Monday, July 13, 2009
This is one of the most confusing books I've ever read. It is also one of the best. My head is still spinning from the extraordinarily long paragraphs (some as long as 10 pages) and I think I understand "what happened' in the end. The story is about a town in Rumania where a mass grave of bodies is discovered. Various personalities have theories about the who, when, and why of all these bodies, but it isn't until a team of Argentinian soccer players who happen to be forensic archaeologists shows up (and they are an entire sub-story) that the story seems to resolve itself. The characters--their stories and conversations--are the strength of the book. I felt at times that Robin Williams had invaded James Joyce's brain...the stream of conscious, free wheeling, long, long sentences with lots of paragraphs, left me breathless. There is the young anthropologist Petrus, his slightly nutty Auntie Paulina, her daughter Jo-Jo (she whose anatomy always brought to his mind various ripe fruits); there's the Orthodox monk with the hair that had to be trimmed every 8 hours and the visions of the Holy Mother telling him what to do, who transcribes the Bible on birch bark, and hears confession via hidden letters left in a rose bush; there's the police chief with the missing little finger,and the photographer with his camel Alladin; the list goes on. There is no way to describe the plot. The book is a free fall of ideas about the mystery of the mass grave. It's an easy read if you sit down and stay with it, but it is also a hard read. One well worth undertaking. Last note: The translator Alistair Ian Blyth did a masterful job. The book was named the Best Debut Novel of the Romanian Writers Union, 2006, the Best First Novel of Romania literara, 2005, and won the Best Debut Novel Award of the National Union of the Romanian Employers, 2005.