The novel takes place in totalitarian Romania, under Nicolae Ceausecu, leader of Romania Communist Party who relied on fear and capital punishment to control his country. Centered around an unnamed female student and her three friends, George, Kurt, and Edgar, Muller's work demonstrates the day-to-day struggle felt by the young people of Romanian post World War Two. There is an overwhelming sense of paranoia and suspicion generated by all the relationships in the novel, yet the friends all rely on each other for some sort of contact and comfort.
After they graduate and separate, they send letters to each other, all encrypted, complete with a single hair of the writer to ensure its secrecy. the letters "served to let each of us read his own fears in the handwriting of the another." It is clear the lives of the four are in peril; they are followed by members of the police, interrogated almost weekly by Captain Pejele(a symbol for all heads of the secret police, I think), and receive death threats and a variety of assaults. What what have they done to put them on the guilty side of the law? The four begin their friendship by reading books squirreled away in a summer cottage. Reading under this regime is enough to put you in suspicion of "subversive" behavior. For me, this concept is especially profound, because here i am reading whatever I want, publishing my thoughts publicly, and I can walk away without fear. Can you even imagine what it would be to go day to day constantly afraid that you and your family will be the next target. No wonder thousands tried to escape the country. The few who succeeded may have found a better life, but clearly, as with the case of Muller, are left scared by their lives in Romania. Its a privilege to live in a time and place where we can learn from these events and hope that those who still live in fear can one day find relief in a peaceful world.
There are several allegorical elements in the novel, notably the green plums mentioned in the titles. This fruit, warned to be poisonous, is a staple in the diet of bored police potrollers who pull them off the trees and stuff their mouths and pockets. Unripe and sour, they swallow the plums, pits and all, much like these men swallow their government's policies.
It took a lot of courage for author Herta Muller to publish not only this novel but much of her work that illuminates the fear and paranoia she lived with for decades. It's fitting then that she was recognized for her work last year by the Nobel Committee. She writes to warn the world of corruption in power but not in sweeping epic consequences, but it's damage on the individual. She makes these injuries human and individual, accessible to readers all over the world. Will you take a look?