Christmas Party 2011. I wished for this book. Bookish little buddy bought this book and will give it to me if the person who picked my name for the exchange gift gives me a different title. I got it. Buddy kept her copy for herself and gave me a backup gift instead.
We read it together last May. I was a little anxious. I didn’t know how she will react to it. I myself didn’t know how I’ll react to it. It was a grope in the darkness, a leap of faith. God bless the IMPAC committee if this turns out to be a wonderful book.
It’s a little hard to get into it. The words just flow on and on, not giving us any clue on where it will lead. Objects are mentioned repeatedly. Belt, window, nut, rope. Tin sheep, wooden melons, mulberry trees, sacks of leaves, green plums. Ah, motifs. These, along with the short chapters, form the façade of this haunting novel.
Why and when and how does tightly tied love get mixed up with murder? I felt like shrieking curses beyond my command.
He who loves and leaves
shall feel the wrath of God
God shall punish him
with the pinching beetle
the howling wind
the dust of the earth.
Shrieking curses, but in whose ear?
Today the grass listens when I speak of love. It seems to me that this word isn’t honest even with itself.
The Land of Green Plums is certainly no basket of green plums. It is ripe with talent and heavy with the feeling of something significant. One is almost forced to read it very slowly for fear of missing the novel’s theme and for dealing it injustice just because one has sped through it. Besides, it’s injustice enough to breeze through it because there are so many beautiful sentences that one can’t help basking in.
Words are formed slowly to create a bleak landscape of Romania’s totalitarian times. These words do not require a wordsmith for them to be understood. Individually, they are simple words that you will learn in elementary and master in high school, but the way they are stringed together makes them so blurred that one is sure to get lost in trying to comprehend the thoughts after the periods.
But one is sure to get this enigmatic and fearful mood, which is the main point of the novel and which puts aside the action, if any, that is going on. We read the unnamed narrator’s remembrance of her friends and the silently turbulent times that they went through as students and young professionals. There are also stories about her childhood and her family that are sporadically inserted here and there. And oh, did I forget to mention that this novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her younger times?
The reader should always keep in mind that first-person narratives are unreliable. This applies to this novel, and although facts are not suppressed, the grief that the narrator holds can’t help from bursting at some points of the novel. But wait, why the grief? Why the fear and remembrance? Why the general melancholy?
So again, I forgot to give a background. A group of young and promising students set off from their respective impoverished provinces to the city to bring some comfort in their lives. Remember, the students live under a totalitarian regime, Ceausescu’s, specifically, and one has ideas about what happens to the intelligent and unconventional youth in such a government, no?
If not, let me just say that everyone should watch what he says very carefully and associate himself with the “right” people. Heck, the latter is not even an assurance for survival. Just watch what you say and what you do. The slightest flick of a finger can betray you for the the friends are incessantly followed and interrogated by those who are in power. This routine becomes a part of their consciousness that they are driven mad with destructive paranoia and fear.
And what happens to Edgar, Georg, Kurt, Lola, Tereza, and our narrator?
Chicken-torture. Run a Google image search of “pecking chicken toy.” Just to make sure, you should see images of a ping-pong paddle with a number of chickens on top and a ball hanging with strings below it. Try to figure it out.
And then if you are able to do so, you might be able to figure out the main theme of the novel. Added bonus for you if you got belt, window, nut, rope. But by all means, read it. And read this: bookish little buddy’s review.