Herta Mueller Wins 2009 Nobel Literature Prize

Herta Mueller, a member of Romania's ethnic German minority who was persecuted for her critical depictions of life behind the Iron Curtain, won the Thursday in an award seen as a nod to the 20th anniversary of communism's collapse.

Mueller was honored for work that "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed," the Swedish Academy said.

The decision was expected to keep alive the controversy surrounding the academy's pattern of awarding the prize to European writers.

"If you are European (it is) easier to relate to European literature," Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told The Associated Press. "It's the result of psychological bias that we really try to be aware of. It's not the result of any program."

Mueller, 56, made her debut in 1982 with a collection of short stories titled "Niederungen," or "Nadirs," depicting the harshness of life in a small, German-speaking village in Romania. It was promptly censored by the communist government.

In 1984 an uncensored version was smuggled to Germany, where it was published and devoured by readers. That work was followed by "Oppressive Tango" in Romania but she was eventually prohibited from publishing inside her country for her criticism of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's rule and its feared secret police, the Securitate.

"The Romanian national press was very critical of these works while, outside of Romania, the German press received them very positively," the Academy said.

Mueller, whose father served in the Waffen SS during World War II, is the third European to win the prize in a row and the 10th German, joining Guenter Grass in 1999 and Heinrich Boell in 1972.

"I think that there is an incredible force in what she writes, she has a very, very unique style," Englund said. "You read half the page and you know at once that it's Herta Mueller."

"At the same time she has something to tell, partly from her own background as a persecuted dissident in Romania, but also her own background as a stranger in her own country, a stranger to the political regime, a stranger to the majority language, and a stranger to her own family," he added.

Mueller emigrated to Germany with her husband in 1987, two years before Ceausescu was toppled from power amid the widening communist collapse across eastern Europe.

"She is a very sincere writer and wrote about what happened to her and this is something that must have impressed the judges," said Romanian actor Ion Caramitru, an anti-communist who rode atop a tank to the television station in Bucharest during the 1989 revolt and now heads the country's national theater.

"This prize is the international recognition of the oppression of what happened in Romania and Eastern Europe," he told the AP.

Emil Hurezeanu, a Romanian journalist who knew Mueller well, said the author was forced to leave Romania because of harassment by the Securitate, which is alleged to have had more than 700,000 informants.

"She worked as a translator in a modest factory near Timisoara. She was persecuted, she was fired from her job as they used to do. Manuscripts of one of her books was carried to Germany by a German diplomat."

"Her books and language are inspired by Romania. She has a very strong prose. She writes in a lively, poetic, corrosive style," he said.

Most of her work is in German, but some works have been translated into English, French and Spanish, including "The Passport," "The Land of Green Plums," "Traveling on One Leg" and "The Appointment."

Mueller's latest novel, "Atemschaukel," or "Swinging Breath" is up for this year's German Book Prize, which will be announced Monday.

"The author is very pleased, and we are as well," Leonie Obalski, spokeswoman for Mueller's publisher, Hansa Verlag told AP.

Mueller is the 12th woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Recent female winners include Austria's Elfriede Jelinek in 2004 and British writer Doris Lessing in 2007.

It's the first time four women have won Nobel Prizes in the same year. U.S.-based researchers Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider were among the medicine winners and the chemistry prize included Israel's Ada Yonath.

The prize includes a 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) prize and will be handed out Dec. 10 in the Swedish capital.

With literature, four of the 2009 Nobel Prizes have now been announced. American scientists won the medicine and physics prizes, while two Americans and an Israeli researcher shared the award for chemistry.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday and the economics award on Monday.

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite, established the Nobel Prizes in his will in 1895. The first awards were handed out six years later.

Besides the monetary prize, each award includes a diploma, a gold medal and an invitation to the prize ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10. The peace prize is handed out in Oslo.

Last year's literature prize went to French novelist Jean-Marie Le Clezio.

This program aired on October 8, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


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