Where did the New York Times Book Review decide to publish its very first foreign-language edition? In Romania, of course. Of course? Yes! Writing about the Review, Jennifer Schuessler quotes the Times' film critic A.O. Scott saying íRomania is one of those countries where it seems that every literate person has written a novel, a book of essays, or at least a play.ë
Romania has a rich cultural scene (Wikipedia: Romanian Literature), a taste of which you could have seen recently at Romanian Cultural Institute's Cărtureşti space in New York City, bringing a taste of Romania's prominent book and tea shop, a very cool “hybrid creature of the cafe and the library, the student hangout and the community space, the bookstore and the cultural platform.” The Cărtureşti shops that this space was based on, according to Schuessler in another piece is, “known for funky designs selected in architectural competitions.”
While the Cărtureşti space lived briefly in Manhattan, Filip Florian, who Romania Literara said had “the strongest debut novel in Romanian literature of the past decade” read from his novel Little Fingers. It is thanks to Words Without Borders contributing editor Sal Robinson, we get to read the book in English. This was Sal's first acquisition as an editor at Houghton Mifflin, so we asked her about the book.
íI first encountered Little Fingers,” she said “when I was going through a pile of old submissions; the Romanian Cultural Institute had sent about 8 translated pages and a description of the book. I read the translation sample, wrote one word, èWow', at the top of it, and brought it to my boss.ë
In his íself-portraitë at the íContemporary Romanian Writersë Website, Florian says:
íThese days, I swear I wouldn't know what to say about myself. At forty, it has become clear to me that I'm never going to be a football player, I'm beginning to lose hope that I'll ever have long hair, I wake up increasingly early in the morning, I eat unbelievably few cherries (which I once cherished), I smoke unbelievably many cigarettes (which I once despised), truth seems to me quite questionable and the weather forecasts leave me cold.ë
We asked Sal to talk about the novel. Here's what she said:
íIt's a bit hard to describe the novel: To begin with, it's a satire about a small town reckoning with its history, both the recent past, the Communist regime, and the Roman occupation in the ancient past. Also, it contains the life-stories of a few of the elderly people in the town; those are perhaps the most vivid parts of the book, these incredibly detailed short biographies. Added to this is the story of the priest with a magical affliction and an obsession with the Virgin. And the love story. And the history of Argentina over the past forty years as seen through soccer. And it keeps on going…
I'm personally a little surprised that this has ended up as “my first book”; I think this is because I assumed I would find and want to work on a serious book, something very experimental and severe. And what happened instead—and the way I generally feel about the book—was that I just enjoyed it, I enjoyed the sample, it was irresistible, I think Filip enjoys writing, I hope people who read the book enjoy it. It's a book that has no justification outside itself: it's not èa sobering take on Communist and post-Communist Eastern Europe' or èa portrait of a small town that slowly coalesces into a beautiful whole' or any other reviewer-speak. It doesn't have any one moral or point. It is simply something to be relished.ë
Florian's second novel, The Days of the King, has already been published in Romania and in Hungary, where it is high on the bestseller list. It is set in nineteenth-century Bucharest and describes the adventures of a Berlin dentist and his two best friends, Siegfried the tomcat and Captain of Dragoons Karl Eitel Friederich Zephyrinus Ludwig von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, about to become Prince Carol I and eventually King of Romania. It is due to appear in the US in spring 2011. If you'd like to see some of the Romanian fiction published by Words Without Borders, click here.
photo: Romanian Cultural Institute