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The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

The Land of Green Plums (original 1994; edition 1998)

by Herta Müller, Michael Hofmann (Translator)

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7503312,394 (3.59)159
Title:The Land of Green Plums
Authors:Herta Müller
Other authors:Michael Hofmann (Translator)
Info:Northwestern University Press (1998), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 266 pages

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Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller (1994)

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English (26)  Dutch (2)  Yiddish (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)

A grim but very effectively told tale, of being an ethnic minority (in this case, German speakers) in a totalitarian Nationalist state (in this case, Ceaușescu's Ronmania) told in a bleak style of low-level horror. Our unnamed protagonist sees one close friend driven to suicide, and tries to form a nucleus of friendship with some other ethnic Germans in their regional capital, where they are kept under constant intrusive surveillance by the Securitate. Very vivid and ends unhappily. This book won the 1998 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and helped its writer win the 2009 Novel Prize for Literature. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
This is probably Müller's best-known work, a semi-autobiographical account of a group of young people growing up in Ceaușescu's Romania and getting into conflict with the authorities. It's particularly about the way the experience of living under an authoritarian regime interferes with the freedom to articulate ideas. Everything has to be deflected into oblique images, as we learn on the opening page of the novel: the things that start out as simply encoded forms of communication (the nail-scissors, shoes and colds that stand for interrogations, searches and being followed in the group's letters) turn out to be deeply internalised in the narrator's own thought-processes.

This is a theme that is clearly central to Müller, and she came back to it in her Nobel lecture, where she uses a trivial image, the handkerchief, to tie together incidents from her own experience with her relatives' experiences under fascism and in Russia in the aftermath of the war. She talks about the moment when she realised that there were things she could not possibly express in speech, and started to write: "Ich lief dem gelebten im Teufelskreis der Wörter hinterher, bis etwas so auftauchte, wie ich es bisher nicht kannte." (I ran after experiences in the vicious circle of words, until something surfaced in a way I hadn't known it before) — that's a process that you can clearly see reflected in her very indirect, elliptical narrative style. And which ties in with her well-known fondness for making collages out of words cut from newspapers.

Interestingly, she uses two key incidents in the Nobel lecture that also appear in this novel: the time when she found that her office at work had been allocated to someone else, and she continued to work sitting on the stairs; and the time when her mother, locked up for the day by an irritable policeman, finds a bucket and spring-cleans the police station for want of anything better to do.

One thing that struck me about this much-translated book is the way it has two quite different families of titles, both referring to key images in the book, but oddly enough bringing out quite different aspects of what the book is about. In the German original and about half the other languages in the list that I can understand, it is called Herztier, "Heart-animal". This is a comforting image used by the narrator's grandmother, the invisible animal accompanying everyone, whose form and size reflect the strength with which we face the challenges of the outside world. (It reminded me of Philip Pullman's "daemons".). In English and the other half of the languages it is The land of green plums: Müller consistently and deliberately uses rural, agricultural imagery that we would normally think of as idyllic and nostalgic to represent the backward, inward-looking and mean-spirited qualities of peasant culture which she identifies as the driving force of the Romanian dictatorship. People who live in small villages are accustomed to denounce their neighbours for petty advantage (in fact it's probably a necessary survival strategy). Policemen are best recruited from raw peasants who haven't learnt the civilised ways of the big city, and who go around helping themselves to plums from the trees. So Herztier seems to be a novel about the internalisation of oppressive politics; Green plums becomes a novel about dictatorship as the apotheosis of rural poverty. And both are valid interpretations, of course... ( )
  thorold | Jul 12, 2015 |
The Land of Green Plums is an overwhelming allegorical saga of Banat Swabians (German minority populace) inhabiting in Romania, who lived under constant scrutiny and fear after WWII; especially throughout vigilant torment of Nicolae Ceaușescu(1965-1989).

** Whatever you carry out of your province, you carry out in your face.

** When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.

Muller delineates the story of barren lands, mournful eyes, optimistic hearts and spirited beliefs perishing into nothingness wondering how the sky would look from the cold depths of a grave.
( )
  Praj05 | Oct 22, 2013 |
The Land of Green Plums is an overwhelming allegorical saga of Banat Swabians (German minority populace) inhabiting in Romania, who lived under constant scrutiny and fear after WWII; especially throughout vigilant torment of Nicolae Ceaușescu(1965-1989).

** Whatever you carry out of your province, you carry out in your face.

** When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.

Muller delineates the story of barren lands, mournful eyes, optimistic hearts and spirited beliefs perishing into nothingness wondering how the sky would look from the cold depths of a grave.
( )
  Praj05 | Oct 22, 2013 |
Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2009. The Land of Green Plums, the second of her books I have read, is set in Romania during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu. It tells the story of four friends trying to survive under a brutal dictatorship. Edgar, Kurt, and Georg are all friends of the unnamed female narrator. Lola is one of her “cube mates.”

Müller describes the living conditions, “A little cube of a room, one window, six girls, six beds, under each a suitcase. Next to the door, a closet built into the wall; in the ceiling over the door, a loudspeaker. The workers’ choruses sang from the ceiling to the wall, from the wall to the beds, until night fell. Then they grew quiet, like the street below the window and the scruffy park, which no one walked through anymore. There were forty identical cubes in each dormitory” (4-5). Müller’s style perfectly conveys the oppressive conditions forced upon these students by the regime.

The characters all leave strands of hair on their suitcases and in their books, so they know when – not if – the secret police have searched the room. The four friends develop elaborate plans to hide their journals, which include rants against the regime and – the most threatening writings of all – poetry.

I often hear the words tyrant, dictator, oppressor, secret police tossed around like bread crumbs in a yard full of birds, but I find it hard to understand how people live and die under such brutal governments. Reading Müller’s work has opened a window for me on the realities many millions struggle under every day. This novel made me more aware of the freedoms we enjoy. I won’t take them for granted. Yet, even in a free society, we see encroachments from all sorts of individuals and government agencies. Facebook and Twitter have opened the books of our lives for anyone with a computer to dig through. And we do this freely and willingly, and even with a nonchalance that sometimes disturbs me.

While discussing communication among the four friends, Müller writes,

“‘When you write, don’t forget to put the date, and always put a hair with the letter,’ said Edgar. ‘If there isn’t one, we’ll know the letter’s been opened.’” // Single hairs, I thought to myself, crisscrossing the country on trains. A dark hair of Edgar’s, a light one of mine. A red one of Kurt or of Georg. They were both called Goldilocks by the students. “‘The word nail-clipper in a sentence will mean interrogation,’ said Kurt, ‘shoes will mean a search, a sentence about having a cold will mean you’re being followed. After the greeting always an exclamation point, but a comma if your life’s in danger’ (81).

This tense style really gave me the willies. Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums will stir up the imagination and make the reader knit the brow attempting to understand what can make a regime descend into this pit of hell dragging its citizens down with it. 5 stars

--Jim, 6/26/13 ( )
  rmckeown | Jun 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Ms. Muller's vision of a police state manned by plum thieves reads like a kind of fairy tale on the mingled evils of gluttony, stupidity and brutality.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Müller, Hertaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buras, AlicjaTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hengel, Ria vanTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henke , AlessandraTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, M.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, MichaelTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Iuga, NoraTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Everyone had a friend in every wisp of cloud
that's how it is with friends where the world is full of fear
even my mother said, that's how it is
friends are out of the question
think of more serious things.

--Gellu Naum
First words
When we don't speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Original title: Herztier
Publisher's editors
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0810115972, Paperback)

Like the narrator of her novel The Land of Green Plums, Herta Muller grew up a German minority in Ceausescu's Romania, which she eventually left to settle in Germany. Her own experience lends credibility to the voice of her young narrator, who inhabits a deprived police state in which minorities such as the ethnic Germans suffer persecution beyond the quotidian oppressions of Ceausescu's regime. The title refers to the young woman's observations of the swaggering policemen who wolf down plums from the city trees, even while they're still green; the act serves as a symbol of greed, arbitrary power, and stupidity. Although an element of the story is survival, achieved by clinging to the German culture and language, the novel also confronts the older characters' sympathy with the Nazis. Nevertheless, Muller's fictional heroine finds salvation, as she herself did, in modern Germany.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Five Romanian students under the Ceau?escu regime struggle to better their lives. Through the suicide of a mutual friend, the unnamed narrator meets a trio of young men with whom she shares a subjugated political and philosophic rebelliousness. The jobs the state assigns them after graduation pull each to a different quadrant of the country, and this, as well as the narrator's new friendship with the daughter of a prominent Party member, strains their relations. The group manages to maintain its closeness despite this, through coded letters.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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