The Importance of Having a Book Buddy – The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

Jumpy, shifting narratives

Okay, I’m already done with this so it doesn’t really fit in the category of “Reading”, right? I’m making an exception with this book since I’ve read this along with my favorite reading buddy, Atty. Monique. Instead of putting what I thought of the book, I’m going to plagiarize, I mean mention, some of my book buddy’s thoughts on the book.

From 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.

I like this because I felt the same. It’s always disorienting starting a new book, especially if the last book that you’ve finished is way different from the new one. So yes, the book is a nose-bleeder, a brain-bleeder even, but one can get used to hemorrhaging.

From 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.

So my book buddy did the background research for me, complete with the correct pronunciation of the Ceausescu. I thought it was Sue-says-coo, but anyway, I really never bothered doing background research when reading fiction based on historical events. But yes, the research was helpful. Thanks!

From 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?

I just read through the shadows and antlers thing, thinking that the author was merely portraying the haunting setting of the novel and without giving much thought on Tereza. Good thing that my book buddy pointed this out, which only complicated my feelings for Tereza.

From Day 4:

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.

I didn’t know what a chicken-torture is, and again, my book buddy did the research for me. She showed me a picture of it and I was like, ooh, so that’s a chicken-torture! Looks neat and innocent. It is hard to understand the metaphor if you do not know what the metaphor is itself, so yes, another enlightening moment for me! I first imagined it to be like a marionette, what with the strings attached to the chickens. I just couldn’t figure out where to place the board and ball.

From Day 5:

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 think this is a very important passage. It is tricky because it seems like just one of those letters that a mother sends her daughter, talking about new experiences in the new neighborhood. The regular reader can just read through this whole book without realizing what the motifs and the metaphors are all about. But the discerning reader will be able to glean more with careful and alert reading. Hence, he will be able to enjoy this novel more than the regular one.

We both didn’t expect this to be such a wonderful read. I was actually reluctant to read this along with her because it might turn out to be trashy (and I was the one who made her buy it). Talk about avoiding guilt, huh? Check out her review of the book, and as for mine, hmm, I wonder when? Let me just end this with that poem:

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.

Date Started: May 13, 2012. 03:45 PM. Book #28 of 2012.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Having a Book Buddy – The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

  1. So, my dear Buddy, have you relieved yourself of that self-inflicted guilt? :P

    Thank you for reading this with me. I had no expectations whatsoever about it, but I’m happy to have (inadvertently) discovered Muller through you. And, like I mentioned on Twitter, I demand another buddy-read soon! (If not Executioner, then I guess I’ll have to wait until July for Ghostwritten.) ;)

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  2. I would have loved to read this with you guys. This book has been on my radar for a while but I think I need the extra push to actually buy it and read it. Have enjoyed reading your reviews and Monique’s. I can’t believe I haven’t come across your blog before. I’ve been so out of it lately.

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    • Same here. I just moved to Google Reader yesterday and found your post on The Great Gatsby. And yes, this book is surprising in a lot of ways. I mean, if you like beautiful writing and plots with lots of motifs, then go and get this one.

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