Nobel laureate discusses writing about dictatorships

Tue May 29, 2012 5:29pm EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Writer Herta Müller went from being a teacher who lost her job and lived under constant threat for refusing to cooperate with former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu's secret police, to winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 2009.

Müller, 58, has lived in Berlin since emigrating from her native Romania in 1987, but the suffering of people living under dictatorships is never far from her mind - or her writing.

In her latest novel, "The Hunger Angel," Müller tells the story of 17-year-old Leo Auberg, an ethnically Saxon Romanian who is coming to terms with his homosexuality in rural Romania in 1945.

His life is interrupted when Soviet soldiers send him to a labor camp over the border, where he witnesses his fellow villagers be corrupted by the circumstances, and tries to preserve the better facets of himself.

Müller spoke with Reuters during her U.S. tour about the book and life under totalitarian regimes.

Q: You lived under a draconian regime in Ceaucescu's Romania, and before that your mother was deported to a Soviet labor camp in 1945, just like Leo. How much of the book is based on your own experiences, and those of people close to you?

A: "Most of the things I know are from Oskar Pastior, the poet. He's the protagonist under the name of Leo. That's really the reason why the book's protagonist was a gay man. He told me so much that my mother's experiences slipped into the periphery, because my mother didn't tell me that much ... I also read a lot about the subject - lots of books by people who just wrote down their experiences.

"Most were not high literature, just personal accounts often published by small publishing houses or by the authors themselves. I read one book specifically about the women in the gulag because that was something Oskar couldn't really tell me anything about."   Continued...

Nobel Literature laureate Herta Muller of Germany attends a news conference during the inauguration of the International Book Fair in Guadalajara November 25, 2011. REUTERS/Alejandro Acosta