin air, the whole country is afflicted by collective amnesia. Even though it was home to the most abstruse dictatorship in eastern Europe and after Stalin, the most evil dictator, with a personality cult to rival North Korea's," she wrote.

Mueller follows French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio in winning the Nobel diploma, medal and 10 million kronor (1.42 million dollars, 980,000 euros).

She is the 12th woman to win a Nobel Literature Prize. A record four women have won Nobels this year, beating the previous record of three from 2004.

After the science awards this week, the Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, and the Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on Monday.

The formal prize ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo will be held as tradition dictates on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize's creator, Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

Pia Ohlin/AFP/Expatica

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