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The Land of Green Plums


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After reading the first 15 pages, I wanted to put this book down and quit. The narration was all over the place and had a style reminiscent of stream of consciousness without ever quite being stream of consciousness. I hated it. But I continued regardless and gradually the narrative style started to pull me in. The writing is lyrical and disjointed but flows in a way that mesmerises. I've never really liked stream of consciousness writing but this was wonderful to read with a strong sense of the characters and the world they inhabit without ever describing anything in the traditional sense. It was like hearing someone's thoughts but without the gibberish you so often get with the stream of consciousness style (in my opinion, a lot of mediocre writing is hidden behind that particular genre).

This was elevated by more poetic and fluid writing. Some of it was broken up by images and thoughts that left you uncertain about what was happening. Other times, it flowed beautifully and wouldn't let you go. Some of the images and ideas expressed were really wonderful. Two that stood out for me were when she described her grandmother's dementia without ever using the word; she simply referenced her grandmother 'outliving her own reason by six years.' Then there was also the wonderful (and worrying) idea that whenever someone dies, we all move up in the pecking order. That made me laugh because it's literally true. Next time you hear about a celebrity dying, take a moment to contemplate the fact that you just moved up one slot.

Anyway, the plot is a biographical story about the narrator growing up in communist Romania and dealing with a state that daily interferes in their lives. She and her college friends have to write secret letters to each other and will often sing banned songs, all while dealing with a state officer (and his dog) who regularly interrogates them. Suffice it to say, they all dream of escaping the socialist utopia and regularly take comfort from the many rumours regarding the dictators poor health.

I absolutely loved this book. It was rich and human and beautiful. There was even a touch of magical realism and poetry to it. I wouldn't recommend it lightly because the style might not be to everyone's tastes but for me, it was a wonderful piece of literature. You can see why Müller won the Nobel prize.

 

8/10

 

Edited by hux
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    • By tagesmann
      From the back cover...
      Set in Romania at the height of Ceauşescu’s reign of terror, The Land of Green Plums tells the story of a group of young students, each of whom has left the impoverished provinces in search of better prospects in the city. It is a profound illustration of a totalitarian state which comes to inhabit every aspect of life; to the extent that everyone, even the strongest, must either bend to the oppressors, or resist them and perish.
      I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. I did wonder how much was fiction as how much was based on the author's own experiences before she left Romania.  It is powerful, emotive, involving and subtle. 
      Both the narrator and the author are Romanian ethnic Germans.  The book was originally published in German as Hertzier which translates as Heart-beast; a theme that runs through the narrative.
      The language and structure is unusual but works.  The English version must capture the original style perfectly because it is so unique.
       
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