Mormite Stravezii by Dan Stanca
I went back and forth in my head if I want to write this in Romanian or English. I may set up a goal for myself to try and write these notes in the language I have read the book. It may be a good exercise to practice but before such big dreams I am still trying to catch up writing them at all since I am two books behind all the time.
The translation of the title would be, non-official, Pellucid Graves. Google Translate helped me find out how to translate “straveziu”. Since I didn’t recall hearing this word in English very often, I went to Chambers dictionary to check the meaning in English. I read the definition and I pfffed at Google Translate thinking that is not what “straveziu” translates to. Before going on some other path of discovery a little doubtful devil made me check what “straveziu” means in Romanian. I went to DEX, the Romanian dictionary and looked it up. Guess who was right? Google Translate and not me… Sad when I have to admit defeat in front of a computer… ( pellucid = transparent, absolutely clear in expression and meaning )
After this little, long title introduction I have to follow it with how I got the book.
This September I was back home for a visit. For the first time in more than 12 years we did a road trip. The kind of trip that reminds me that no matter where I go a part of me is always in Romania. But the same way as I carry Romania with me, I brought some of Canada to the homeland. I brought the little trick called buying from the sales pile. We were in Brasov and I was set on buying some books. I was on a tight budget especially after splurging on ice-cream. So what did I do in my quest for knowledge and culture?? I went to the sales box of a bookshop. It wasn’t even a section but just a box through which I searched, determined to satisfy my goal.
So far so good I mean I bought a book from the sales pile. It becomes more interesting once I started reading it. The leading character, Ruxandra left Romania to live in Canada and her husband was from a village in Ialomita, near Urziceni. That is where I grew up for the first years of my life before moving to Bucharest since my grandparents are from a village near Urziceni called Malu. I am a sucker for a nice big coincidence … I love when a completely random moment has similarities to my life.
The feeling I had during the lecture was that I was a tennis ball, being thrown around from one side to another: real and surreal. The beginning of the book is marked by the story of Ruxandra’s family life in Canada. I related to the immigrant status but that was about it. My context and motivation to leave Romania had nothing in common with the character. I left right out of high school so I still see Romania and Bucharest through the lens of youth and romanticism.That conviction that I cannot keep a balance of good in me as long as I lived in Bucharest was never something I felt. The book showed the move to Canada as an exchange for a surrounding that allowed the characters to enjoy a sense of tranquillity. The price to be paid was that life there is seen as alien like.I felt a little saddened reading that apparently in Canada there aren’t many graves; this is due to incineration. Like a process of slowly wiping away traces of our existence. A long cry away from the intricate funeral ceremonies in Romania where we keep various traditions even up to 7 years after the death of the loved one.
Cristian, Ruxandra’s husband makes efforts to adapt, however a part of him is left behind in the village back home. Even though Cristian’s inability to forget his roots is seen as a limitation, I sympathized with him quite a bit. I know I could never live again in the village where I spent my childhood but it is a place where my first contact with the world took shape. Nevertheless, limited as it may be in so many ways it’s a part of who I became.
The book surprised me and did not evolve in an analysis of Romania vs. Canada. It went on to tell another story. The common link to the two is Horia Cantacuzino, Ruxandra first and maybe only love. This story is driven by Elisabeta, a beautiful schizophrenic woman, whose world is a maze through surrealism. Her history is a combination of beauty, visions, religion, faith, communism and a doctor specialized in illegal abortions. When Horia becomes her husband he is absorbed in her world and the lines between visions and reality become finer and finer. Horia (who is described as an incredible thinker, challenging the norms and passionate about art) goes to open the gates of mental images out of this world and sees beyond pellucid graves. And as I immersed myself in the surreal and the inexplicable, just as fast I was snapped back to reality.
I enjoyed how the two worlds came in and out on stage. I definitely don’t regret eating ice-cream in Brasov and ending up at the reduced books pile.