The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller review
is probably the most praised German author right now. She was born in Romania and her books mostly describe the life there during the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu
. In 2009 she received the Nobel Prize in literature.
The Land of the Green Plums
was written in 1994. I read it in my language Swedish and in that version the novel had another title - Hjärtdjur
, which I could freely translate as "heart-animal" or animal in your heart. It comes from the storyteller's demented Grandmother, who always told her when she was little and was going to sleep: "Let your heart-animal rest, after being out playing all day."
The storyteller is a young woman who lives in a home for girl students, where she shares room with several others. Among her roommates is Lola, a girl very different from all the others. Lola talks a lot about her dreams which is to study Russian, and to meet a young student she'd marry and move out on the countryside with. She'd wash his shirts and keep them clean and white. That this dream is empty is, though, very clear. Lola spends her free days on the trams where she meet up men going back home from work, and to them she gives away her body. The other girls sharing the room is shocked when she ends up hanging in a belt in their wardrobe. The storyteller knows that she has taken her life because of the gym teacher, and her three friends Edgar, Kurt and George suspect that what happened might not even have been a suicide.
The storyteller (her name is never told) spends her days with these three friends. They hang out in a small, abandoned summer house where they read books from abroad and write their own poetry. They are always, though, under the threat of the Communist Captain Pjele's questionings. When they are apart they send each other letters, and make sure to put a single hair in the envelope. If the hair is gone when they open it, they know that it has been opened by the military and controlled.
The book doesn't really explain, though, what the threat is all about. Müller's style of writing is poetic and symbolic, so that means of course that nothing is clearly explained. The storyteller might wander around in the street, then suddenly she tells about memories from her childhood and in the next minute she'd be standing naked in front of Captain Pjele after questioning. After the rather moving story about Lola's fate, the plot continues following different people that the storyteller meet. The problem is that you never really get close to any of them. At least I find it hard to get hold on any of these characters, even the storyteller who is the main character is too far up in the clouds for me. I find myself indifferently skimming through pages wishing the book to end so I could start on a new one. After the story about Lola in the beginning, which actually touched me a bit (even though it was predictable and not very unique), no other of the important characters succeed to catch my attention.
The biggest reason for my negative impression of this book is the style of writing that Müller is using. It doesn't appeal to me at all and I think it's a matter of personal taste. Many people, I think, would simply love her way of using symbols such as nail scissors, green plums and mulberry leaves, and that is proved of course in the fact that she has been given the Nobel Prize in literature. She does have her own experiences of the situation her characters live in, too, which gives it all credibility. Nonetheless I get that old, tired feeling of reading a book where the author is more interested in writing beautiful and complicated scenes and metaphors than actually communicating something. I know I got the same feeling after reading for example Björn Ranelid or Paulo Coehlo.
I think Müller is that kind of author, that you either worship or simply dislike. Fully aware that many of you intelligent and talented bookworms out there might give Müller five elves
I've decided to drag down her status a little and give her two
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