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Herta Müller: A German conscience for Ceauşescu's Romania

AFP · 8 Oct 2009, 14:31

Published: 08 Oct 2009 14:31 GMT+02:00

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Born in August 1953 in the traditionally German-speaking Nabat region of Romania, her father was a member of the Nazi SS. Romania's postwar communist authorities deported her mother to a labour camp.

After studying literature between 1973 and 1976, Müller was sacked from her first job as a translator in a machinery factory after refusing to work for Ceauşescu's hated Securitate secret police. It was at this time that she decided to devote her life to literature, but she refused to publish her first book Niederungen ("Nadirs") in Romania because of attempts by the authorities to censor it.

The manuscript, describing vividly the drab life in communist Romania, was smuggled into West Germany, where it was published in 1984, with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine pronouncing her a "discovery."

After being refused permission to emigrate to West Germany in 1985, she was finally allowed to leave in 1987 after her barbed criticism of her native country's regime earned her death threats from the secret police.

Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and Ceauşescu and his wife Elena summary execution by firing squad on Christmas Day the same year.

Müller, 56, now lives in Berlin and her works are little known outside the German-speaking world.

The Berlin International Literature Festival described her work as being focused on the non-conformist life in the smallest unit of the dictatorial state, as well as observations from her childhood and village life and family.

The novel Reisende auf einem Bein ("Travelling On One Leg") portrays the

difficulties of settling anew in foreign surroundings.

Alongside other novels about the Ceauşescu regime like Herztier ("Land of

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Green Plums") and Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet ("The Appointment"), she has also written a series of political essays.

Beside the prizes for her debut, she has received the European Literary Prize "Aristeion", the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Kleist Prize, the Kafka Prize.

In a 2007 column in the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, Müller said that Romania was "afflicted by collective amnesia" about its communist past, calling the Ceauşescu "the most evil dictator" after Stalin, "with a personality cult to rival North Korea's."

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