- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

UPDATED:

STOCKHOLM — Herta Mueller, a little-known Romanian-born author who was persecuted for her critical depictions of life behind the Iron Curtain, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday in an award seen as a nod to the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism.

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

Mrs. Mueller, a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority, 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.

“I am very surprised and still cannot believe it,” Mrs. Mueller said in a statement released by her publisher in Germany, where she is renowned. “I can’t say anything more at the moment.”

Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told the Associated Press this week that the secretive Swedish Academy had been too “Eurocentric” in picking winners.

His predecessor, Horace Engdahl, stirred up heated emotions across the Atlantic when he told the AP in 2008 that “Europe still is the center of the literary world” and the quality of U.S. writing was dragged down because authors were “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture.”

After Mrs. Mueller’s name was announced, Mr. Englund told the AP: “If you are European, (it is) easier to relate to European literature. It’s the result of psychological bias that we really try to be aware of. It’s not the result of any program.”

Mrs. 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 Romanian 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 eventually was 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.

Emilia Marta, a 55-year-old teacher who moved into the house in Romania’s Transylvania Banat region where Mrs. Mueller was born, said the author has yet to return. The mayor of the 1,600-person town of Nichtidorf said Mrs. Mueller would be greeted with honors.

“If she will accept this, of course,” Ioan Mascovescu said.

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

Though Mr. Englund said the award was not timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, that’s how it was perceived by many observers.

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