The latest addition to my website is Panait Istrati‘s Les Chardons du Baragan (The Thistles of the Baragan). The novel is set in the very inhospitable region of Romania called Bărăgan, known for its thistles. The poor people struggle to make a living there, We follow the story of Mataké, who is a boy for all the novel. His parents try to make a living fishing carp but it all goes wrong. His mother dies and he and his father go to work on a farm. Mataké and his friend decide to run away but struggle in the Bărăgan. He gets a job making and repairing cart but it does not get much better, with the story culminating in the 1907 Romanian Peasants’ Revolt.
The latest addition to my website is Cecilia Stefanescu‘s Intrarea soarelui (Sun Alley). Emi and Sal are twelve year olds. Neither has a sibling. They meet and fall for one another but are, of course, too young to do anything about it. We follow their growing love and passion. However his parents do not approve of her and plan to move away from the area. Sal suggests they run away together. Emi is initially reluctant but agrees. We do not learn till much later in the book how it went. We see them later in life and it would seem that they still love each other but there are still issues that prevent an entirely happy union. It is difficult to explain what a first-class novel this is without giving away too much of the fairly complex plot but Stefanescu really delves into the psychology of Emi and Sal, their relationship and those closest to them.
The latest addition to my website is Filip Florian‘s Degete mici (Little Fingers). The basic story involves an archaeological dig of a Roman fort. About 300 feet from the dig, a horde of seemingly modern bones is found. It is immediately suspected that they are the bones of victims from a massacre by the communists in the 1950s/1960s. The local police chief closes off the dig, to the annoyance of the archaeologists. Various representatives of political prisoners arrive. Everyone – police, coroner, soldiers, archaeologists, representatives, press – has an agenda. However, Florian tells a host of side stories, most of which are completely irrelevant to the main plot, making the novel somewhat bitty. All becomes clear when a team arrives from Argentina, who are experienced at examining bones of murder victims and all is resolved.
The latest addition to my website is Gellu Naum‘s Zenobia (Zenobia ). Naum was a Surrealist poet and this is very much a Surrealist poet’s novel. Our hero is called Gellu Naum. While visiting Mr Sima in the country in the depths of winter, he meets and immediately falls in love with Zenobia, the name he gives her – we never know her real name – and his love is reciprocated. The pair set off together and go and live in a burrow like moles with Dragoş, an old, an almost inanimate man. After surviving the winter, Gellu explores the swamps before the threesome set off for Bucharest. Dragoş will go off with Empedocles as a child, while Gellu wanders the streets of Bucharest, meeting many dead people – he admits to not being able to tell the difference being the dead and living – and the pair will live in surrealistic but relatively happy harmony before returning to the swamps. The book is full of surrealistic images – death and animals abound – and strange behaviours but is interesting reading if you do not expect the conventional.
The latest addition to my website is Dumitru Tsepeneag‘s Pigeon vole (Pigeon Post) . This is a witty and clever post-modernist novel, written in French and set in Paris. An unnamed author, who may not be the author who is, in fact, another character created by the narrator and who plays chess is trying to write a novel but getting nowhere. He calls on three friends to help and one, eventually, writes a good part of the book, though our author or, rather, our narrator who is not really the author, or, at least, not Tsepeneag but a not-Tsepeneag author writing as Tsepeneag, gradually gets going, while watching the pigeons and Maryse walking her dog and listening to the neighbours having loud sex, starts writing while learning about cannibalism and cricket, and tries to stop a strike. Get it? No? Well, that’s the point.
The latest addition to my website is Ioana Pârvulescu‘s Viața începe vineri (Life Begins On Friday). This is an unusual Romanian novel as it is not grim. A coachman in Bucharest in December 1897 finds, separately, two men in the snow. The first, Dan Kretzu/Crețu, is disorientated and, for the course of the book, does not seem to know why he is there and where he is from. The other man has been shot but is still alive, though will die not long afterwards. Chief of Public Security, Costache Boerescu investigates while we follow a host of other characters in Bucharest, some of whom become involved in the plot. Dan gets a job as a journalist, still looking and feeling out of place, Costache uncovers a murky plot, involving lots of people, Iulia Margulis writes her diary, starting on a Friday and worries about her love life and eight-year old Nicu struggles to make a living and look after his mentally ill mother. It is a very enjoyable story, with various plot twists and a vivid portrait of 1897 Bucharest.
The latest addition to my website is Dan Lungu‘s Raiul găinilor [Heaven for Chickens]. The novel is set in Acadia Street, during the post-Nicolae Ceaușescu era. Most of the people that live there are retired and not very well-off. The novel is a satire on both modern Romania and on these people, who drink a lot, argue, gossip and do not do much else. We get very funny stories from the man who during the Nicolae Ceaușescu era, decided to go and visit Ceaușescu to complain about the trams and is received and even gets a free car, to the plague of worms, the rabid dogs controlled by a religious fanatic and the government’s plan to knock down all the houses, without informing the residents and then backing off, also without informing the residents. There is the woman who takes to her bed to die and does not die and the woman who manages to get a sneaky look inside the rich colonel’s house and gossips about it, inventing more details all the time. It is very funny and quite unlike most of the Romanian novels I have previously read.
The latest addition to my website is Liviu Rebreanu‘s Pădurea spânzuraților (Forest of the Hanged). Our hero is Apostol Bologa. He is ethnically Romanian – his father had been imprisoned for his role in drawing up a memorandum of the grievances of the Romanians in Transylvania which, till 1918, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To impress his fiancée, Apostol joins the Austro-Hungarian army and has a successful career, fighting the Russians. However, he learns that his unit is to move and fight the Romanians, something which he cannot do and he considers deserting. He knows the consequences of this as he has seen a man hanged for just that reason (Rebreanu’s brother was also hanged for desertion.) He is on the point of desertion when he is badly wounded in a Russian attack. He takes a long time to recover but disturbed by the issue of fighting the Romanians as well as his murky love life and the fact that he has not fully recovered from his injuries, he becomes seriously troubled. It is a superb novel, really getting into the convoluted mental state of our hero.
The latest addition to my website is Zaharia Stancu‘s Desculț (Barefoot). We follow Darie, a young peasant boy from the beginning of the 20th century to World War I. However, the main focus of the novel is the sufferings of the Romanian peasants. The peasants are continually victims – of the boyars (rich landowners) and their staff, the kulaks (rich farmers), the local moneylenders, the government, wars, bandits, the weather and, in the case of the women, the multiple child births and child deaths. Stancu shows all of these issue, often on many occasions. Apart from the brief hope of the 1907 Romanian Peasants’ Revolt, which is brutally repressed, there is no reprieve from their suffering. Darie, who is a cripple, is even worse off than most, though he tries to make something of himself. However, it is the overall suffering of the peasants that is Stancu’s main concern.
The latest addition to my website is Maria Maïlat‘s La cuisse de Kafka [Kafka’s Thigh]. This is a semi-autobiographical novel. Her heroine is called Mina Baïlar. She is born in Transylvania, part Jewish, and has a not particularly easy childhood. However,she becomes first a gymnast and then a writer but the Romanian authorities ban her writing and she has to leave, and goes to Paris, determined to write in French and not about the political situation in Romania. She struggles with the usual problems of exile – housing, right to asylum, a different culture – but also how to be herself and not what the Romanian community want her to be. It is a fine, honest book about struggling to fit in a new environment.