This was my first visit of the Romanian literary world and it was extremely enjoyable. I read this book for Ally’s Romanian Writers Challenge. There are not many Romanian books out in German or English and some of them sounded truly depressing and way too extraordinary for my taste. So I debated a long time about what to read. In the end I settled with Dan Lungu as he seems rather down to earth AND funny. I was not disappointed.
I read this book in German, but it seems it will be out in English next year. The German title is “Die rote Babuschka” (The red biddy), so very close to the English and, it seems, also to the original title.
The story is told solely from the point of view of Emilia who, being told by her daughter NOT to vote for the communists in the upcoming elections, reminisces about the old and better times (as she sees it) when Ceausescu was still in power. The timeline was rather jumbled, something I don’t like very much, as Emilia went back and forth, jumping around in her memories from childhood back to the present and everything in between. Once I got the hang of it, it was ok to read her story that way, but I very much prefer chronological order. But, of course, memories don’t work like that.
Emilia’s point of view was perfectly understandable, even if it was misguided. The truth is, in the way one of her co-workers put it in the end, at the time they were laughing in self-defence. If you don’t laugh, all that’s left to do is crying. Did Emilia not realize that or did she just embellish her memories so she could live with them better?
Throughout the book were little stories that people told at the time about Ceausescu and his wife that were just another way of dealing with the situation of living in a dictatorship. Then there were episodes about the real life which were downright surreal. When Ceausescu is scheduled to visit, the whole workforce is slaving away in order to make everything look shiny and perfect (i.e. completely fake). The trees are painted green, mediocre corn plants are ripped out and replaced with corn from a model farm, black cows are removed because they give off the wrong vibes. It’s all very bizarre. Potemkin villages all over! It’s hard to grasp that people had to live that way if you don’t know it from own experience.
The book’s ending is an unresolved situation with Emilia being more confused than before. Just as well, isn’t that the state of all of us?
I will definitely try to get a hold of more books in German by Dan Lungu.