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Buddy Reads > The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (Angus & Atty. Monique). Start Date: May 14

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message 1: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments From the back cover:

Set in Romania at the height of Ceausescu'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.

Reading Plan:

Day 1: 1-48
Day 2: 48-96
Day 3: 96-146
Day 4: 146-194
Day 5: 194-242

message 2: by Monique (last edited May 12, 2012 07:56AM) (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Okay. By 1-48, I take it means up to the 48th paragraph/chapter, right? Because there are no chapter numbers on them. :)

I think I may need to count and mark the pages already. Haha!

message 3: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments I just realized: these are pages, right? Because technically, there aren't any chapters. :)

message 4: by Angus (last edited May 14, 2012 12:40AM) (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Oops, sorry, yes, they are page numbers. I've been away, so there. Anyway...

Day 1:

It's a little hard to get into the plot, if there is any. There doesn't seem to be any big action going on, except the actions of Lola, if you will consider her nightly stowaways as a part of the big action.

The narrative, so far, seems to center on Lola, and then shifts to the narrator, and to someone's childhood. I assume that is the narrator's childhood. At the almost near-end of the first day's reading, Lola dies. Suicide by hanging. With the narrator's belt. And leaving a notebook. But now it's gone.

I was just starting to feel intrigued by Lola, what with her nightly routine (is she a paid prostitute or does she just like doing it randomly?) and the "bottle" scene (there were bells that went off inside my head: is this another Piano Teacher?)

Anyway, the writing is heavy with motifs. Tin sheep, wooden melons, mulberry trees, sacks of leaves, and of course, green plums. I still don't have a clear idea on what these really represent, but the mood that the words create is like a haunting, misty landscape with something lurking at the shadows.

I think I read somewhere that the characters in this novel ate the premature green plums because they had nothing to eat. However, one father here mentioned something about green plums and death. A stark irony, don't you think? Green is something fresh, something that signifies life, and yet green plums are capable of putting an end to the very life that they symbolize.

Definitely something that should be read slowly, and hopefully not too laboriously.

message 5: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Day 1:

*wipes the blood slowly gushing from my ears, nose and eyes*

Okay, that was heavy. Heavy, man. Points on readability shaved off by a few points, but hopefully I can manage through the entire thing.

The shifting points of view tended to confuse, but I found that if I concentrated on Lola and her escapades, it wasn't so bad. And then of course, Lola just had to hang herself and die, so I'm left again with the confusing narrator. Which, from her stories, is one of Lola's roomies in their little university cube.

From the blurb, we pretty much get the idea that there's a dictatorship/totalitarian regime that has taken over the society. I don't know the significance of the Party yet - is this like the "Party" in George Orwell's 1984? It's clear, though, that the citizens are oppressed.

I agree with you that there's a haunting, misty landscape all over - you got it right when you said haunting, the exact word I was looking for. The atmosphere felt heavy and dark, it's kind of depressing really.

Heavy with themes, true. Add to that the grandfather and his barber, the mother who ties her child down to clip her nails, and the father who snip-snip-snipped at the garden plants. Who IS the child here?

*gets a new wad of tissues for another round of bleeders*

message 6: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Buddy:

Is this like the "Party" in George Orwell's 1984?

Yep, but it doesn't incline much towards dystopia. I think the novel is largely based on the author's experiences during WW2. Must buy some cotton balls later.

message 7: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Day 2:

I'm enjoying the dreams that the boys share with the narrator. They have this surreal quality which makes dreams the way they should be (not those dreams of having a date with your crush, walking hand-in-hand in the park, not those please!). They remind me of my own dreams, particularly that one in the barber shop where there's a giant crossword puzzle at the ceiling. I almost thought it was mine.

Speaking of barbers, I feel something portentous about the grandfather frequenting the barber shop. I even think it's a manifestation of his tenacity to live longer. I think somewhere at the beginning, it is said that the dead no longer have a need for barbers and nail-clippers. It is quite logical, and a tad whimsical too, but there seems to be something more beyond that.

And since I've mentioned the nail-clippers, my interest was piqued with the correspondence of the friends. I had to check back twice, thrice what shoes and nail-clippers meant in their writing code. There doesn't seem to be some solid political or radical action going on as far as the narrator is concerned, right? Or did I totally miss anything?

I backtracked to that part where Lola died. Her death is what brought these three boys in the life of our narrator. What are they? College radicals (I first imagined them to be in high school, haha)? Or is this just a case of misidentification?

And I don't know about you, but I feel that there's a sexual tension among the group. I can't say I'm not expecting to see this develop, but yes, there are more serious things than that (just like the last line of that poem!).

message 8: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Day 2:

The political backdrop has become clearer in these pages, what with the mention of the “dictator” and his illnesses. I take exception to this because I found that I had to Google who Ceausescu (pronounced chou-shess-ku) was – since obviously the novel was set during his regime of terror. From what I read in Wikipedia, during Ceausescu's time, there was terrible poverty so much so that the administration had to create cover-ups: Ceausescu would visit a particular farm, where fat cows and sheep, and crops are imported from faraway places just to create the impression that everything is all and well. I mention this in connection with the stolen animal organs that Lola had to stash at the back of their refrigerator.

Kurt, Georg and Edgar's friendship with our yet-to-be-named narrator is the thing that buoys her, I think, through their difficult lives. They are hiding notebooks and books by the well of a summerhouse, and it makes me think that they are into some kind of propaganda against the government. The circumstances are becoming more and more similar to 1984, I'm sure you'll agree with me.

It has also become clear now that the child whose mother ties her down on a chair to clip her nails, whose grandfather plays chess against himself, whose father unceremoniously cut the plants in the garden, and whose two grandmothers – one who continues to sing and one who died – is our narrator herself.

I find the letters – those written by their mothers to them as a result of the searches conducted on their houses, and containing their mothers' various physical illnesses, as well as those written by them to each other after they had gone from university – as a foreboding of things to come. I actually had to dog-ear the page which contains the code (nail-clippers = interrogation; shoes = search; cold = life in danger) because I knew these would crop up in the narrative before long.

Speaking of barbers, I feel something portentous about the grandfather frequenting the barber shop. I even think it's a manifestation of his tenacity to live longer.

I agree, Buddy. That was why our narrator's father insisted on a trip to the barber when he was discharged from the hospital – to die, she said, so she couldn't understand why he had to insist on that.

There doesn't seem to be some solid political or radical action going on as far as the narrator is concerned, right? Or did I totally miss anything?

Not yet, there doesn't seem to be any. But I think that the government is on the lookout not for these solid or radical actions against them, but more on any action that would tend to incite. If you notice, our narrator was interrogated on the old folk song that she and her friends were fond of (and which I find I also like):

Everyone had a friend in every wisp of cloud
that's how it is with friends where the world is full of fear
even my mother said, that's how it is
friends are out of the question
think of more serious things.

Buddy, I think I'll like this book a lot. :)

message 9: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Buddy:

The last two lines of the poem/folk song are depressing. They seem to tell me that there are no such things as friends when life-or-death things arise. I think it was mentioned somewhere that the folk song had something to do about people fleeing the country. Why would anyone flee his/her country? It's not about immigrating or traveling, the word is flee - to run away from something. It's a grave act where a substantial reasons are required.

I feel like the narrator regarding the folk song. I memorized the poem last night (not intentionally), but when I attempted to type it this morning, I could only remember the last two lines.

I miss this kind of buddy reading. Very insightful! :D

message 10: by Monique (last edited May 15, 2012 01:11AM) (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments BUDDY: The over-all theme of the book is depression, and the poem/folk song added more to that atmosphere. It just means that the political situation in their country has reached a point when even friends and friendship will not matter - what's important is that you save your own skin - flee, if need be.

Speaking of the folk song, I got agitated when the narrator was interrogated by Captain Pjele, and the lines were changed into something with "whores" in it. (I can't recall exactly, hehe.) And then when she wrote in her letters to the guys that she had a "cold" and she had issues with her "shoes", I thought for sure she'd be a goner. :(

As for the sexual tension that you mentioned, I didn't think that when I was reading these pages. I was half-expecting something of the sort, but did not entertain the idea further. Hm.

I'm actually looking forward to the continuation of the story! :)

message 11: by Monique (last edited May 15, 2012 08:02PM) (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Day 3:

It seems that we divided the book just right – new characters appear for every part that we read per day. After Georg, Kurt and Edgar in day 2, now come Tereza, the seamstress, and Frau Margit in day 3. :)

Tereza is an enigma to me. There was a part when our narrator gave the parcel containing the books and notebooks from the summerhouse to Tereza, saying something along the lines of: “Tereza took the parcel in trust, and I didn't trust her.” And then there was the part when they were walking along the street, and Tereza created a beast from the “antlers” created by the shadows of a tree. She told the story of how everyone – except two people – got frightened of the beast. Our narrator began to ask who those two people might be, and then changed her mind, but not without Tereza catching the moment's unease. Plus, Kurt warned our narrator about Tereza, counseling her that Tereza should not be trusted. I wonder who Tereza is in all this?

Frau Margit, too, concerns me. She takes pains going into our narrator's room, presumably to poke into the latter's things, and she sure didn't appreciate Kurt's visits. She is devoted to Jesus, but she swears and burps on holy wafers. I highly doubt her loyalties.

The seamstress who bought gold necklaces and shoved them up her privates is another thing. Considering the poverty and the situation in their country, I am at a loss as to why she would go through the risks of smuggling in gold just so her two children can wear something shiny around their necks.

Oh, and Ceausescu finally makes that appearance (p. 134). Herr Feyerabend says “Ciao” is the first syllable in “Ceausescu,” which makes me think of all those fleeing people and their different plans of flight, which includes suicide. Isn't suicide also another way of escaping?

message 12: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments I feel that things mellowed down a bit. We are given a glimpse of the future (the sacks of Georg and Kurt) and I almost hyperventilated because of it. We should expect our protagonists to die, right? But I can't help it.

So when Tereza and a whole bunch of characters are introduced, I felt it as an anticlimactic event. Not that the next parts have proceeded to an abrupt decline; it's just that it came immediately after the flashforwarding of the narrator's friends' deaths.

Which leads me to a conviction that the narrator is suppressing facts, or even grief, so she sidetracked us with stories about Tereza and her landlady. They are not inconsequential to the grand scheme of things, because after all, Tereza becomes the constant companion of our narrator. But can she be trusted? She doesn't have the mind to answer questions. She seems to me an absent-minded woman, but perhaps this could be a ploy to ensnare our protagonists.

And then there was the part when they were walking along the street, and Tereza created a beast from the “antlers” created by the shadows of a tree.

Nice observation. It just goes to show that there's something more to Tereza, something lurking inside her, that stands in stark contrast of her spoiled brat demeanor.

Considering the poverty and the situation in their country, I am at a loss as to why she would go through the risks of smuggling in gold just so her two children can wear something shiny around their necks.

I think the answer to that is plain vanity. The seamstress won't even let her kids the necklaces outside their house. Funny. People can't help it, being the eternally discontented people that we are. This discontent breeds vanity. It's just my theory, my blunt observation on this.

Isn't suicide also another way of escaping?

It is, but if you will allow me to digress a little, please refer to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. My views on suicide have tremendously changed right after finishing it. But yes, on the context of Muller's novel, it is a worse kind of fleeing. It's no longer an escape from a country, but an escape from Life.

message 13: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments We are given a glimpse of the future (the sacks of Georg and Kurt) and I almost hyperventilated because of it. We should expect our protagonists to die, right?

I thought it already happened, actually, that the narrative would be fast-forwarded to the time when they had already died. But then Kurt goes and visits our narrator in her little room in Frau Margit's house, so yes, it's just a glimpse of the boys' fates.

It just goes to show that there's something more to Tereza, something lurking inside her, that stands in stark contrast of her spoiled brat demeanor.

This is what makes me nervous and wary of Tereza. She doesn't seem at all trustworthy, and I'm inclined to join Kurt in his advice for our narrator not to trust Tereza.

I think the answer to that is plain vanity.

Ah, vanity! My favorite sin. (Have you seen The Devil's Advocate starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves?) What a stupid thing to risk one's neck for. And the vanity isn't even for the seamstress' own sake: the necklaces weren't even for her. I thought vanity is indulged for the satisfaction of one's own, personal and selfish wants. So vanity, well, this is debatable; I would much rather think that she loves her children so much that she went through the dangers of smuggling the necklaces in.

It is, but if you will allow me to digress a little, please refer to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. My views on suicide have tremendously changed right after finishing it.

Okay, I'm bumping the book way up on my TBR list. :)

message 14: by Monique (last edited May 16, 2012 07:59PM) (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Day 4:

The narrative doesn't follow a chronological timeline; instead, it see-saws between present, to future, and then past. This is why yesterday, we were given a glimpse of the fates of Kurt and Georg (they're going to die!), and then the narrator hauls us back into the present, a time when she would often meet up with her boylets, each of them alive and well. In between narrations, our main protagonist would also be gripped by a memory from her childhood, and this is injected somewhere in the middle of a particular event.

Our narrator has also divulged that Tereza will eventually die – 6 months from the time she visited our narrator in Germany (see, she fast-forwards stuff to when she was living in Germany, which simply means that she was able to flee) – and then goes back to the present, when they were all still in Romania.

Tereza would turn out to be a traitor, after all. But I think she was compelled to do it by Captain Pjele – an incentive for having the nut under her armpit removed? For it wasn't mentioned in these pages how Tereza died – just the fact of her death and when it happened. I remember that when Tereza was made a member of the Party, the day (or was it after?) when our narrator was fired from the factory where they both worked, Tereza actually made japes before the assembly of Party members. This, despite the fact that her father is likewise a member. It makes me think that, true, Tereza betrayed our narrator, but it was done under compulsion, or in exchange for something beneficial to her.

The noose would appear to be tightening against our narrator and her “boylets”; the surveillance seems to have been upped a notch. Even their families had to be dragged into all the mess. The accusations against our protagonists – that they are engaged in subversive activities – are getting out of hand. Our poor narrator, who had been dismissed at the factory and later, from the household where she had taken on the job of German translator/teacher, is also accused of being a whore.

The chicken board toy that Edgar gave our narrator disturbs me because in the novel, they referred to it as the chicken-torture. Okay, I'm disturbed because from the way it was described (p. 155), I think it's the same toy that's being sold in Baguio, the ones made from wood, with a ball hanging on the underside. I bought one for my daughter during our recent Baguio trip. Anyway. The toy feels like a crude representation of our protagonists – each of them is a chicken made to peck at will, at the slightest movement of the ball or a tilt of the board upon which they are all mounted. The chickens had different colors, yes? One color to represent each person. They are like puppets that move only when made to, whose every peck is dictated by the action of the person that holds the board. Chicken-torture, indeed.

Check out this picture I found:

chicken wooden toy

message 15: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Day 4:

I had a sidesplitting headache last night, so I was not able to read "properly". Even until now, probably because I forgot to drink my coffee, so I hope you would excuse me if I blurt out any incoherent thoughts.

Hmm, okay, so just as we suspected, Tereza is capable of betraying our narrator. However, I actually could feel for our narrator, her love-rage for Tereza. Of course, she has all the right to be mad at her, but when Tereza sent that letter, saying that she wants to meet our narrator before she dies, all the love that the latter has for the nutty (or nutless?) woman came flooding back.

It really is hard to say what is going on inside Tereza's head. There must be some pressure coming from somewhere. A death threat perhaps? Surely, Tereza is not a cutout character here. She's very complex, and I wonder how the novel would be if the storytelling comes from a third person omniscient POV? It would be really interesting to read what Tereza thinks of.

But when our narrator was accused of crimes, one of them being private tutoring, I change my mind again about Tereza. Does she know that that is considered illegal? I don't know if she is trying to help our narrator or if she is pushing her closer to her destruction. Hmm. But I'd like to think that she doesn't know. I'm flimsy, I know.

The chicken-torture, I had a problem visualizing. I couldn't figure out where the ball and strings come from, hahaha, so when I saw the picture (thanks!), the metaphor makes a lot of sense. I felt that this chicken-torture is important because it keeps on coming back to the narrative. The holder of the chicken torture being the dictator, the board being the country, the chickens being the citizens.

I figure out that the narrator relents when the story is gaining momentum. Like she would shift to a childhood memory or something. So there's this feeling of subdued intensity all throughout. Is that an oxymoron? I think it is, but yes, that's what I feel. :D

message 16: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments It really is hard to say what is going on inside Tereza's head. There must be some pressure coming from somewhere. A death threat perhaps?

Or an incentive, perhaps? That nut must be utterly life-threatening.

How could tutoring be a crime, I wonder?

message 17: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Buddy, I won't be going online tomorrow until the evening, so I'll finish the book later and write down my thoughts tonight. So you can read my post when you go online tomorrow morning. :)

message 18: by Angus (last edited May 17, 2012 01:17AM) (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments She's tutoring German, right? I mean, the Party must suppose that it's a subversive activity because it's like planting foreign thoughts in their heads. I have a feeling that the books that they are hiding at the Summerhouse are in German (it would be worse if they are in a different language), and I doubt that there is any Romanian literature published during that time. (But I think the Romanian government of that time sympathized with Germany, so is there any real harm reading German literature?)

Or maybe because her tutoring is a private activity. I'm sure the Party wouldn't approve of any private affairs.

Well, I will look forward to your final thoughts then. And I hope you can make it on Saturday. Lynai will be there!

message 19: by Monique (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments Our narrator is German; are Kurt, Georg and Edgar German too? I must have missed that part.

Or maybe because her tutoring is a private activity. I'm sure the Party wouldn't approve of any private affairs.

I'm inclined to believe in this idea. The Party obviously frowns upon private activities and is suspicious of everyone who engages in them.

I'm sad that the book is too short for our buddy-read! :( I'm hoping I can drop by on Saturday, too. *crosses my fingers*

message 20: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Oh, I always thought they were Romanian, hahaha. I'm confused. Oh well, yes, it is short, and it could be a fast read if one were a mindless reader. But when I think of it, I'm pretty impressed with the books that we read together:

A Passage to India - we may not have liked this, but we now have dissing rights on this book that is enlisted in most book lists.
The Grapes of Wrath - that great novel of the Dust Bowl.
Gone with the Wind - of course, one of the most popular romantic novels ever. And a real doorstopper too.
The Land of Green Plums - a contemporary classic. It's an artsy book, don't you think?

And then there are the Mitchell novels! And I'm hoping for an Ishiguro buddy read. :D

message 21: by Monique (last edited May 17, 2012 07:53AM) (new)

Monique (attymonique) | 2126 comments BUDDY: I stand corrected: our narrator is German-speaking, not a German citizen. It's me who got confused, and now I've gotten you confused as well.

Anyway. :)

Day 5:

This last part is the culmination of the things that we were given a preview of in the first half of the book: the deaths of Kurt and Georg, and Tereza, too; the emigration of our narrator to Germany, and; the events leading up to it.

We may have already been forewarned about Kurt's and Georg's deaths, but that didn't stop me from feeling sad - the friendship they shared was the only source of hope for them, especially during the time when they all felt that they were failures. The notebooks, the poems, the photographs they harbored and which earned them the attention and spite of Captain Pjele were just shared artifacts, symbols of that friendship. Never mind the subversive activities.

Tereza did not earn my sympathy despite her medical condition and the lack of affection from her doctor-boyfriend. She was two-faced, a traitor, and in my book, they do not deserve sympathry at all. Our narrator is too kind to even have those inward debates over that love-rage relationship you mentioned.

One metaphor that got to me: the pigeons that our narrator's mother had pocketed from the park in Germany, which she had planned to make into pies (was it pies? I'm too lazy to check, haha). At first, I couldn't believe my eyes: she pocketed the pigeons? But that's what the book says, right? And then our narrator's mother goes on to tell what happened with the pigeons. Just like the chicken-torture, the pigeons represented our protagonists - gone from Romania, unable to fly to where they wanted to be, plucked and taken to wherever. (Hopefully, they won't be made into pies.)

Also, pigeons - do correct me if I'm wrong, as I have very limited knowledge in ornithology - are birds that have that homing instinct - that ability to be able to find their way back to where their "home" is. I mention this in relation to what our narrator wrote in her letter-reply she sent to her mother when they had both successfully emigrated to Germany: that Romania is no longer "home", as other people have taken it already, and that where her mother is - Germany - IS "home".

I'm happy that the book ended with at least 2 of our protagonists intact. Upon reading the last line of the book, something ticked in my head: I've read that line before. True enough, it was also the first line of the book:

When we don't speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.

I love this book. :)


Wow, 5 buddy read books! I'm looking forward to our next one - Mitchells, Ishiguros, and more names, I hope. ;)

Thanks, Buddy, I enjoyed this one immensely! :)

message 22: by Angus (new)

Angus (angusmiranda) | 4336 comments Day 5:

Dibaaa? The last 20 pages are so intense. It's what we can really describe as a page-turner. Actually, the loose ends that were tied up in the end quite surprised me. Like I never wondered why Kurt was not fired from his job. Something to do about the prisoners being subjected to forced labor. Is that it?

And then there's Georg. I can almost imagine him sitting beside the window. His need to emigrate has really got through him that it made him almost sick in the head when he was denied of it. And just when we thought that the friends had been securely reading their letters, Captain Pjele shows him a bunch of red hair. I was so stunned when I read that part.

And of course, his death. It will always remain a mystery. Was he pushed? Did he jump? Did someone force him to jump? It is easy to associate Georg with suicide, what with his bouts of depression, but the death threats that the friends receive, even after fleeing Romania, is something to be considered, no?

About the pigeons, that is, on the surface, funny. Like who would pocket a pigeon? I'm not sure if they turn them into pies, but I'm sure that they eat them. I haven't heard of people eating pigeons, but yes, the parallelisms are all there. Something that seems like just another letter from mother with back-pains can be so symbolic.

And oh my, the last part is very skillful. It's almost a reversal of the first part. It's like the cycle will be repeated. Are they safe in Germany? If the threats of violence are forever out of their reach, what of the threats of being on a foreign land? The threats of their past as recored by their government? The threats of being dispossessed?

Muller depicted an ugly Romania in her novel using profound sentences that she deftly handled. The sentences are not too complex, but there's a sense of madness in their tone. Although there are things that can be worked on, like character development, the beauty of the novel would be lost. And I don't think that's the point of the novel at all. She was, mostly, capturing the fear and despair that enveloped the Romania of that time.

Belt, window, nut, rope.

Thanks too, Buddy! More books to read! I definitely enjoyed this one. It's short yet involving. :D

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