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In review: The Land of Green Plums


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In an astounding accomplishment for the literary and scholarly community, German-Romanian author Herta Muller was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Although fairly unknown in the United States, her esoteric and cerebral style has engrossed readers internationally, leading to the publishing of the translated work from Muller’s native German to English in 1996. Although not likely to reach the New York Times Best Seller list for popular fiction, The Land of Green Plums, with its hauntingly complex delineation of fear and its resulting psychological effects on the human mind, serves as a rewarding cultural experience for any lover of fiction.

Set in a location and era unfamiliar to many western readers, Muller’s novel serves as a rich and sobering history lesson on the horrific and unpardonable results of dictatorships on both the nation and the human mind. The novel follows a group of young acquaintances in the search for purpose and enlightenment in the midst of the Romanian dictator Ceausescu’s reign in the not-so-distant past of 1965 to 1989. The unnamed narrator and her friends Edgar, Lola, Kurt and Georg leave their home provinces in hopes of uncovering more economically stable futures. But, with their youthful ignorance and ambition, the group succumbs to emotional and psychological turmoil as the effects of an oppressive dictatorship are realized. Thus, as much of the novel is historical fiction, Muller incorporates elements of a Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story.

The Land of Green Plums is highly allegorical throughout, with hints in the title and beautifully abstract cover art. Under Ceausescu’s reign, Romania was transformed into a police state responsible for the oppression and persecution of countless minorities – most notably, the Germans. In the novel, Muller presents a repetitive image of officers eating unripe “green plums.” The narrator describes this action in an almost Biblical sense, in that consuming the fruit will lead to painful and insurmountable consequences. The officer’s lack of constraint in engulfing the fruit parallels the remorseless persecution of the human race. Similarly, the green color of the plums symbolizes greed in the simplest form, as this quality above others leads to unprecedented destruction.

As the novel progresses, the characters’ mental and physical states continue to deteriorate as if the book itself assumes the role of an additional character. Numerous tragedies arise as bouts of suicide and friendship betrayal occur and themes of escapism and true freedom through death emerge. As the narrator grows and discovers the faults of human nature, she transitions from the ignorance of childhood to the regrettable facets of adulthood.

Although structurally facile with uncomplicated sentences and language, Herta Muller’s The Land of Green Plums is complex with sophisticated metaphorical imagery and themes. Growing up a German minority in Romania, Herta Muller’s experiences and emotions are mirrored in the thoughts of the characters.

For those looking for a thought-provoking masterpiece able to be eternally deconstructed for powerful complexities, The Land of Green Plums is a must read.

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In review: The Land of Green Plums