Tuesday, 8 April 2014
Romania - The Land of Green Plums
Phew! You will need your wits about you for this one. From the 2009 Nobel Prize winner, Herta Muller, we are taken to the time of Nicolae Ceausescu, and the dictatorship that formed the early part of her life.
As I was being raised in the 1960’s, I was given the impression that everywhere ‘East’ was grey, overcast, gloomy and dull. Muller’s writing certainly gave credence to this perception. Everybody was downtrodden, living in fear and without hope. Although this is set two decades later, the impression remains unchanged.
The story revolves around a group of four students, from the provinces, who further their education within a university setting in the city. What begins as an omnipotent narrative soon becomes a diary type memory of events from one on these young people. As each journey unfolds, intertwined with each other, the despair for the future of each begins to seep off the page and into the psyche of the reader. We are told of the intervention of the state in all that they did, from the secret policeman, who offered advice, veiling threats; constantly telling all the students that they are lucky to have him for their protection, to the dog at his heel, that had the same name, but tore the heels and trouser legs as soon as his master gave the order. As the students left for their predetermined jobs, decided by the state the friends decide that when they write to each other, they would place a single hair in the envelope to determine whether the post had been intercepted – it generally was, with the state keeping a firm grip on all that was said, thought and written. The story goes on to conclude the tale of each protagonist, and we, as readers, are told about, among other things, the process of emigration and the way the country operated under the dictatorship.
The writing itself is quite riveting; you can find yourself turning pages almost without realising. But there are no particular points where the story explodes, rather the opposite; it implodes within the character’s lives often. However, Muller does tend to wander off the direct line of prose, and brings in occasional allegories, reverting to hypothetical scenes to explain the present, but not for long, there is really little need to digress.
It is a difficult book to read, as I’m sure it was to write, but that doesn’t make it less of a story. The subject matter is tough the language regarding the subject is tough and the prose itself is difficult to stay with. This is not bedtime reading as I promise you will not keep up, thus failing to grasp its importance. And I do think it important that work like this is out there. How can we learn the mistakes without reading, digesting and responding to this historical warning, being shouted long and hard from the rooftops.
Published by Granta Books, London