By Sierra Maciorowski
It’s rare to find a translated book that copies precisely the feeling of the original language, but The Land of Green Plums manages to do just that.
Author Herta Muller, with unnatural punctuation and startling imagery, conveys the lack of clarity which Romania faced under former leader Nicolae Ceausescu, and the constant fear of death or detainment. Our narrator is nameless, a city-educated girl beaten down time and time again by the clutches of the antagonist, Captain Pjele. But Pjele represents more than himself–truly, he is the embodiment of the dictatorship, and all its dangers.
As the narrator’s friendship with three fellow students leads her into danger, she learns that her encounters with Pjele are just as dangerous as she believed. But, with the perspective characteristic of that time, the narrator focuses on the greenness of plums and the power of the river, making only sidenotes of her thoughts of death and drowning.
With a certain lust for the newly archaic poverty which surrounds them, the narrator and her three friends, so frequently accused of more complicated relations, continue their secretive correspondence, fearing the power of the dictatorship as the secret word, “shoe, ….” appears more and more frequently.
Doubting her safety in Romania, the narrator must eventually choose where her loyalties lie: with her friends (who begin to disappear), or with her mother in safety. Options closing in around her, she finally makes her choice–at the truly last moment.
The Land of Green Plums is a master example of language. Every word, carefully placed, tells the reader a story in its orientation, shape, and flavor–and the entirety of the novel clearly deserves its Nobel Prize–as does the author. Through her imagery and knowledge of the culture she depicts, Muller gives the world a glimpse of her reality–the terrifying, oppressed past of the youths of Romania.