The Land of Green Plumsby Herta Muller
Set in Romania at the height of Ceausescu's reign of terror, The Land of Green Plums tells the story of a group of young people who leave the impoverished provinces for the city in search of better prospects and camaraderie. But their hopes are ravaged, because the city, no less than the countryside, bears everywhere the mark of the dictatorship's corrosive/i>… See more details below
Set in Romania at the height of Ceausescu's reign of terror, The Land of Green Plums tells the story of a group of young people who leave the impoverished provinces for the city in search of better prospects and camaraderie. But their hopes are ravaged, because the city, no less than the countryside, bears everywhere the mark of the dictatorship's corrosive touch. All the narrator's friends - teachers and students of vaguely dissident allegiance - betray her, do away with themselves, or both. As they do so, we see the way the totalitarian state comes to inhabit every human realm and how everyone, even the strongest, must either bend to the oppressors or resist them and thereby perish. Herta Muller, herself a survivor of Ceausescu's police state, speaks from intimate experience.
Systematic oppression snuffs first the spirit, then the existence, of those few young Romanians brave enough to dare to think independently. Sharing a college dorm room in the city with Lola and four other women, the narrator inhabits a Big Brotherlike world where loudspeakers blare proletarian music all day, where a longing for privacy is suspect, and personal belongings are regularly searched. Lola, a girl from the provinces, has adjusted to the awful poverty of student life. She joins the Communist Party to gain some small status. She exchanges sex for food to supplement her pinched diet. And she keeps a journal of surrealist observations to lift her spirits. But none of it helps: She eventually hangs herself. Shaken, the narrator befriends a trio of male students, Georg, Edgar, and Kurt, discovering in them a questioning, restless spirit much like her own. Together, they walk, talk, read forbidden books, and ultimately are brought in for police interrogation and intimidation. Graduation throws them back among the masses in the working world, but they stay in touch by letters and visits in spite of ongoing state harassment. When all but one of them lose their jobs, however, the pressure becomes unbearable: Georg, beaten by thugs and deeply depressed, is allowed to emigrate to Germany, where he jumps (or is pushed) to his death from a window in Frankfurt; Edgar, the narrator, and the narrator's mother are also permitted to depart, leaving Kurt, still employed, behind. He soon finds his own release, at the end of a rope.
Not a pretty picture by any means, but, still, a powerful, affecting storyone that makes clear the real value of small triumphs and fleeting moments of happiness when they occur in the context of deprivation and incalculable loss.
- Northwestern University Press
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- 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
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Reviewed by Naomi Noon, author of "Once Upon Yesterday". In the beginning, I didn't know what this book was all about; but before long, the horror of life under communism in Romania was spread out, in detail, in front of my eyes. The author revealed to us, with scissors-sharpness, how a ruthless and corrupt regime destroyed human beings.
Herta Muller's Land of Green Plums is both easy and hard to read. Primarily autobiographical, some say completely, one never forgets that she knows and she tells just what it was like to live under Ceausescu. She writes about her tight circle of friends, and how even they are damaged enough by their life experiences to betray each other to escape. Impoverished, all they want is to get out, a new life. The Nobelist has been accused of exaggerating her treatment under the regime. She did, by her considerable wits, manage to emigrate to Germany. Her work is not literature in the usual sense, but historical and political. Sad, compelling,brave. I haven't read anything more brave. The writing is sharp and beautiful in a gritty, disturbing way that you won't forget.