Romanian-born, German writer Herta Mülller was tapped for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature today. Persecuted for her depictions of life under Nicolae Ceauşescu in communist Romania, Mülller is a voice for the repressed citizens behind the iron curtain — a detail clearly not lost on the Swedish Academy given the 20th anniversary of communism’s collapse in Europe.
Sure, Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, insisted the timing was a coincidence, but he also recently noted that the judges have been overly “Eurocentric” in their selection of literature laureates in the past. This latter observation now seems to have been a political pander, however. After all, Englund’s predecessor, Horace Engdahl, stated just last year that “Europe still is the center of the literary world” — a statement that pissed off the international literary community, to say the least.
The former secretary’s jab was made all the more catty at the time when he further noted that American authors are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture.” Really? Fine, we’ll admit that the abundance of twee writing, spearheaded by Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer, in recent years has long outlived its saccharine appeal, but that’s certainly not a commentary on American letters as a whole. From Sinclair Lewis’ Nobel award in 1930 up to Toni Morrison’s 1993 win, the U.S. has proudly boasted a number of deserving writers who represent the country’s literary tradition — albeit a relatively short one — while reflecting a global appreciation for storytelling.
Patriotic grievances aside, Mülller’s win puts a welcome spotlight on a writer deserving of greater international recognition. Though popular in Germany, where she now resides, Mülller’s work is pathetically under-translated despite her breathtaking 22 literary awards in less than 30 years. Her work encompasses novels, short stories, and poetry — the combination of which earned the Academy’s descriptive accolade: “[Mülller], who with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”
Of the books already translated into English, The Passport, The Land of Green Plums, and The Appointment are good starting places for anyone eager to delve into Müller’s engrossing writing and incisive social criticism. There will undoubtedly be more to choose from in the near future.