Monday, September 19, 2011

Comparing minority Romania

I just started reading Herztier (The Land of Green Plums in English) by Herta Müller and I find myself repeatedly thinking one completely unjustified, unrelated thought - this book is the grown-up alternative to The White King. Or a complementary novel. Something of the sort.

I loved The White King. It's a good book, well-written and finding the perfect balance between child and adult without restricting itself to one particular audience. It's a book that educates and enlightens, all while telling a good story. Written by an author belonging to the Hungarian minority in Romania, it describes a child's life in totalitarian Romania in the late 80s. On the other hand, The Land of Green Plums is written by a member of the German minority in Romania. It's about young men and women growing up in the shadow of WWII during the 70s and 80s, life in totalitarian Romania.

It strikes me as odd, first of all, that my only literary knowledge of Romania is seen through the eyes of minorities. Not necessarily bad (in fact, there is something far more enlightening about this somewhat skewed view), but worth noting. More to the point, I'm noticing that as the book progresses, the dark undertones of the story become far more pronounced. Müller introduces her characters as sketches at first, gradually filling them in. It's disconcerting and quite enticing. I'd normally call this a risky move on the author's part, but Müller handles it deftly and so far (about a third of the way through, meaning there's still plenty of room to go wrong...) it's working quite well. I'm hooked, certainly.

It's these dark reflections, this adult-minded depression and gloom that makes it quite obviously different from The White King. For all the pain and sadness that book had, there was a thread of childish hope and optimism throughout. Even the wonderful downer ending did not leave the reader completely at a loss and just sad - there was something behind the pain. There was hope. The Land of Green Plums doesn't really have that. There's just an unrelenting sea of struggles and sorrows. Maybe in the end, it really is all about the child-vs.-adult mindset. Maybe the adults in The Land of Green Plums are watching the kids in The White King and thinking to themselves, "Just wait a few years, kids. Soon, you'll all be as depressed as we are..."

4 comments:

  1. I am so glad I have just read this post. I had never really heard of Herta Muller until yesterday when I was listening to a review of one of books, The Appointment, on the ABC Book Show podcast. It sounded really fascinating, and completely unlike anything I would normally read. They said that it was translated into English after she won the Nobel Prize. Her personal story sounded amazing, so full of risk and hurt. I am keen to read something of hers.

    I haven't heard of The White King either I have to admit. Both books I will be looking out for now.

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  2. i find a lot of eastern european fiction to be like that. maybe i'm just reading the wrong stuff, lol.

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  3. Your post makes me want to read Herta Muller. I know she won the Nobel, haven't read much Romanian fiction. I do like Ivo Andric but he's from what used to be Yugoslavia. Who wrote 'The White King'? Was it Muller also?

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  4. The White King was written by the Hungarian-Romanian György Dragoman. And interesting to note about Ivo Andric - if I want to continue my streak of non-native Romanian authors writing about Romania, that might be a good next choice!

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