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Interview With Herta Mueller

Romanian-born author Herta Mueller today won the 2009 Nobel prize for literature.

Mueller, whose parents were members of the German-speaking minority in Romania, spoke to RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service in 1999 about growing up under Ceausescu and how it shaped her work.

Here are excerpts from that interview:

"I was born in Romania. I grew up there and I lived there until I was 32. I left Romania in a rather complicated state of mind. I wrote my first books in Romania. My first book was "Niederungen" [“Lowlands”], which is about a child's view of the German Banat [a region in western Romania]. In that book, and in others, the central topic is the dictatorship. I knew nothing else. I'd seen nothing else. And I continued with that topic."

"I have no other landscape other than the one I know, the one I came from. [My] literary characters reflect what happens to the human being in a totalitarian society or system. And I believe this is not a topic that I chose, but rather one that my life has chosen for me. I don't have that freedom of choice. I cannot say: 'I want to write about that thing, or about that other thing.' I am bound to write about what concerns me and about the things that won't leave me in peace."

"I believe there is a kind of literature throughout the world, the literature of biography that runs in parallel with extreme events, in parallel with the authors' lives. For example in the 1950s, the gulag was present in Eastern Europe in certain forms. [Or] for instance, the labor camps. And then we have the national-socialist era, Hitler's time, the destruction of the Jews, a topic which many authors have described in parallel with their own biographies.... I believe this type of literature exists everywhere, from Cuba to China."

-- Translated by Mircea Ticudean

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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