The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller
I bought this book and “The Passport” in Brasov almost two years ago. Previous to the publicity for the Nobel Prize for Literature 2009 and the discovery of the Romanian connection, I was not familiar with the author. I was in Carturesti, a posh bookshop and while sipping my tea sample, I found these two books. My experience with “The Passport” was not as pleasant as the teacup since I did not particularly enjoy the harsh, face slapping style. So when I was finally ready to look at ” The Land of Green Plums” I felt the same anxious feeling as before I put lemon juice up my nose for the second time. I knew it would be painful but I hoped it would help me. And I can say now it was accurate. It was not easy to read but by the end I was more emotionally involved than I expected.
A bit of personal background would help describe what I felt reading this book. By the time the Revolution happened in 1989 I just turned 8 years old. The impact communism had in my life is hard to judge since I was so young. It was tangential during that age and it became probably more inherited through family history later on in life. I was quite a lucky happy girl until 5 or 6 years old growing up with my grandparents in a village about 75 km away from Bucharest. I think it was quite common at that time for parents from cities to have their children sent to the grandparent’s place. It was easier and even most of the times a happier existence for the kids. Well I don’t know how it was for others but for me it was a place of relative freedom with a lot of things for me to discover. In such a care free childhood I couldn’t detect what was going on socially or politically. Its not like Ceausescu came to take my toys and put them towards shared ownership. I have very happy feelings towards that period of my life but that is totally because of my grandparents. With this said, I knew Ceausescu wasn’t an appreciated figure in our house since there was a subtle change in my grandfathers jaw line when he came on TV.
Our TV was in the bedroom on a table in front on the bed. He used to sit on the side of the bed in front of the TV to watch in the evening. As soon as Ceausescu came on, his face lost expression and as Ceausescu would wave his hands during a speech probably he could crack walnuts with the tension released from his clenched teeth. Or, probably he would be ready to go running and screaming into the night around his dispossessed lands. Some other random things were; secretly listening to the radio in the house, not talking too much to anyone and the fear they would come and demolish us. This kept coming back once in a while and I would wonder how well would our goat would adjust to a balcony. It didn’t happen so our goat made it, well more or less. So reading this book I was a mini version of my grandfather on the side of the bed. Tense.
As a reading experience I definitely got into it a lot more than “The Passport”. I had enough time to start an attachment with the characters. The telegraphic and succinct, crude and slapping style from “The Passport” would now feel more natural to this story. It seemed so clear there was no need for embellishment or descriptions that would immerse you slowly into the history. It hurt and it ate away at people so there is no need to sugar coat it or over describe it.
The jobs of the characters were similar to one swallowing a little fly that survives in your stomach and starts feeding itself with your insides. As I kept reading the expression which came to mind of how people were treating each other was psychological cannibalism. Eating away at each other in order to save themselves.
I have often put myself on the high horse and said how come they didn’t fight back and they let so many years go by in this way. Why didn’t everyone revolt and fight the system. But I soon realize that I know and understand nothing. Under the pressure of such fear we all crack and what we thought ourselves to be becomes an illusion. A metaphor comes to mind of boiling eggs. You put all your eggs and leave the stove on. While this is going on the majority will just boil and boil, they will become hard. Whatever was in it to make them nourishing is gone somewhere lost in the boiling water. But there are a few that quickly realize there is a need to break the shell quickly and have the egg white spill everywhere. The system doesn’t eat them. The may shake things up a bit with the next batch to be more careful when putting them in the water. Under the fear of the boiling water, some of us will change with little in common with what we were originally. Others will fight in their own way and not survive.
I spoke more about myself than about the book so I guess it prompted me to reflect a bit on this particular part.
After I finished it I thought about Herta Müller and tried to picture what are the things that still come into her life now that are rooted in that time of her life. For example my mom has to have food in the fridge regardless if she eats too much or not. She lives now in Canada so quite far away but I have a feeling it is not her love of food that drives this need. She needs to feel she can buy food and there is there a supermarket that has it all and she can just go get it without anyone else involved in this process.
Both my mom and my brother love green plums, I don’t.