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I have a theory about why the Nobel committee gave the Literature Prize this year to the unheard-of (and I don't admit to Western ignorance of Euro-lit; she is unheard of) Herta Muller. It's by way of making up for Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino's film not only mocks the Nazis (no plot-spoiler here), but also the ambitions and pretensions of Germania itself. So what better response for a "neutral" country than to give the award not merely to a German author, the first since Gunter Grass in 1999 and 13th writer of German since award was established in 1901, but also to the politically dissident daughter of a member of the Waffen-SS.

Oh sure, the committee did its usual sanctimonious "let's give the award to an unknown but courageous somebody who's lived under tyranny for decades" number (Muller's a Romanian German from the town with the Marx Brothers-ish name of Nitzkydorf), but I also think it delights in withholding the prize from well-known figures who might have merited it. I have no idea whether Muller's a good writer, though she did win the Dublin IMPAC Award in 1998 for The Land of Green Plums. But for my money, which I'll admit is entirely notional, it should have gone to Alice Munro or Philip Roth. After all, Roth's literary world contains Nazis too.

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