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Herta Muller wins Nobel Prize in Literature

October 8, 2009 |  5:24 am

Hertamuller An ethnic German born in Romania, writer Herta Müller has won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. The 56-year-old, who emigrated to Germany in 1987, has made the trials of living under Nicolae Ceauşescu's dictatorship a focus of her work.

In its citation, the Nobel committee wrote that Müller, "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

Müller, a novelist and short-story writer, was considered by some to be among the top authors in the running for the award, although Amos Oz of Israel was the odds-on favorite of British wagering firm Ladbroke's.

Ladbroke's, which had Müller, at 50 to 1, had two American writers as likely winners: Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. Last year, Horace Engdahl, then permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which distributes the Nobels, caused a stir when he declared American fiction unfit for the award. "Europe still is the center of the literary world ... not the United States," he told the Associated Press. "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular."

Müller's cross-European history may have appealed to this year's judges. She was raised in a German-speaking minority in Romania, but her early writing set her on a collision course with the repressive regime there. After her first two books, she was forbidden from publishing in Romania, leading to her departure for Germany. When she won the 1998 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for her novel "The Land of Green Plums," she said, "I wrote this book in memory of my Romanian friends who were killed under the Ceausescu regime. I felt it was my duty." 

"The Land of Green Plums" is one of only four of Müller's 19 books that have been translated into English. The most recent is "The Appointment," published in 2001. Chances are her work will now become more widely available. Although if last year's winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is an indicator, it may be some time before that happens -- his novel "Desert" took about a year to hit shelves.

In addition to the honor, the Nobel Prize in Literature comes with a hefty financial reward: Herta Müller will receive $1.4 million.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jens Meyer / Associated Press

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