oppression

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk (Photo credit: tr.robinson)

As noted in the sidebar, our group focuses on what we generally consider works of literary value.  What makes a work “literary” has always been debatable, though, and we don’t take ourselves seriously enough to forgo reading a cult classic from time to time.  Or, a local writer–especially if they have written a cult classic.  This month, we discussed the cult classic Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (rhymes with colonic!) which won the 1997 Pacific Booksellers Award and the 1997 Oregon Book Award for best novel.  Those awards are not what people typically think of when they think of Fight Club.  Instead, most people remember the film starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as the “first rule” of Fight Club:  Do not talk about Fight Club.  Well, we ignored the first rule, and there is no rule that prohibits writing about Fight Club.  (Note:  I will follow the convention of italicizing the title when I reference the book, but not when referencing the organization described in the novel.)  (more…)

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The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller

Herta Müller, Nobel laureate in literature 200...

Herta Müller, Nobel laureate in literature 2009, at the Leipziger Buchmesse 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a previous blog, I mentioned that Wallace Stegner‘s Angle of Repose depicted a specific era of U.S. history not often written about by serious novelists.  Herta Muller‘s semi-autobiographical novel sheds a personal light on an era of European history dominated by the influence of the Soviet Union and the dictators who benefited from such influence.  As one reads The Land of Green Plums, it becomes abundantly clear that there are aspects to life under a repressive regime – namely, fear and paranoia – that can be read about in news accounts and discussed, but cannot fully be understood except by those who have lived under such a regime.Green Plums is set in Muller’s homeland, Romania, and although she does not identify the country’s dictator by name, it is Ceausescu and his police-state regime that she describes.  In her Nobel lecture (included in my Picador edition), she talked about the threats, intimidation and persecution to which she was subjected as a translator in a factory.  In the novel, this experience and others form the basis for the lives of the characters.  One method used by the secret police (the “securitate”) of entrapping Romanians into appearing as “collaborators” with internal spies employed by the secret police was to write fictitious letters to them from relatives.  (A portion of the wikipedia entry for Green Plums does not acknowledge that this was happening to the narrator in the novel, but if one considers the numerous examples of the securitate’s reading everyone’s mail and how the characters used code words in their letters, and hair in the envelopes, then it is obvious.)  Another method of oppression consisted of killing its political opponents, then declaring the death a suicide after a perfunctory investigation.  (Again, part of the wikipedia entry takes the description of Georg’s death as a suicide at face value, but that is probably an incorrect interpretation given the nature of the securitate.)  (more…)