Wednesday, June 2, 2010

...(back) to the land of green plums

The Land of Green PlumsLola came from one of the poorest provinces of the country. Where the drought season is survived only by sheep, melons and mulberry trees. There are six children in her family. There are six roommates in her dorm room. Lola came to the city to escape poverty. She went to college for a major in Russian. The interest in Russian majors was low and so was the selectivity. "Wishes are difficult, writes Lola, goals are easier". She wants to marry a gentleman with carefully cut fingernails and a college degree. She wants to return to her village as a lady.

Lola joins the Party. God watches over us up-above, the Party watches over us down-below.

Lola is with baby but she didn't get married yet. Lola commits suicide.

One of her roommates finds her notebook and reads it. The notebook brings her closer to three other students. They are all members of the German-speaking minority. They bring in books banned by Party Censors, they send back letters into the West.

After graduation she gets a job as a translator in a factory. There she befriends Tereza. Tereza can allow herself to behave childish - her father is someone rather important in the party. Tereza is now hiding the forbidden books, pictures ...the notes. Tereza is Romanian.

By the end of the book all have left the land of green plums behind. Two of them are in Germany. The other carry their sack someplace else :"a belt, a window, a nut, a rope."

Herta Müller is the 2009 Nobel prize laureate for literature. Her work counts around fifty volumes of essays, poetry, short stories and novels. Unfortunately, most of them stall in the time of the communist regime . And whilst there is a need for well written accounts about that epoch, I tend to think that sometimes there are too many such accounts. Thus I will not recommend that you read all her writings, not unless you are obsessed with the period. But I say that one must tread at least a few of her works. And one novel I will recommend with no hesitation is the Herztier [1] translated as the Land of Green Plums.

Herztier is a collection of individual stories, one of the best to capture the mix of ideology and feelings that lead the four young friends to revolt. A revolt which seems, at times, as silly as the wooden toy with hens they enjoy playing under a mulberry tree. Because it is not an ideology that is leading them, but exactly the contrary - a rebellion against ideologies. Ideologies like the one of their fathers who fought in the SS troops as well as the ideology of their torturer, secret police officer Pjele.

Herta Müller masters, perhaps better than most contemporary writers, a language that is equally plainly narrative and poetic, laden with metaphors and rich with feelings. And thus she is not only to reconstruct a landscape that is historically authentic but also to reconstruct the way the same landscape reflects in the hearts of young people who experience love and friendship whilst they are pushed towards shameful betrayals and their particular ways to repent for these betrayals.

For me, Herztier touched some of the deepest chords within my heart's memories. Because I lived once in the land of green plums and alike the narrator it had become impossible for me to escape it no matter how far away a traveled.

[1] Herztier means literally The Herartsanimal . And for those who read in Romanian but not in German, I suggest the Romanian translation -it may come closer to home.

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