"I didn't choose what to write," she told the Romanian newspaper Cotidianul earlier this year. "It chose me."
On Thursday she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature for works that draw widely on her experiences _ a mother who was deported to Siberia and spent five years in a communist gulag, and her own torment after refusing to become an informant for the Securitate secret police.
She acknowledged the inspiration Thursday in her adoptive home Berlin, after learning she was being honored with the award.
"My writing always had to do with how it could be that a handful of powerful people could steal the country," the diminutive 56-year-old told reporters in a soft voice. "Where do they get that right?"
Mueller, a member of Romania's ethnic German minority, was honored by the Swedish Academy for work that "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."
Mueller's literary debut in 1982 was a collection of short stories titled "Niederungen," or "Nadirs," depicting the harshness of life in a small, German-speaking village in Romania.
Though it was censored, an uncensored version was smuggled to Germany in 1984 and met with widespread success.
That work was followed by "Oppressive Tango," which she was prohibited from publishing in Romania because of her criticism of Ceausescu's rule and the Securitate, leading eventually to her emigration.
Mueller's latest novel, "Atemschaukel," or "Swinging Breath," describes the fate of a German deported from Romania during the Stalin-era to a Soviet gulag. It is up for this year's German Book Prize, which will be announced Monday.
Mueller became known for her outspoken criticism of communism while studying literature at Timisoara University and was expelled, said longtime friend Emil Hurezeanu. Mueller then found work as a translator in a small factory.
The Securitate, aware of her criticism, tried to recruit her. She refused, and was fired from the factory job, he said. A German diplomat smuggled out her transcripts from Romania in the mid-1980s, leading to increased surveillance from the Securitate, said Hurezeanu said.
She moved to Germany with her husband in 1987, two years before Ceausescu was toppled amid the widening communist collapse across eastern Europe.
It was only then that she felt free, she said.
"I know the difference when one has to worry every morning that one might not exist that evening," she said.
Germany embraced Mueller's win.
"Today, 20 years after the fall of the wall, it is a wonderful message that such high-quality literature about this life experience is being honored," Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
But in Romania, where many officials are former Communists and former Securitate agents, the silence was notable, said Cornel Nistorescu, a leading Romanian.
"Romania has not withdrawn its waters from the mud of communism," he told The AP.
The exception was in her hometown of Nitchidorf where Mayor Ioan Mascovescu said he planned to make her a citizen of honor in the village of 1,600 people.
"If she will accept this, of course," he said cautiously.
"This is an indescribable honor for us," he said. "Now our village will be part of history."
Associated Press Writers Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Dragos Bota in Nichtidorf, Romania, and Mary Lane in Berlin contributed to this report.