Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Wasted Morning" by Gabriela Adamesteanu (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order Wasted Morning HERE

INTRODUCTION: 2011 has had some very successful nostalgia books like The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach which is a top 10 Amazon pick for example or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which was a NYT bestseller and second pick in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards.

As I grew up in a completely different culture, both the above books left me utterly cold, but I will present you my nostalgia pick 0f 2011, "Wasted Morning" by Gabriela Adamesteanu which has just been published this year in English with a superb translation by Patrick Camiller.

"Upon its original publication in 1983, Wasted Morning catapulted Gabriela Adamesteanu to the first rank of Romanian novelists. She has since been translated into many languages, and now her most famous novel is available in English for the first time. At the center of Wasted Morning is Vica Delca, a simple, poor woman in her seventies who has endured the endless series of trials and tribulations that was Romanian history from WWI to the end of the twentieth century. She's a born storyteller, chatting and gossiping tirelessly. But she also listens, so it is through her that Adamesteanu is able to show us a panoramic portrait of Romanian society as the fortunes of its various strata shift violently. Rich or poor, honest (more or less) or deceitful, all of the characters in this polyphonic novel are brought vividly to life. From Bucharest's aspirations to be the Paris of Eastern Europe to the darkest days of dictatorship, the novel presents a sweeping vision of the personal and collective costs of a turbulent century."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Wasted Morning" is a novel originally released in 1983-4 in communist Romania, so by necessity it was censored/self-censored, but as it quickly became one of the most important works of contemporary Romanian literature, it was reedited several times and while I am not entirely sure, I think the 2011 English translation is based on the definitive 4th edition included in the reissued author's complete works as volume 1, so with all the censored stuff reintroduced, etc.

Even censored and I was a bit surprised the novel was published in 1984 as it fails to do even the smallest bow to the regime, though I assume the harsher criticism was that "censored part". The novel fully deserves its status as is an excellent combination of psychological study and historical sweep. The book is divided into several parts: the first and last are taking place in an eventful day in the mid 1970's when Vica Delca, the simple poor woman in her seventies from the blurb, decides to brave the cold and ice of Bucharest to go visit first her relatives and then Yvonne a sixty-ish "good family lady", where Vica used to work for her formerly wealthy family and from whom she now receives a little monthly allotment, to maybe just get that a week in advance.

The middle part takes place in 1916 on the eve of the mid-August entrance of Romania in the Great War on the Entente part and later during the first euphoric and then soon catastrophic days of the war that led to the two year occupation of Bucharest by German troops in the fall of 1916 and features prominently Yvonne's family and many of the characters the two women talk/think about in their meeting.

If you have not grown up in Romania and want to understand it, this book offers a great primer, highlighting both the good and the bad - as one of the characters in the historical thread puts it, when Romanians want to say "hasty/poor/thoughtless work" they say "Romanian work" for example - so the utter corruption under the old - landed aristocracy and then bourgeois - and the new communist regime is presented unsparingly, but we also see the welcoming and generous character of the people and their sharp tongues but good private deeds. If you have grown in Romania but do not live there anymore, this will be a great nostalgic novel while also assuring one why it was a great idea to leave and settle somewhere else.

From a literary point of view, the book is a tour-de-force, alternating internal monologue which is quite uninhibited and sharp with the :real conversation" which is guarded and polite, while the historical part with its mosaic of characters and later first person narration offers a great contrast, showing how adept the author is at handling multiple and quite different viewpoints.

Overall, "Wasted Morning" (top 10 2011 book) is a superb and highly recommended novel and a literary masterpiece that deserves as wide an audience as possible.

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