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on January 25, 2018
This was a very difficult book to read, as attested to by all members of my book club. Several people stopped early on. But, it is written in a "stream-of-consciousness" style with paragraphs that jump suddenly from one subject to another and no discernible pattern, and I don't recall any chapter delineations, either. It is a very dark story about 4 young people living in Romania and the suffering they endured under a tyrant's rule. I came to believe, after I had finished the book, that the style of writing was actually probably a good way to make the reader understand how chaotic and difficult life was under these circumstances. It actually is a worthwhile read.
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on April 19, 2010
Romania has probably never been my idea of Paradise -- not when it was the outermost corner of the Roman Empire, not in the millennia since, not even today -- but it was surely closer to Hell on Earth during the phony-communist tyranny of Ceauçescu than ever before. Nevertheless, though 'everyone' around them was obsessed with fleeing at any risk, the four young dissidents of this novel were painfully ambiguous about exiling themselves. As it turned out, the first of them to flee wouldn't last long in Germany anyway. But given how vile and perilous life was for them in Romania, as described anyway, one HAS to ask what held them so tenaciously. Family? Yet their families were hateful. Idealism? Long shed! Fear of otherness? Well, yes, that for sure...

The narrator is a young woman from a German-Romanian village, whose father had been an SS officer. Sent to the city for education and to make something of herself, she hooks up to three young men whose situations are similar. The narrator also forms tortured relationships with two women of her own age, a fellow student who commits suicide and the alienated daughter of a Party official of some importance. Is the narrator Herta Müller herself? Yes, of course, and no, of course not. The subject matter of Müller's novels is always the paranoic nightmare of life under the Dictatorship, with its interrogations, its betrayals, its abject corruption of all aspects of personality, but each novel tells a somewhat different story. As a reader, this time, I choose to think that "The Land of Green Plums" is a carefully crafted fiction, whatever details it may include from Müller's own experiences. It's all the more amazing that way. The poetic vividness of the narrator's memories need not be compromised by fact-checking. Vivid they are! Heart-rackingly personal, full of jagged coded symbolism, a whole interiorized secret language, in which 'fingernail clippers' mean 'interrogation' and 'blood drinking' stands for collaboration with the tyranny. This language is not always easily deciphered. It's fragmented and elusive, and any usual chronological constraints of narration do not apply. The narrator is simultaneously a village girl, a student, a woman the 'authorities' want to hound out of existence, and a atomized non-person-in-exile. What a powerful emotional tool Müller's cryptic coded language is, nevertheless! If anguish can ever be beautiful, Müller makes it so. Her originality and imagination are dazzling.

I chose to read this book, Müller's best known, in English because of the respect I have for the skill of translator Michael Hofmann. Having read it once that way, I certainly plan to read it again in German. It's good enough for the effort. The German title, by the way, has nothing to do with plums; it's "Herztier", a made-up word meaning literally 'heart-beast'. The English translation is possibly misleading; "The Land of Green Plums" might suggest an aura of nostalgia or romanticism that doesn't fit the book on any level. There are 'green plums' in the story, but they are toxic to those who eat them in the presence of anything honorable.

The six chief characters of Herztier are all 'dissidents'. They are perceived as such by the police, by their fellow students and colleagues at work, by their neighbors and families, even by strangers in the markets. One has to imagine them as 'standing out' conspicuously in how they dress, how they converse, how they cut or don't cut their hair. They are hated automatically, as 'beatniks' were in the 1950s in Middle America or 'skinheads' are today in many 'Free World' cities. One has to consider the possibility that their dissidence is deeper than political dissatisfaction. Don't they seem to realize as much, i.e. that they would be dissidents anywhere? The corruption and oppression that torments them in Romania is NOT just the weight of the totalitarian state, and Herztier is NOT just an agitprop critique of the "years of communism". Their society is as corrupt from the bottom up as from the top down. They are rejected and feared from below and above, most intensely by the little people around them who have accommodated, been coopted, perhaps even thrived on the police state. Many of the reviews of this book, and the blurb on the jacket, speak of Herta Müller's "triumph" against the corrosion of the totalitarian state. No question, Müller has triumphed as an artist, a Nobel prize winner. But I don't hear a blare of triumph - not even a bleat of relief - in her writing. Hers is a very bleak view of humanity as its own worst oppressor. It's a good thing she writes so well, or I wouldn't be able to tolerate her suffering.
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VINE VOICEon July 21, 2010
I bought "The Land of Green Plums" because the author recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That usually gets my attention and the fact that she is a Romanian author further peaked my interest. When I started reading the book, I was initially disappointed but I persevered and the book really began to take off. It was a unique look at a totalitarian regiem as seen through the eyes of a young woman. Her observations were the key to "The Land ofGreen Plums" and some of them were truly impressive. I offer several examples; "They thought about swimming across the Danube until the water becomes a different country", "...the sour belch of poverty", "The woman looked at her two children and said: What can you do, some children are poor because they don't have parents, others because they do." There was enough of this to keep me going as well as the cast of characters who adapted to totalitarianism in different ways.

This is a dark novel without much hope but it is a tale worth reading. Romania was an Eastern Block country that seemed to have largely disappeared from public view for 45 years. Re-emerging into the world was likely more difficult after the State had successfully destroyed trust in one another. "The Land of Green Plums" depicts that destruction of trust.
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on December 26, 2013
This book is written in the same style as The Appointment, for which I have already written a review. Both novels are difficult until their stories become contoured, but after that they become fluent. The Land of Green Plums is a very sad story of four young German-Romanians, including the author, that have their lives and careers tormented by Romanian Secret Police for no reason other than being Germans and "different". Even too young to join the workforce, I also lived in those times in Romania and I know, mostly from my parents and relatives, that many people (Romanians included) experienced such form of terror of continuous surveillance by the State Police. The book is not just well written, but real. I should have given it 5 stars for that. But I have to deduct 1 star - as I did for the Appointment - because for the universal reader -not somebody familiar with Romania and its Communist society before 1990, or at least with the Eastern Block - the story will be hard to comprehend in its full extent. This Herta Mueller could do nothing about - it is a "niche" story and not an universal one.
The 2nd star I have to deduct is because I am Romanian and feel not at ease (for lack of a better term) with the view Herta Mueller presents about my country in her story - everything is bad - the people, the landscape, the cities, the factories, the universities. The whole Romania may have felt for Ms. Mueller as a big prison with an idiotic population. I understand she wanted to make the point Communist Romania = prison for the intellectual - and I agree with that, but presenting an "all bad" concept in her story sheds a detrimental light on Romania. And this is neither fair nor accurate.
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on August 19, 2017
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My five-star rating has little to do with liking this book, or even understanding it. But it kept me reading with nightmare fascination. Herta Müller's recent Nobel Prize aside, this is clearly a major statement, whether as an historical document, a work of art, or the depiction from the inside of a mind fragmented by fear and the oppression of a totalitarian regime. For Müller, born to a German family in Romania, lived her young adult life under the repression of the Ceausescu state security apparatus, finally escaping to Germany in 1987 at the age of 34. Like fragments from a psychiatrist's couch that painfully piece themselves together into a coherent story, this is a scrapbook of spiritual debris, the record of a mind almost pulverized by pressure, that somehow managed to regain its sanity.

The book begins in a series of surreal images: "A child refuses to let her nails be cut. This hurts, says the child. The mother ties the child to a chair with the belts from her dresses. [...] The child knows: the mother in her tightly-tied love is going to cut up my hands. Then she'll have to stick the cut-up fingers in the pocket of her housedress and go into the courtyard, as if she meant to throw them away. And in the yard, where no one can see her, she'll have to eat the child's fingers." This symbolic torture stands in for real torture, of which there is remarkably little in the book; the worst the state can do is reserved for the mind, not the body. Working more like poetry than prose, Müller's fragments swirl obsessively around a number of images: the evil green plums of the title, mulberries, animal blood, red-shanked sheep, dried cows' tails, nuts, river stones, nail-clippers, barbers, dentists, underwear, whisper-thin nylons with runs in them, snatches of song, strands of hair, physical disease, and an animal life-force constantly threatening to turn against its host. The latter entity, here translated as "heart-beast," gives the book its original German title, HERZTIER.

Although the recurrent images become, if anything, even more obsessive throughout the book, it gradually edges into some kind of narrative focus. It seems to begin in the author's college days, when she is living with other girls in one dormitory while maintaining a cautious friendship with three men in another. Already they are under suspicion, whether as outsiders (all four are members of the German-speaking minority in Romania) or just by being intellectuals, and all are called in from time to time for interrogation. Nevertheless, all four graduate and are moved to stultifying jobs out of the city. But the atmosphere of fear only tightens, leading them all to compromise each other and, even worse, themselves. All eventually lose their posts, and most leave the country, as the author did herself. Though these emigrations seem surprisingly easy, they are no escape; the state has a wide reach. People mysteriously disappear in transit. Even in Germany, emigrés may receive death sentences by mail or telephone, and later suffer some fatal accident. Nobody is safe. And even if a person can escape with her life, as Müller did, the mental trauma may never be reversed. This remarkable book is the record of a person trying to put herself together piece by piece; she may not fully succeed, but the miracle is that she can even try.
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on September 13, 2015
A great demonstration of the difficulties in a changing government and culture.
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on May 3, 2010
Highly recommended, especially for those interested in understanding the effects of a government, in understanding differences (and sameness) in countries other than the USA or the U.K.

Unfortunately, did not protect my book (I live in Australia). By the time the book arrived, the packaging had been ripped open, the spine of the book in tatters, pages marked with an unknown black substance which is so disappointing. If I wanted a second hand book in fair to poor condition, I would have bought one. My brand new book - before arriving at my postal address - is a sad and sorry book. It looks as if someone set about to harm it - sad especially knowing the story of the book!
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HALL OF FAMEon December 25, 2009
When I read about Gerta Muller winning the 2009 Noble Prize for literature I was intrigued because I had never heard of her. She now lives in Germany but was born in Romania in 1954, a member of the German Minority who immigrated to Romania after WWII. Germans were discriminated against and her life was hard, especially under the repressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. This earlier book of hers, written in 1993, captures the essence of that life and it is the saddest and most depressing one I have ever read.

The plot traces the experience of an unnamed female narrator and begins when she is at the university studying to be a translator. Life is dismal, six young woman sharing one small room and all hating each other. Later, the narrator becomes friends with three young men as well as the daughter of a Party member and the story trances their experiences over the next few years. These are all awful experiences. There is constant fear, poverty and horror. And absolutely not one bit of joy to relieve the tension.

Ms. Muller has a unique writing style that is nothing less than a poetic art form and I can well understand why her writing is so acclaimed. Her images are surreal, sometimes grotesque and often violent. I was deeply moved and saddened by this description of the lives of the characters. The book is short, a mere 242 pages and I read it quickly just to get it over with and leave her world of abuse and horror. I know this a fine book and very worthwhile. But I don't want to ever read any more or her work. Just too depressing.
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on August 29, 2010
This is not a book for everyone. It is almost a poetic essay on the horrors of existence under an irrational dictatorship in Ceausescu's Romania and the helplessness experienced by people who wish for more of a chance to express their individuality and to live their live fully. One could easily substitute almost any totalitarian state (Nazi Germany, contemporary N. Korea, Pol Pot Cambodia, etc.) for the site of the story. I found it a bit lacking in narrative but quite powerful as an impression of what life can be like under such circumstance. The story is told through the eyes of the one developed character, a female college student, whose relative passiveness in the face of the regime is a bit difficult to understand. As a matter of fact, the choices presented in the book for such characters is escape, suicide or acquiescence. Why the protagonist and her friends do not run from the scene is not completely clear. I would have liked to know more about them as people as well.

The writing itself is quite lovely and very unique. It is an original way to represent reality and I admire the poetic skills of the translator. It was originally published in German. The author is a Nobel Prize winner but this book cannot be considered her main contribution to that award. For readers who are poetically inclined and do not require rapid, prose narrative, this book is quite worthwhile reading. It is surely a potent anti-authoritarian piece of literature.
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