Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: The Land of Green Plums

Just finished reading The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller. This is the first book I have read this year. For constraint of time, I had to read it one or two pages at a time, over a long period. But that way I enjoyed the book more because Muller is not the kind of writer who makes you turn pages like crazy. Quite the opposite, her terse and understated prose demands a slow and thoughtful reading.

TLOGP is about Ceausescu regime and its all-pervasive and bloody repression on the people represented by a four-member group (including the writer herself) in this narrative, who refuse to toe the lines of the regime and Lola, a party loyalist. The state emerges in the form of Captain Pjele who dogs the group members relentlessly, interrogates them whenever and whatever way he wishes, raids their homes and addresses at whatever hour, and searches their belongings evry which way. And the award of punishment varies anything from performing dance before the Captain to secret killing in an odd place.

In a land where there is practically no rule of law, and sign of civilization, the dictator had his shadow everywhere. And the only thing palpable was fear.

Lola, outside this group, despite being a party member, commits suicide, and then her party disowns her. A student,in her fourth year, extremely poor, who would support her studies by prostitution, she was made pregnant by her gym instructor, of course a party bigwig. Two days after Lola’s death, the party members sit in a big hall for denouncing Lola's suicide ,and the gym instructor takes the initiative to expel her from the party and exmatriculate her from the university.

In her wonderfully consummate voice, Muller paints the regime as real and horrendous as it really was. “Everyone lived by thinking about flight. They thought of swimming across the Danube until the water becomes another country. Of running after the corn until the soil becomes another country. ..They hope for fog in the field and fog on the river so they can avoid the bullets and the guard dogs , so they can run away, swim away.”

The end is along the expected lines: George, perpetually on the run, dies falling from a 5th floor window under mysterious circumstances. Kurt, tired of struggle, hangs himself in his apartment with a rope. As for the writer, she gets fired from work without showing any reason, and the regime sees to it that nobody offers her any job whatsoever. Luckily for her, she somehow manages to escape from Rumania to Germany. So does her friend Edgar.

TLOGP is a great novel, not only because of its unique story-telling, but also for its in-depth and nuanced study of psyche of people who has to live in intense fear every day of their life under a repressive regime. More to the point, it has a very contemporary theme because there are large swaths of people in different parts of the world today who go through the same harrowing experience, and many more lands of green plums would surely slip into repressive regime in times to come.

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