The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Herta Müller of Germany, announced earlier today by the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner in letters. The author, who was born in a German-speaking town in Romania and emigrated in 1987 after she was prohibited from publishing in her home country, will receive her $1.4 million prize at a ceremony in Sweden on December 10.
Müller's most recent book is the novel Atemschaukel (Hanser, 2009), which depicts the lives of German Romanians, a minority in the southeastern European country, who were deported during World War II to the Soviet Union. The author has personal ties to the situation of the individuals portrayed in her book: Müller's own mother spent five years in a Ukrainian work camp during that era.
Across her oeuvre, Müller has explored her own experiences with corruption and repression in Romania, casting a penetrating light on the situation of Romanian citizens under a dictatorship. Her debut short story collection, Niederungen (Kriterion-Verlag, 1982) was censored in Romania, though well received in Germany, along with her second collection, Drückender Tango (Kriterion-Verlag, 1984).
She has gone on to publish seventeen additional works of fiction, poetry, and essays. Her novels available in English translations are Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (Rowohlt, 1997), or The Appointment, translated by Philip Boehm and Michael Hulse (Metropolitan Books, 2001); Herztier (Rowohlt, 1994), or The Land of Green Plums, translated by Michael Hofmann (Metropolitan Books, 1996); Reisende auf einem Bein (Rotbuch-Verlag, 1989), or Traveling on One Leg, translated by Valentina Glajar and André Lefevere (Northwestern University Press, 1998); and Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt (Rotbuch-Verlag, 1986), or The Passport , translated by Martin Chalmers (Serpent's Tail, 1989).
In a video interview with Simon Frantz of Nobelprize.org, Peter Englund, the new permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, commended Müller's "extreme precision with words" and the "moral momentum in what she writes." For the uninitiated, Englund recommends Müller's Herztier, which he says is considered by many to be her best novel.