German Book Prize Bypasses Nobel Winner

October 15, 2009
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October 15 – October 22, 2009 Edition

German Book Prize Bypasses Nobel Winner

STOCKHOLM/Authorlink News/10/15/09—The announcement last week that Herta Mueller, a little-known Romanian-born author persecuted for her critical depictions of life behind the Iron Curtain, had won the 2009 Nobel Prize <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/nicolae_ceausescu/index.html?inline=nyt-per> in literature, has drawn a mixture of criticism and praise from various observers. A Monday announcement showing Mueller had been passed over for the German Book Prize added to the controversy.

Mueller's latest novel, ''Atemschaukel,'' or ''Swinging Breath'' was short listed for this year's German Book Prize. But Kathrin Schmidt, age 51, was honored for her novel "You're Not Going to Die," the story of a woman who wakes up in a hospital after a coma unable to speak or move or remember her former life.

Mueller, a member of Romania's ethnic German minority, was honored with the Nobel for work that ''with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed,'' the Swedish Academy said.

The decision fueled controversy surrounding the Swedish Academy's pattern of awarding the prize to European writers. Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told The Associated Press this week that the secretive Swedish Academy had been too ''eurocentric'' in picking winners.

His predecessor, Horace Engdahl, stirred up heated emotions across the Atlantic when he told the AP in 2008 that ''Europe still is the center of the literary world'' and the quality of U.S. writing was dragged down because authors were ''too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture.''

After Mueller was announced, he told the media that ''If you are European (it is) easier to relate to European literature. It's the result of psychological bias that we really try to be aware of. It's not the result of

any program.''

The 56-year-old Mueller, published her first work in 1982 with a collection of short stories titled ''Niederungen,'' or ''Nadirs,'' depicting the harshness of life in a small, German-speaking village in Romania. The

communist government quickly censored it.

In 1984 an uncensored version was smuggled to Germany, where it was published and devoured by readers. That work was followed by ''Oppressive Tango'' in Romania but she was eventually blocked from publishing inside her country for her criticism of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/nicolae_ceausescu/index.html?inline=nyt-per> rule and its feared secret police.

Much of Mueller's work is in German, but some works have been translated into English, French and Spanish, including ''The Passport,'' ''The Land of Green Plums,'' ''Traveling on One Leg'' and ''The Appointment.'' She is the 12th woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

The New York Times’s Art Beat quoted several bloggers’ mixed reactions to the Noble prize:

“Another obscure author honored while far better writers remain unrecognized. It is time to abolish the Nobel Prize for Literature! — HS <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/herta-muller-wins-the-2009-nobel-prize-for-literature/?apage=2#comment-141561>

“Congratulations to the winner that many of us well-read Americans have never heard of. Let’s hope this spurs some of her work being translated into English so a wider audience can read her. Thanks to the hard work of translators we’ve enjoyed Haruki Murakami and Roberto Bolano. — Fjorder <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/herta-muller-wins-the-2009-nobel-prize-for-literature/?apage=2#comment-141541>

“Why is this award a great idea? Because Müller is a very good writer, of course, dealing with one of the most terrible of the 20th century political regimes (Ceausescu’s Romania). And awarding the prize to her is, at the same time, awarding it to all writers from eastern Europe who raised voice against communist dictatures. — O. <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/herta-muller-wins-the-2009-nobel-prize-for-literature/?apage=3#comment-141609> Bondy

“Wake up: the age of Americans winning the Nobel has long been over. It has nothing to do with quality of literature, but with geopolitics. — nme <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/herta-muller-wins-the-2009-nobel-prize-for-literature/?apage=3#comment-141645> ”

The German Book <http://www.boersenverein.de/de/296797> Prize is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair as an annual award from the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels Stifung – the Foundation of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association. The Prize is intended to draw attention beyond national borders to authors writing in German, to reading and to the keynote medium of the book.

Among those on the short list for the 2009 German prize were:

Rainer Merkel: “Light Years Away” (Lichtjahre Entfernt), S. Fischer Verlag Herta Müller: “Everything I Own I Carry With Me” (Atemschaukel), Suhrkamp Verlag Norbert Scheuer: “The Rushing of the Weir” (Überm Rauschen), C.H.Beck Verlag Katrin Schmidt: You’re Not Going to Die (Du Stirbst Nicht), Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag Clemens J. Setz: “Frequencies” (Die Frequenzen), Residenz Verlag · Stephan Thome : “Border Walk” (Grenzgang), Suhrkamp Verlag

The judges for the German Book Prize 2009 are: Richard Kämmerlings, Michael Lemling, Martin Lüdke, Lothar Müller, Iris Radisch, Daniela Strigl and Hubert Winkels. The winner was announced at the award ceremony on October 12th.

Who selects the Nobel Laureates? In his last will and testament, Alfred Nobel, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, author and pacifist, specifically designated the institutions responsible for the prizes he wished to be established: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry, Karolinska Institute for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and a Committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1968, the Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was given the task to select the Economics Prize Laureates starting in 1969.

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