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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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7123213,240 (3.61)147
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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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 |
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 |
Harrowing in a quiet, implacable way. ( )
  veracite | Apr 5, 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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:42 -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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