by Herta Müller
To be perfectly honest, I didn't plan on reading this book. In fact, I didn't know that this book even existed until I bought a copy intended as a gift for my favorite reading Buddy, Angus, for Christmas last year. Unfortunately - or fortunately? - he got the book during our kris kringle, which meant I had to give him Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red instead - my back-up gift - and I get to keep this Müller novel myself.
And then we agreed to buddy-read it for May, which I truly, immensely enjoyed.
The Land of Green Plums is no easy novel to read, admittedly. First few pages in, and I shaved off points for readability. Müller wasn't especially fond of punctuation marks; dialogues and/or conversations were integrated in the paragraphs, and you need an open mind, really, to determine who's speaking when. Take this passage for instance:
"The beeswax was boiling in the pot, the bubbles popping and frothing round the wooden spoon like beer. On the table, among the dishes and brushes and jars, was a photograph. The beautician said: That's my son. The boy was holding a white rabbit in his arms. The rabbit's gone, she said, it ate wet clover. Its stomach burst. Tereza swore. We didn't realize, said the beautician, we picked it with the dew still on. The fresher the better, we thought. With the spoon, she smeared a broad strip of wax up Tereza's leg. It's high time, she said, it's sprouting like dill on your calves. As she peeled the wax off, Tereza closed her eyes. We would have slaughtered the rabbit later anyway, said the beautician, but it wasn't to be. The strip of wax tore. She pulled on the loose end. The first strip hurts, but then you get used to it, there are worse things, said the beautician."
The novel is highly allegorical. My deep fondness for historical fiction was kindled once more, as this book was set during the regime of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. I will admit that I Googled him after the first day of our buddy reading, just so I could get a good working knowledge of who he is and why this novel had to pertain to his (totalitarian) regime. At least, after I was introduced to Ceausescu (pronounced chou-shess-koo), it was somehow easier to understand where the novel was coming from.
The general atmosphere of The Land of Green Plums was somber, and haunting - in a good and engaging way. The lives of the unnamed narrator, her friends Lola, Georg,Kurt, Edgar, and Tereza pinched at my emotions, and I was immediately drawn to their hardships and struggles in Romania. Reading through their journey - from their university days, to the time when they were individually employed, to their respective "flights", with the shadow of their tormentor Captain Pjele everywhere they went - made me sympathize with them utterly, and I felt like I wanted to be there, in the pages of the book, to console and condole with them all.
I loved this book, and I'm reading more Müller in the future. :)
My complete thoughts on the book - segregated in 5 parts for the buddy read - can be read here.