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Nobel literature winner Mueller "lost for words"

By Simon Johnson and Adam Cox

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Romanian-born German writer Herta Mueller, who charted the brutality and oppressiveness of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship, was lost for words when she learnt she had won the 2009 Nobel literature prize.

The Swedish Academy paid tribute to Mueller "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed," when announcing the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.4 million) award.

"She was very, very happy. She said she lost her breath and it felt unreal and she was at a loss for words," the Academy's permanent secretary, Peter Englund, told Reuters, adding:

"But she promised me that when we meet again in December (for the awards ceremony) she would have found her words again."

Mueller is known for works such as "The Land of Green Plums" which she dedicated to Romanian friends killed under Ceausescu's Communist rule and "The Appointment" in which a Romanian woman sews notes saying "Marry Me" into suits of men bound for Italy.

"There is a real power to the way she writes ... she has an incredible message," Englund said. "Part of it is her own background as a victim of persecution in Romania but then she also has her own background as a stranger in her own country."


Mueller, whose mother was sent to a Soviet work camp for five years and who herself was harassed by the Romanian Securitate secret police after refusing to become an informer, made her debut in 1982 with a collection of short stories.

That work, "Niederungen," was censored in Romania. In it, and in her book "Drueckender Tango" (Oppressive Tango) published two years later, she wrote about corruption and repression in the German-speaking village of Nitzkydorf where she was born.

"From now, I can say our village does exist on the map," Nitzkydorf Mayor Ioan Mascovescu told Romania's Realitatea TV on hearing that Mueller had become a laureate.

Mueller, whose father served in the Waffen SS in World War Two, studied German and Romanian literature at the university in Timisoara where she associated with Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of authors who opposed Ceausescu and sought freedom of speech.

Her sensitive and insightful works reflect the intolerance and harshness of life under Ceausescu, who was overthrown and executed in 1989. She left Romania with her husband Richard Wagner in 1987 and now lives in Berlin.

Her latest novel "Atemschaukel" (Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), about a 17-year-old youth who is deported to a Ukrainian labor camp, was described by one German reviewer as "phenomenal, moving and humbling."

Prize-winners over the last decade have been dominated by Europeans and some have criticized the Academy as being too narrow-minded in its world outlook. Mueller, also known as a poet and essayist, is the 12th woman to win the Nobel prize for literature since it was set up in 1901.

"I just talked to her on the phone and she was blown away, just blown away," Wolfgang Matz, Mueller's editor at Hanser Publishers in Munich, told Reuters Television.

"Her name's been mentioned for the last three or four years and then suddenly she gets it ... even if you know you might be a candidate, it's still unbelievable when you get it. It's deeply moving for me that such a great writer got this prize."

Fellow laureate, Imre Kertesz of Hungary who is a friend of Mueller, told MTI news agency: "I am enthralled," adding: "Herta Mueller has endured many hardships, she arrived tormented in Berlin from Romania in 1987."

Criticism of comments last year by then Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl, who said that Americans did not participate in literature's "big dialogue," had led to speculation the committee might choose an American this year.

Bookmakers had Israeli novelist Amos Oz as favorite to win this year's prize, with Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth as leading contenders. (Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom and from Budapest and Bucharest; Editing by Peter Millership)

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