May 19, 2012

The Land of Green Plums

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.

Rating: ★★★★


Anonymous said...

I think it is a fortunate thing that Ayban gave me this. My Name Is Red, I recently finished. It is also a wonderful book, but it's hard to compare the two because they have their own strengths.

I am really, really glad that you love this! I didn't realize until now that you are into historical fiction. And by the way, we missed you last Saturday!

Monique said...

BUDDY: I love historical fiction! Off the top of my head: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Northern Lights, The Historian, A Pale View of Hills, The Invention of Hugo Cabret... I could go on! I love it when parts of history are weaved into a fictional tapestry. :)

Oh I missed you guys, too! Will be there next month to make up. ;)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Monique! I haven't read a novel written by this Nobel laureate yet, although I do have her The Appointment. I just scanned the first few pages and I would have to agree with you that Muller's style takes some getting used to.

Monique said...

Hi Peter!

I'm going to scout for The Appointment now. I hope you find time to read some of her work; her style takes some getting used to, but after a while, you'll find that you like it after all. :)

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

I've been wanting to read this for a while but I keep forgetting about it. I really should get myself a copy.

Monique said...

MRS. B: It's definitely worth the read. :)