Books

Who is Herta Muller?

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 1:38 PM EDT

Herta Muller, who won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, may not be known in the US, but she has been honored in Europe for exposing the treatment of minorities in Communist Romania. Muller herself was born into Romania's German minority. Her mother spent years during and after World War II in a Soviet slave labor camp in the Ukraine. Her father was in the Waffen SS during the war. She herself was fired from a job in engineering at a factory because she refused to inform on fellow workers to the Romanian secret police.

One of the reasons she received the award is doubtless for writing the story that accompanies Kent Klich’s photography in a book called The Children of Ceausescu. According to her American publisher, a small Brooklyn company called Umbrage Books, it tells the story of the 10,000 Romanian children "given AIDS by injection while wards of state run hospitals and orphanages."

A fuller description below the jump:

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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, tens of thousands of children in government hospitals and orphanages were systematically infected by unsterilized needles and HIV-tainted blood transfusions given to them... When the scandal broke initially, help poured in from all over the world. Blood testing improved; hospitals got disposable syringes; nurses were retrained. But the damage to the children was irreversible, and many began to die. Over this last decade, thousands have died, but almost 10,000 children with AIDS remain. Beginning in 1994 and for the next five years, Magnum photographer Kent Klich traveled to Romania to document the appalling aftermath of Ceausescu's horror. In Children Of Ceausescu, he gives us visceral images and brief life stories of the boys and girls who suffer still from the state's mass experiment. Compassionate yet unflinching….It has been over a decade since full disclosure of the facts of this situation has been brought to the world's attention. Conditions have improved, thanks to the intervention of foreign non-governmental organizations and the willingness of Romanian government and medical personnel to finally confront the issue. Even so, the situation is one of sustained crisis without foreseeable end. AIDS in Romania is overwhelmingly among children with no political clout; the Romanian government has failed, through corruption and bureaucracy, to offer hope. There is not enough money for the high-priced, triple-therapy anti-retroviral drugs for all young patients, forcing the caretakers to choose who receives medication and who must suffer without. Many of the multinational drug companies have stood firm in greed and defense of patents and refused to offer discounts on treatments...

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