The Land of Green Plums, the third novel by Nobel laureate Herta Müller, was first published in Berlin in 1993. The work centers on the German minority in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, a despotic Communist leader. (He was a dictator who repressed his people for twenty-four years and was executed, along with his wife, on Christmas day in 1989.)
Lola, the novel's main narrative force, is a poor girl from the provinces who goes to a women’s university in Romania to study Russian. Underscoring the atmosphere of impoverishment, Lola and her roommates fantasize about owning nylon stockings, but make do with what they have by combining their meager resources.
Unprepared for her life in the city, Lola has a number of negative sexual experiences. In despair, she hangs herself, and after her death she is expelled from the Communist Party. One of Lola’s roommates, the narrator of the novel, refuses to accept that Lola’s death was a suicide. After she becomes the subject of political suspicion, she leaves the university. The narrator eventually immigrates to Germany to escape the regime and its oppression.
The novel is considered to be closely autobiographical as well as allegorical. Müller’s title draws from the repetitive image of unripe “green plums” eaten by the officers working under Ceausescu’s reign. The officers' lack of constraint in consuming the fruit symbolizes greed and exploitation. In addition, the guards drink the warm blood of animals from the slaughterhouses, which conveys the hostile reality of life in Romania at the time. Even the dictator receives blood, like a vampire, to replenish his red blood cells in an attempt to treat leukemia.
Critics have noted Müller’s individual style, singular voice, and simple but fearless observations. The Land of Green Plums is celebrated for accurately portraying the oppressive and horrifying experience of living in a police state. The characters are unable to forget—even after they move or escape—the images that the regime represented.