The latest addition to my website is Gabriela Adameșteanu‘s Dimineață pierdută (Wasted Morning). The novel gives a panorama of Romania and its sufferings from the beginning of World War I to 1975. Much of what happens we see through the eyes of the seventy-year old Vica Delcă, who has had a hard life. Her father went off to fight in World War I and, while he was away, her mother died, leaving the eleven-year old Vica to bring up her siblings. Things improved briefly when she was able to open a shop, with no help from her useless husband, but that was closed by the Communists twenty years ago and now she struggles on a meagre pension and help from friends, with useless husband stuck in front of the TV. In her morning she goes to visit her sister-in-law (widow of Vica’s favourite brother) and her friend Ivona Ioaniu, whose family mirror the changes in Romania, from a well-to-do French-speaking bourgeois family to Ivona struggling on her own with an unfaithful husband in a big house. Adameșteanu shows the hardships many Romanians have endured over the years. It was big success in Romania.
The latest addition to my website is Augustin Buzura‘s Recviem pentru nebuni și bestii (Requiem for Fools and Beasts). Much of this novel is set after the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989 but, as the title tells us, Buzura does not think things have improved much. Matei Popa is the editor of a crusading newspaper and he has received death threats. We follow his story – the two women he loved and lost and the one he is currently seeing. We also follow his early life, so we see Romania under Ceaușescu, Matei and his brother trying to flee Romania and Matei in prison, which he survives. He now tries to find out who is threatening him. Buzura has a clear message – you have to stand up and fight, which is a worthy slogan but can lead to a lot of grief.
The latest addition to my website is Petru Dumitriu‘s Incognito (Incognito). It is set in the period after World War II but before Ceaușescu took power. Our hero is a Romanian government official who had had trouble with the authorities but has now been rehabilitated. He wants to go abroad with his wife, officially just for a trip but, as we know, to defect. When he is given the task of investigating a high-ranking official, Sebastian Ionesco, who had fallen out of favour, he has to carry it out. Sebastian gives him a large notebook, which is a sort of confession, which we read, which tells his story, involving his two brothers, both now high-ranking officials, his wartime career, his job in the security services and his resignation and gradual change to acting according to his conscience instead of party diktat, which results in dire consequences. Dumitriu himself managed to get out and wrote this book while in France but others had to make compromises or pay the cost, as Sebastian had to.
The latest addition to my website is Gib Mihăescu‘s Donna Alba. Our hero, Mihai Aspru, has a colourful early life , running away, working on ships and trying to join the Foreign Legion in 1915. Back home he joins the Romanian army in World War I but survives, though his father, a doctor, dies. Back from the war, while waiting to take his exams, he sees a beautiful woman, Alba Radu Şerban, the eponymous Donna Alba. The book tells of his pursuit of this woman
She is married so he gets a job as a lawyer with her husband. Though he barely sees her in this job, a long and complicated plot, involving, of course, sex and money, always has him thinking of her and trying to find ways to win her, by fair means or, in particular, foul.
The book has been translated into three languages but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Vintila Hori‘s Dieu est né en exil (God Was Born in Exile). This is the fourth book on my website about Ovid’s exile but the first by a Romanian. Ovid was exiled by Emperor Augustus in 9 A.D. to Tomis which is now Constanța in modern-day Romania.The book is a (fictitious) diary kept by Ovid of his stay there. It is generally agreed that he died there. We follow the trials and tribulations he faces, missing his life in Rome and his various girlfriends. We know he wrote some poems while there and these do feature but not significantly. We also see him getting to know the local people and even learning their language. He makes a tour of the area – essentially modern-day Romania – and even starts to enjoy being there. However, where the novel is weak, in my view, is that he and others are gradually brought around to a monotheistic view, culminating in a sudden conversion to Christianity (in 12 A.D.!) with one of the characters even having seen Jesus in Bethlehem. It is all so improbable that it seriously detracts from the novel. The rest of the novel, however, is well worth reading.
I have finally added a subscription feature to this blog. Yes, I know that I should have done it years ago but better late than never. You will find it to the right of any blog post, below the Search and above the Archives. See illustration to left (don’t try and use this one as it is only an image. Use the one to the right). Usual drill – name and email – and it will ask you to confirm. If you do not want to use this method, the blog will be otherwise unchanged and I will still be tweeting about new posts.
The latest addition to my website is Camil Petrescu‘s Ultima noapte de dragoste, întâia noapte de război [The Last Night of Love, the First Night of War]. This is a love story and a war story. Stefan Gheorghidiu meets a woman at university. They fall in love and get married. At first all goes well but then he starts to have suspicions that she is being unfaithful to him. They separate, get back together and separate again. They argue. He tries to make her jealous by being seen with another woman. However, it is August 1916. Romania has remained neutral in World War I but it now seems that it is likely to side with Allies. When he is called up, he is worried that she will have further opportunities to be unfaithful. However, he has to fight and Petrescu shows us that Romania was totally unprepared for a war and that love and war do not go hand in hand. This is a classic of Romanian literature but though it has been translated into seven languages, English is not one of them.
The latest addition to my website is Magda Cârneci‘s FEM (FEM). This is nominally a series of stories told Scheherazade-like by an unnamed woman to her unnamed and useless, about-to-be-dumped boyfriend. However, the stories are not Aladdin or Sindbad the Sailor but tell of her life, focussing as much on the images and impressions as on the actual events. The various key events in her life and, indeed, often the ordinary, are coloured by vivid images of her life. As she herself says From time to time, I am assaulted by strange images, powerful ones, charged with bizarre, excessive energy, visions that seem to climb out of unknown depths within me, or they come from above, from an interior heaven of the mind. While we follow her life and her life with useless boyfriend (TV, Internet, alcohol, other women), we also see these many images as well as discourses on the female body which seems (her own and that of other women) to somewhat obsess her. It is a thoroughly original and highly imaginative book.
Regularly, at around this time of the year, I concentrate on reading books from just one nationality and this year it is Romania.
For most Western readers who know anything about Romanian literature, the writers they have heard of or even read will be expatriates, sometimes, perhaps, without our readers being aware that they were Romanian.
The first Romanian I read was certainly Eugène Ionesco, the absurdist dramatist, whose most famous works were written in French, though his earlier works were written in Romanian. He did write one novel: Le Solitaire, translated as The Hermit. I have a copy but have not read it.
The French Dadaist, Tristan Tzara was, in fact Romanian and wrote his earlier works in Romanian before switching to French. Other exiles include Andrei Codrescu, who lives in the United States and writes mainly in English, Emil Cioran, a philosopher who wrote mainly in French and is known for his work Précis de décomposition (A Short History of Decay), Paul Celan, who wrote mainly in German, Norman Manea who writes in Romanian but has lived in the United States since 1988 and Mircea Eliade.
Eliade wrote in Romanian, English and French. He wrote several novels but is perhaps best known for his writings on myths, legends and religion, many of which I read and very much enjoyed many years ago.
Finally I should mention Herta Müller who is German and writes in German but who was born in Romania and lived there for the first thirty-four year of her life before emigrating to Germany. I shall be reading a couple of other expatriate Romanian writers during the course of this exercise.
I am not vaguely competent to give you a history of Romanian literature, so I shall just outline a few highlights, focussing, of course, more on the the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The earliest works in Romanian, appearing in the sixteenth century, were, not surprisingly, religious, with historical works appearing in the next century. Romania was under Ottoman rule but with Greeks acting as rulers and therefore influencing the literature. Romanian poets started appearing and they were influenced by the European Enlightenment and by nationalism, which started to take effect in the early nineteenth century.
The Junimea Group was founded in 1863 with Ion Creangă being one of several important members. The late nineteenth century poet Mihail Eminescu is, perhaps, the nearest Romania has to a national poet. Ion Luca Caragiale was a playwright but also wrote short stories and novellas, quite a few of which are available in English.
Drama, poetry and short stories still predominated till after World War 1, when the Romanian novel started to get going. I shall focus almost entirely on the novel from now on but that does not mean to say that there were not poets, dramatists and short story writers.
Liviu Rebreanu is best known for his Pădurea spânzuraților (Forest of the Hanged), which I shall be reading. He started off publishing short stories but then published Ion, considered to the first modern Romanian novel and is available in English translation though long since out of print.
Cezar Petrescu, who is already on my site, may be best known for his children’s novel Fram, ursul polar (Fram the Polar Bear) but wrote many adult novels, including Întunecare (Gathering Clouds). It was in three volumes. All three volumes have been translated into English but are not cheap.
Some of Mihail Sadoveanu‘s books have appeared in English translation. I have reviewed Baltagul (The Hatchet). However, this one and his other ones translated into English seem to be generally unavailable. A lot of them are available in German translation. Not only was he a very prolific writer, he twice served as acting Head of State.
Mihail Sebastian, however, has fared a bit better, though he was subject to frequent anti-Semitism. He was never acting Head of State. Indeed, he died before Sadoveanu became acting Head of State, knocked down by a lorry. Four of his novels, one of his plays and his diary have been translated into English and I shall be reviewing one of the novels.
A rare woman novelist of this period – Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu – wrote a well-received trilogy of novels but though they were published in English (in Romania) they are impossible to find. Her Bach Concerto is readily available in French, German and Spanish.
Panait Istrati was a working class writer and wrote in French and Romanian. He is best known for his cycle of novels and stories about Adrian Zografi in Romanian. Of his books in French, he is perhaps best known for Les Chardons du Baragan. It was publsihed in English as The Thistles of the Baragan in 1930 and is long since out of print. I shall be reading it in French.
Two of Max Blecher‘s novels have been translated into English. Întâmplări din irealitatea imediată has been translated three times, twice as Adventures in Immediate Unreality and once as Occurrence in the Immediate Unreality. Inimi cicatrizate has been translated only once – as Scarred Hearts. He was associated with the Surrealists and died aged twenty-eight.
Ion Vinea is another writer associated with the Surrealist movement, as well as with symbolism (he was a poet as well as a novelist). His work has not been translated into English and one collection of poetry has been translated into French. I would be interested in reading his novel Lunatecii, which has not been translated into any other language.
Gellu Naum is yet another writer associated with Surrealism. I shall be reading his novel Zenobia>, which has been translated into English. His prose poem My Tired Father is also available in English.
Gib Mihăescu has been compared to Dostoevsky. However, apart from a few stories, no longer available, he has not been translated into English. I shall be reading his Donna Alba.
Mateiu Caragiale is another novelist and poet but best known for his novel Craii de Curtea-Veche, translated into English as Gallants of the Old Court, of which I have a copy but will not be reading this time around. A new translation will be published by Northwestern University Press later this year.
Ion Sadoveanu, no relation to Mihail, is already on my website. He was primarily known as a playwright but wrote three novels, none of which has been translated into English and one of which I have reviewed. A travel guide to Bucharest has been translated into English.
Romania’s situation dramatically deteriorated after World War II, particularly when Nicolae Ceaușescu took over. Many Romanian writers either went underground or left the country. A few, however, did continue.
Marin Preda is probably the best-known Romanian novelist in the immediate post-war era. He is best known for his novel The Morometes which has been translated into English but is difficult to find.
Zaharia Stancu made his name as a poet before World War II but is best known for his novel Desculț (Barefoot) which I shall be reviewing this time around. Three of his other novels have been translated into English.
Petru Dumitriu is another novelist I shall be reading this time around. He is best known for his novel Incognito. Several other of his novels have been translated into English but are often difficult to find. He left Romania in 1960, going first to Germany and then to France.
Stefan Banulescu was associated with magic realism but apart from stories in a couple of anthologies, his work is not available in English though is available in French and German.
Eugen Barbu has not been translated into English but has been translated into French, German and Spanish. He was condemned for plagiarism and anti-Semitism. His two best known novels have been translated into other languages.
Varujan Vosganian was a minister of commerce but he also wrote a novel about his Armenian heritage. Cartea șoaptelor (The Book of Whispers) was a novel about the Armenian genocide and was a best-seller.
Dora Pavel is the solitary woman here, both a poet and a novelist. Oddly, enough two of her novels have been translated into Spanish but not into other Western European languages.
Paul Goma was a dissident and left Romania for France. An autobiographical work – My Childhood at the Gate of Unrest – has been translated into English but his novels only into French. Much of his work has been anti-totalitarianism but he has also been accused of anti-Semitism.
Ghérasim Luca is not a novelist but I thought I would mention him for two reasons. He is primarily a poet but is interesting because of his association with the Surrealists. One of his best-known prose works was called Le Vampire passif (he wrote in French). This was published in a limited edition by a fictitious publisher, Editions de l’Oubli (i.e. Forgetting Publications) and had been difficult to obtain, till José Corti republished it in 2001. Surprisingly, it has been translated into English – as The Passive Vampire by Twisted Spoon Press, though it is now out of print. I have a copy of both the French and English text. I shall not be reviewing it now but will do so some time.
Titus Popovici was best known for his screen plays and for his mysterious death. It was a car accident but might not have been an accident. He did write novels. His best-known one was The Stranger, available in English. I have a copy but will not be reviewing it this time.
Nicolae Breban, like many Romanian writers, did not always get on with the authorities and spent some time away from Romania, only returning after the fall of Ceaușescu. His work has not been translated into English but there is one novel in French.
Dumitru Tsepeneag is already on my website but I shall be adding another of his works this time. He is irreverent, funny and, at times anarchic. Fortunately six of his novels and a collection of his stories are available in English thanks to the very wonderful Dalkey Archive Press.
Norman Manea is already on my website. He has lived in the United States for many years , so quite a few of his books are available in English.
I shall mention Stefan Agopian though there is not much about him in English available. None of his books have been translated into English though one has been translated into French and another one into German. I have copies of both but shall not be reading them this time. He tends to write about the historical past but using magical realism and has a good reputation in Romania.
Mircea Cărtărescu is the best living Romanian novelist and may well be the best ever Romanian novelist. Seven of his books are on my website though only one has been translated into English with another appearing in 2021. If you are going to read ony one Romanian novelist, he should be the one.
Doina Ruști has one book translated into English, one into Italian and two into German, though I do not have any of them. Lizoanca: Green Lizard Shadow, the book translated into English, is about violence towards woman (an eleven year old girl is discovered with syphilis), sadly a major issue in Romania (as elsewhere), as well as being about the general decline of standards in Romania.
Ioana Pârvulescu is a novelist and translator, (Kundera, Rilke, Nadeau, Asterix) teaches contemporary literature, is an editor and contributes a column to a literary magazine. Her books have sold well in Romania. Her best known book is Viaţa începe vineri, which has been translated as Life Begins on Friday and which I shall be reading.
Filip Florian studied geology at university but has since become a well-known writer in Romania. Three of his books have been translated into English and I shall be reading one of them.
Dan Lungu has written about life under the Communist regime and the period immediately after. His novel Sînt o babă comunistă! has been translated into English as I’m an Old Commie! while How to Forget a Woman will be appearing in 2022 from the Dalkey Archive Press. I shall be reading one that has not been translated into English – Raiul găinilor [Chicken Heaven].
Lucian Dan Teodorovici has had two books translated into English, one of which I have but shall not be reading this time. Matei Brunul is about a man released from a Communist prison and we learn about both his prison experiences and his life under surveillance after prison.
Cecilia Stefanescu‘s Sun Alley, which I shall be reading, has been made into a film. Like many other Romanians she describes herself as I’m the neurotic product of a childhood spent among the ruins of Ceauşescu’s Bucharest.
Finally I must mention two Romanian women writers, given that there do not seem to be many Romanian women writers in translation. Ruxandra Cesereanu‘s Angelus is already on my website and a fascinating novel it is.
Magda Cârneci‘s FEM is the first book I shall be reading, primarily because it appears in English translation for the first time about now. It is the only novel by a writer best known for her poetry.
You will notice that Teodorovici and Stefanescu are the youngest writers in this summary and they were both born in 1975. Sadly younger Romanian writers are not being translated. This list of Romanian literature now has nobody born post 1986 and few if any translated into English, though a few have been translated into French or German.
The latest addition to my website is Vítězslav Nezval‘s Žena v množném čísle (Woman in the Plural). This is not even vaguely a novel but,rather, a collection of pieces – poetry, short prose pieces and a drama – all of which are surrealistic in nature, as Nezval was on one of, if not the leading Czech surrealist, a friend of Breton and other leading French surrealists. The drama, for example, starts off with the Bird of Doom and a Neurasthenic Woman, and an event for which may people have paid but not only do neither we nor they know what it is about, nor do the organisers. It gets worse. The poems and prose pieces are full of surrealistic imagery – no Moon in June or daffodils floating in the breeze, even though his poems are vaguely love poems or, at least, about women, and a few nature poems. Images such as widowed scallops and a chess-playing flea abound. It is all enormous fun but, of course, serious fun. He concludes But what disgusts me most is the fool who laughs at this desperate poem of mine.
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