Reviewing this book is all but an easy task. I devoured these green plums and am still hungry after that although they were far from being tasty and what they left is bellyache, malaise and discomfort.
And yet, I think that there is no better antidote than swallowing the unripe venom into these green plums picked up by Herta Müller for winning over apathy and resignation.
Ceausescu's Romania was indeed a horrible place to live and even worse if your mother tongue was German and you were the son or daughter of a former SS soldier as miss Müller was.
One of the worst post World War Two tragedies is, in fact, the impact the conflict had on redrawing not only the European borders, but the way some countries started to think about themselves: monochromatic. And there where red was the primary color there are dozens of minor diasporas which left local communities isolated in a sea of hatred.
The Swabians living in Romania were one of these communities engulfed in the flames of the craziest dictatorship of the Eastern bloc. But one cannot forget the Poles who found themselves in USSR, the Turks who ended up in Bulgaria or the Germans whose towns became Polish. Not to mention that sort of hazardous melting pot called Yugoslavia which erupted in the 1990s.
I was a 7 years old kid when Ceausescu was dethroned and it's interesting how I have clearer memories of his fall in December 1989 than the demolition of the Berlin Wall which had begun one month earlier. I do remember the livid face of the Romanian dictator and his wife thrown on the tar after their execution as shown on television. Or so I think. I never had nightmares. That man was evil - I was probably told - and he got what he deserved.
Here Herta Müller mentions the former cobbler only twice, preferring to call him "The Dictator" and not too often. This is not the story of a personal resistance against Niculae Ceausescu, but against the way of thinking, behaving, reporting and vilifying that took over Romania during its last dictator's rule.
It was a life in the void that couldn't end only escaping abroad, but escaping from yourself, from whom they accused you to be, a traitor, an antisocial and subversive sub-human being.
There is little surprise that some found this novel hard to tolerate because of its hopeless despair. That is the way it was. But actually I think that this book, despite all of its grimness, has plenty of joyful intimate moments showing how life could go on in hell.
The closest literaty comparison I can find is with Agota Kristof's "The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie", but Herta Müller is far more stinging and yet poetic and evocative in her prose.
Green plums won't ripen, though.