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8 October 2009updated 17 Jan 2024 5:50am

Centres of gravity

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to Herta Müller

By Jonathan Derbyshire

This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the Romanian-born writer Herta Müller. (Müller has lived in Germany since 1987 and writes in German.) According to the judges, Müller, “with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed”.

Ahead of the award, one member of the jury, Peter Englund, had wondered if the prize had become too “Eurocentric” and said that “in most language areas . . . there are authors that really deserve and could get the Nobel Prize and that goes for the United States and the Americas, as well”.

This was in marked contrast to the remarks last year of the prize’s permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, who appeared to argue that one of the functions of the Nobel was to ensure that the centre of gravity of the literary world remained in Europe. “There is powerful literature in all big cultures,” Engdahl said. “But you can’t get away from the fact that Europe is still the centre of the literary world . . . not the United States. The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature . . . That ignorance is restraining.” (I wrote a piece about Engdahl, the Nobel and the growing dominance of the literary “Anglosphere” for the NS last year.)

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