Dinah's Reviews > The Land of Green Plums

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller
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's review
Jan 05, 2010

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bookshelves: fiction, novels, politics
Read from April 02 to 07, 2010

I wish I had liked this book more. I wish I could tell you what it's about, exactly. The author doesn't want me to tell you. The speaker isn't identified for the first twenty-odd pages of the book. I thought this book was about Lola, but she kills herself in the first act. That is to say, it took a long time to find my footing in this prose, and once I found it, the prose became relentless. Which is, I suppose, a good thing given the subject -- four friends struggling to keep their souls alive in the police-state of Romania after the war. I'm sure that experience was relentless. This is fiction, though, and I'd like a break for a glimmer or joy or hope every now and again.

That being said, once lulled into the hopeless, dreadful rhythm of the world of this novel, the reading experience was interesting from moment to moment. Müller's prose is poetic to the extreme -- every word has a shadow meaning. Even when the literal meaning is obscure. I get the feeling, though, that the literal meaning wants to be there as well. By the end of the book the ghosts of metaphors pile so far into the depths of the story's despair, I couldn't keep track any longer, and gave up on keeping straight minor characters and European nations. That piling up, though, has an effect of its own, and I give the author credit for taking the prose to the very edge of its style and retaining most of a coherent story.

Basically, don't read this book in the winter, or in a totalitarian state, or in a mood of despondency. Read it when you want to spend a little time with a few pages of well-phrased prose, and don't worry about Müller's achievement, not the ordering of plot and dynamics. The volume of sustained, colorless, existential despair. And a fascinating glimpse into the psyches of the Old World. I didn't mention that, but it's another achievement. Some vignettes could have been verbatim transcripts of the horror stories my grandmother told of the gradual invasion of her village in Hungary, and I do feel a little better acquainted with that universe having finished this book. I just don't know that I had to live in it so relentlessly, that anybody did. It can't be done. We give ourselves breaks. Wish the author had. Still, they don't give out Nobel prizes for nothing, and I raise no objections.

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