The latest addition to my website is Mateiu Caragiale‘s . This is a new translation of a novel voted the best Romanian novel by a poll of Romanian readers. It follows a dissolute group of people who carouse, drink, gamble and whore in fin-de-siècle Bucharest in the area of the Old Court, a now much ruined former castle/palace. Caragiale uses a rich and colourful language and pours on the descriptions, sparing no-one (except perhaps the unnamed narrator) his lavish portrayal of a dissolute society, where there is virtually no redeeming character. It is great fun to read through the eyes of the somewhat naive narrator and an excellent addition to the canon of Romanian novels in translation.
The latest addition to my website is Andrea Bajani‘s Se consideri le colpe (If You Kept a Record of Sins). Our narrator is Lorenzo who learns of the death of his mother in Romania at the beginning of the book. She had been treated as the black sheep by her family and then kicked out of the family when she had an affair shortly after her wedding to a man approved by her mother. The man disappears after Lorenzo is born. She remarries but helps develop a weight-loss machine with another man Anselimi, and the pair move to Romania to make the machine. It is clear that their partnership is not just commercial. She visits and phones but less and less as the time goes by. When she dies, Lorenzo, who had been brought up by his stepfather, had not seen or heard from her for a long while. He goes to Romania for the funeral and to try and learn something about his mother but does not like the country and does not like Anselmi. Like his mother and step-father,he has been abandoned but is unclear what to make of it.
It may well be that there are Romanian novels which give a rosier picture but either I have missed them or, more likely, they have not been translated or, perhaps, even more likely, they have not been written.
The latest addition to my website is Mihail Sebastian‘s De două mii de ani (For Two Thousand Years). This is a novel about anti-Semitism which, for a long time, was very prevalent in Romania. Our narrator is at university studying law in the 1920s and he and others Jews are frequently attacked, not just verbally but also physically. He is befriended by a lecturer in political economics, Ghiţă Blidaru, who is based on Nae Ionescu. Sebastian considered Ionescu his mentor ans asked him to write a foreword to this book which turned out to be a vicious anti-Semitic diatribe. Blidaru is sympathetic towards our hero and steers him away from law to architecture. We follow his career as an architect, starting with a huge oil well/refinery project. Anti-Semitism, while it seemed to quieten down, is still rife and he is horrified by the anti-Semitic comments of both a very good friend and his boss towards the end of the book. Sadly, anti-Semitism will continue in Romania.
The latest addition to my website is Max Blecher‘s Întâmplări din irealitatea imediată (Adventures in Immediate Irreality; later: Occurrence in the Immediate Unreality). Blecher was dying of spinal tuberculosis when he wrote this book which was very much influenced by his stay in France when he met some of the Surrealists. On the surface it is simply an account of his boyhood, particularly one hot summer but given his state of mind, it turns out to be a highly visionary account of life (and death), replete with Surrealistic images and a view of life that looks well beyond the ordinary, while not entirely ignoring the ordinary (sex, death). Above all it is the amazing visionary images that makes the book a classic of Romanian literature.
The latest addition to my website is Irina Teodorescu‘s La Malédiction du bandit moustachu [The Curse of the Moustached Bandit]. At the beginning of the 20th century, a Robin Hood-type bandit is tricked by Gheorghe Marinescu who manages to steal the bandit’s ill-gotten gains and leaves him to die locked in a cellar. Before he dies he curses the whole family till 2000. We follow the family as mainly the first-born son dies prematurely and other misfortunes befall them. They call on priests and soothsayers to help to no avail. One woman walks to Jerusalem but somewhat spoils it by stealing some gold. She eventually dies like the bandit. But still the curse keeps on working…
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.
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