Although unremittingly bleak, the book contains a lot of wintry beauty and the sense of the passing of time always offers the hope of eventual redemption and freedom.
The plumsuckers were peasants. The green plums made them stupid. They ate themselves away from their duty. They reverted to childhood, stealing plums from village trees. They didn't eat because they were hungry, they just lusted after the sour taste of the poverty which had so recently ruled their lives.