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Germany's Mueller Wins Literature Nobel


All this week, we've been reporting on the winners of the Nobel Prizes in science and other fields. Today, we have the Nobel Prize in literature. And the winner is Herta Mueller. Joining us now to tell us more about her is NPR's Lynn Neary. Good morning.

LYNN NEARY: Good morning, Renee.


MONTAGNE: And the Swedish Academy is famous for honoring writers that could be, I think, fairly called obscure, outside literary circles. So, Lynn, help us out, here. Who is Herta Mueller?

NEARY: All right. Herta Mueller is a Romanian-born German writer. She was born in 1953. She grew up in Romania under the Ceausescu regime, and that experience permeates her work. She resisted the repressive government first as a university student when she joined a group of writers who were seeking freedom of expression. And then later she was fired from a job as a translator at a factory for refusing to cooperate with the secret police. And it was during that time that she wrote a book of short stories called "Nadirs," which focused on life in Romania's German-speaking villages. And in this book and in other stories, she's depicted the people in these villages - and it's a kind of village where she grew up - she's depicted them as hypocrites, intolerant of people who are different. That book was censored, "Nadirs" was censored by the Romanian government, but in 1984 an uncensored version was published in Germany, and it was very popular there.

MONTAGNE: Now, you just called her a German writer. So does Herta Mueller still live in Romania?

NEARY: In another novel, "The Appointment," Mueller focuses on how the regime affects one factory worker who is charged with prostitution after she sews messages to men overseas into the suits of clothes that she's making.

MONTAGNE: Lynn, who does the decision to give the award to Mueller reflect the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature?


NEARY: You know, and it's interesting to note, Renee, that some people are saying that perhaps this decision is a nod to the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism, and that the fact that so much of her work focuses on repression, corruption and intolerance makes her something of a perfect choice for Nobel judges, who have sometimes been criticized for considering a writer's politics on the same level as their work.

MONTAGNE: And the boost that Herta Mueller might get - and we just have a couple seconds here, though - from getting this Nobel would be presumably that more people would discover her writing.

NEARY: That's right. One publisher I spoke to yesterday said these kinds of awards can be manna from heaven.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lynn Neary. Thanks very much.

NEARY: Good to be here.

MONTAGNE: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.