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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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7323412,784 (3.59)158
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 (27)  Dutch (2)  Yiddish (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (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 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.


Belt, window, nut, rope

Christmas Party 2011. I wished for this book. Bookish little buddy bought this book and will give it to me if the person who picked my name for the exchange gift gives me a different title. I got it. Buddy kept her copy for herself and gave me a backup gift instead.

We read it together last May. I was a little anxious. I didn’t know how she will react to it. I myself didn’t know how I’ll react to it. It was a grope in the darkness, a leap of faith. God bless the IMPAC committee if this turns out to be a wonderful book.

It’s a little hard to get into it. The words just flow on and on, not giving us any clue on where it will lead. Objects are mentioned repeatedly. Belt, window, nut, rope. Tin sheep, wooden melons, mulberry trees, sacks of leaves, green plums. Ah, motifs. These, along with the short chapters, form the façade of this haunting novel.

Why and when and how does tightly tied love get mixed up with murder? I felt like shrieking curses beyond my command.

He who loves and leaves
shall feel the wrath of God
God shall punish him
with the pinching beetle
the howling wind
the dust of the earth.

Shrieking curses, but in whose ear?

Today the grass listens when I speak of love. It seems to me that this word isn’t honest even with itself.

The Land of Green Plums is certainly no basket of green plums. It is ripe with talent and heavy with the feeling of something significant. One is almost forced to read it very slowly for fear of missing the novel’s theme and for dealing it injustice just because one has sped through it. Besides, it’s injustice enough to breeze through it because there are so many beautiful sentences that one can’t help basking in.

Words are formed slowly to create a bleak landscape of Romania’s totalitarian times. These words do not require a wordsmith for them to be understood. Individually, they are simple words that you will learn in elementary and master in high school, but the way they are stringed together makes them so blurred that one is sure to get lost in trying to comprehend the thoughts after the periods.

But one is sure to get this enigmatic and fearful mood, which is the main point of the novel and which puts aside the action, if any, that is going on. We read the unnamed narrator’s remembrance of her friends and the silently turbulent times that they went through as students and young professionals. There are also stories about her childhood and her family that are sporadically inserted here and there. And oh, did I forget to mention that this novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her younger times?

The reader should always keep in mind that first-person narratives are unreliable. This applies to this novel, and although facts are not suppressed, the grief that the narrator holds can’t help from bursting at some points of the novel. But wait, why the grief? Why the fear and remembrance? Why the general melancholy?

So again, I forgot to give a background. A group of young and promising students set off from their respective impoverished provinces to the city to bring some comfort in their lives. Remember, the students live under a totalitarian regime, Ceausescu’s, specifically, and one has ideas about what happens to the intelligent and unconventional youth in such a government, no?

If not, let me just say that everyone should watch what he says very carefully and associate himself with the “right” people. Heck, the latter is not even an assurance for survival. Just watch what you say and what you do. The slightest flick of a finger can betray you for the the friends are incessantly followed and interrogated by those who are in power. This routine becomes a part of their consciousness that they are driven mad with destructive paranoia and fear.

And what happens to Edgar, Georg, Kurt, Lola, Tereza, and our narrator?

Chicken-torture. Run a Google image search of “pecking chicken toy.” Just to make sure, you should see images of a ping-pong paddle with a number of chickens on top and a ball hanging with strings below it. Try to figure it out.

And then if you are able to do so, you might be able to figure out the main theme of the novel. Added bonus for you if you got belt, window, nut, rope. But by all means, read it. And read this: bookish little buddy’s review. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Original title: Herztier
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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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