book of the week: the land of green plums
Before we take this astonishing novel called The Land of Green Plums, I have to admit something first. When I started this blog, all I wanted to write about was food and books and maybe the lessons I learned in the past. But now more than 3 months have passed and I’ve never written a single line about books. The truth is, I’m afraid. I’ve always been in love with reading, it has been a mad, beautiful and unconditional love which has only evolved through the years. Every book was a journey, a whole new world. But when I wanted to describe this journey to anyone, I was short of words. No matter how hard I tried to express my feelings or experiences, it felt incomplete. It felt like a failure, even after several literature and writing classes at the university.
So now it’s time for me to face my demons and do a casual, no-fuss review about The Land of Green Plums, written by the Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller. And my plan is to publish a series of casual, no-fuss book reviews, taking one novel every week. Because it’s okay to be imperfect – on every level – and I have to work on accepting this fact.
Set in the darkest days of the post-World War II Romania, The Land of Green Plums shows its readers how it’s like to live in a hardcore communist dictatorship. Where no one trusted anyone, because one of two Romanians spied on their neighbors and friends, leaving the country was almost impossible and for those who didn’t lay low, Securitate, the secret police of Romania made their lives a hell.
In the story we can follow the life of four university students who start to come together to talk about a girl who committed suicide in their dormitory. These discussions are interpreted by the Securitate as a threat to the regime and the game begins where they cannot win. They are interrogated, followed and threatened by the police. Years go by, no heroic gestures are left over and slowly everyone betrays themselves – and each other as well. It’s clear that in this world the winner is who can either bend to the oppressors with an open heart or give it all up and die. The narrator manages to escape from the country, but she has to pay the price for it.
The Land of Green Plums and Incredible Language
However the story is gripping and exciting itself, it was the beautiful language which I fell for in the first place. Almost every sentence is like a poem dressed with riddles, the reader has to stop every once in a while just to be able to understand the meaning of every layer a paragraph can offer. While the words play a music on their own.
I’ve never experienced something like this before. Reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov gave me a similar feeling at first, but there the language was “simply” mesmerizing and seducing. In The Land of Green Plums it’s much more than that, in this novel the sentences are like paths to hidden worlds and we have to find out every time where they can lead us.
Let me show you some of my favorites:
“When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.”
“We laughed a lot, to hide it from each other. But fear always finds an out. If you control your face, it slips into your voice. If you manage to keep a grip on your face and your voice, as if they were dead wood, it will slip out through your fingers. It will pass through your skin and lie there. You can see it lying around on objects close by.”
“Lola writes in her notebook: Leaf-fleas are even worse. Someone said, They don’t bite people, because people don’t have leaves. Lola writes, When the sun is beating down, they bite everything, even the wind. And we all have leaves. Leaves fall off when you stop growing, because childhood is all gone. And they grow back when you shrivel up, because love is all gone. Leaves spring up at will, writes Lola, just like tall grass. Two or three children in the village don’t have any leaves, and those have a big childhood. A child like that is an only child, because it has a father and a mother who have been to school. The leaf-fleas turn older children into younger ones – a four-year-old into a three-year-old, a three-year-old into a one-year-old. Even a six-months-old, writes Lola, and even a newborn. And the more little brothers and sisters the leaf-fleas make, the smaller the childhood becomes.”
“Today the grass listens when I speak of love. It seems to me that this word isn’t honest even with itself.”