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Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu
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it was amazing
bookshelves: romania, favs, read-in-2015, short-stories, borrowed

Mendebilul, Gemenii și REM sunt grupate sub titlul „Nostalgia”, miezul acestei cărți care are drept prolog Ruletistul (proza care stabilește miza nemuririi și aruncă zarurile), iar ca epilog - Arhitectul (povestirea care depășește miza inițială, atingând aspirația creatoare absolută). Cele trei proze mediane au ca temă comună copilăria, acel timp straniu și fermecător, investit cu trăsături de legendă, acel „paradis pierdut” - cum spune Cărtărescu - la care ne întoarcem iar și iar, căutând o portiță prin care putem intra din nou în universul jocului și al misterului, al existenței la granița dintre real și fabulos.

Deși pot fi citite și separat, cele cinci proze funcționează cel mai bine ca un întreg, chiar dacă legăturile dintre ele nu sunt numeroase și nici esențiale pentru înțelegerea macro-subiectului; însă, pentru a întrezări și alte teme și micro-subiecte pe lângă cele imediate, este de preferat lectura întregii cărți. De exemplu, între „REM” și „Arhitectul” există o legătură care poate trece neobservată, iar ceea ce aflăm în „REM” pune celelalte povești într-o lumină nouă. Desigur, întrebarea este cât de mult mușcăm din momelile întinse de autor și cât de mult suntem dispuși să înaintăm pe cărarea ce duce spre o înțelegere mai profundă.

„Ruletistul” mi s-a părut inițial bucata esențială a cărții, miezul în care autorul-narator dezvăluie miza lui: aceea de a deveni nemuritor prin mijlocirea personajelor sale - oameni care au existat în realitatea sa, deși par desprinși din literatură. Dacă, până atunci, personajele pe care le-a inventat au dat iluzia unor cópii ale realității, oamenii reali despre care vorbește în aceste pagini par cu totul neverosimili; ei îl absorb în acest joc al percepției pe scriitorul devenit, el însuși, un personaj nemuritor, care trăiește de fiecare dată când un cititor pătrunde în lumea sa de hârtie și cuvinte.

Cu ce putere extraordinară îi investește Mircea Cărtărescu pe cititorii săi, nu-i așa? Puterea de a aduce la viață personajele cărților, dar și pe cel care le-a creat - sau a povestit despre ele. La fel ca Ruletistul, Mendebilul și Gemenii îndeplinesc rolul de mitologizare a scriitorului care, în încercarea de a vorbi despre sine, transcende eul banal, lumesc, atingând straturi metafizice, inaccesibile muritorului de rând. Iar autorul Ruletistului mai spune ceva: „Doar visul mă mai reflectă realist”.

„Mendebilul” împinge limita credibilității ceva mai departe: naratorul-scriitor, sub impulsul unui vis straniu, își amintește o perioadă din copilărie, singura originală și neobișnuită din viața lui. Atunci, un băiat venit de nicăieri a lăsat o amprentă inexplicabilă asupra unui grup de copii, marcându-le, într-un fel sau altul, destinul. Naratorul ne conduce pe scena copilăriei sale, la un bloc nefinisat de pe Ștefan cel Mare, unde o anume cruzime barbară domină jocurile băieților.

„Gemenii”, o nuvelă care are în miezul ei o poveste de dragoste chinuitoare, părăsește adeseori tărâmul realității pentru delicioase călătorii fantaste, sădind confuzie și uimire în cititor. În încercarea de a țese o plasă protectoare sinelui, Andrei își povestește febril copilăria și adolescența, scoțând la iveală întâmplări stranii, fascinante, aflate la granița unui tărâm fabulos - la fel cum naratorul s-a aflat, odinioară, la un pas de nebunie. Fie că ne vorbește de Traian, băiatul din tabără care comunica cu o coropișniță, sau despre păpușa chinezească pe care a văzut-o într-o casă misterioasă, ori despre sfera albăstruie care a plutit, preț de câteva clipe, în sala de clasă, Andrei ne înfășoară și pe noi în cuvinte și amintiri ce nu sunt ale noastre, izolându-ne de realitate într-un cocon halucinant.

„REM”, o nuvelă la care mi-a plăcut absolut totul, este proza mea preferată din volum. Într-o garsonieră minusculă, plină de cărți (m-am bucurat să văd acolo Manuscrisul de la Saragosa al lui Potocki), Svetlana/Nana, o funcționară de 35 de ani, îi povestește iubitului ei, Vali - cu unsprezece ani mai tânăr decât ea -, o perioadă extraordinară din copilărie, când s-a petrecut singurul lucru pentru care crede că a venit pe lume, pentru care a fost aleasă: intrarea în REM. Dar până la dezvăluirile legate de REM, Svetlana ne poartă, ca o Șah-Razada, printr-o istorisire stratificată, absolut fabuloasă, despre copilăria ei în Bucureștiul anilor 1960 - „un oraș atât de frumos, de misterios, că abia încăpea în pupile”.

Puteți citi aici recenzia mai lungă, scrisă pentru blog în două părți:
http://lecturile-emei.blogspot.ro/201...
http://lecturile-emei.blogspot.ro/201...


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Reading Progress

July 6, 2013 – Shelved
April 22, 2015 – Started Reading
May 7, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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Declan Horray, we're off! So far I love it although there is a flaw in his saying that as the roulette player takes more chances his risk increases. Taking six chances doesn't increase the risk because the risk is exactly the same for each chance. The gun has no memory. Well that's just me being picky, other than that the story is very compelling, beautifully constructed and then nicely undermined.


message 2: by Declan (last edited Apr 26, 2015 03:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Declan I just read this on 'The Literary Saloon' at The Complete Review website (http://www.complete-review.com/saloon...

Österreichischer Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur

The Culture Division of the Federal Chancellery of Austria (as the former Ministry of Culture is now apparently organized) announced their annual literary prizes yesterday, including the big one, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature -- probably the most prestigious European-author prize going (check out the previous winners) -- and this year it goes to Nostalgia-author Mircea Cărtărescu (who has been picking up the prizes right and left recently -- most recently the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding).


message 3: by Ema (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Yup, I've heard about this prize on Facebook - a good source if you are friends with the right people. :) People hope that the event will be covered by at least one Romanian television - tv channels here don't really care about the (parallel) world of literature and tend to overlook even the important events.
I finally have time for reading today, so I'll come back here to comment before leaving for a movie in the evening. Sorry for the delay, Declan.


message 4: by Ema (last edited Apr 25, 2015 04:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Ok, I managed to read the first two stories, but didn't have enough time left to comment. I was sure this is a novel, so imagine my surprise when I realized it isn't. Anyway, I'm enjoying the book very much so far - I hope you do, too. Plus I heard the next two stories are even better. Of course, now I'm wondering why I haven't read Cărtărescu earlier - it might be the impression I got in my youth that he is hard to read and not particularly likable. I might learn now that I am perfectly able to enjoy Blinding as well. :)

there is a flaw in his saying that as the roulette player takes more chances his risk increases. Taking six chances doesn't increase the risk because the risk is exactly the same for each chance. The gun has no memory.

Well, I'm never good at solving this kind of chance-related problems. The three doors riddle comes to mind - there is a car behind one of the doors, you pick one door and the host of the show opens another door, showing there is nothing behind it, and you must decide whether to stay with the door you first chose or change minds and pick the other one. What is the best option in this scenario? This problem appears in Ewan's Sweet Tooth, I heard.

Ha, I've found the explanation for this problem here.
So, although the chances seem to be the same as before, in fact it is better to switch and the chances increase. Weird, huh? I'm not sure what the chances are for playing Russian Roulette in a row. They decrease if you take into account the previous rounds (the amount of survivals, that is), but, logically speaking, they are the same 5/6 each time. Some related answers here.

I liked the idea that the Roulette Player is the author's stake for his immortality, being such an unbelievable character that he rather belongs to the realm of literature.

As for the second story, I was left with some questions: why do the children react so strongly to the scene they see in the chamber? We learn previously that they had no real notion of sex and intimacy, the narrator shies away from the vulgar pen (I would have thought the boys to be curious about it, not reluctant), so maybe the strange connection they sensed between the boy and the girl seemed obscene and utterly upsetting.

I'm also not sure what to think about the grotesque mask the boy is wearing after (presumably) buying the pen. He seems pure and almost saintly and maybe this mask is a symbol of his falling out of the spiritual world, out of purity of soul, after discovering the flesh?

The narrator also talks about a prophecy, but I couldn't understand what he was referring to. Btw, what is the name of the boy in English? In Romanian it's Mendebilul. What do you think of his deeds? Or of the last part of the story, when the writer denies the boy's existence? Did his typewriter, Erika, write the story? :P
Oh, and it doesn't say what happened with Iolanda.


message 5: by Ema (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema The link above didn't work, but I found the page nevertheless. I was curious to see the previous winners of the Austrian State Prize. I can see that Ljudmila Ulitzkaja won last year (yeey! she's one of my favorite authors, you should read some of her books) and Agota Kristof in 2008. There is another Romanian, Eugène Ionesco, a playwright who chose French nationality. Hungary has three authors who won, ha. The country names sound weird in Austrian...


Declan Ah, is it a novel or isn't it? The blurb on the back of my edition describes it as a novel and since Seiobo There Below is described as a novel, it appears that there is no need for continuity of characters or a linear progression of any sort. The link, in the chapters I have read (I've started to read The Twins) is that everything recalled returns ultimately to the old man (borrowed from Beckett, it seems to me) whose recollections all of these stories are. I can accept that it is a novel, albeit an unconventional one and perhaps an overarching unity will eventually reveal itself.

The statistical chance of shooting yourself while playing Russian roulette can be looked at another way too. If I have a 16/1 chance of winning 10,000 euro on a lottery ticket, will I win if I buy 16 tickets? I wish! A friend I discussed this matter with further complicated matters for me by suggesting that the chamber with the bullet in it is heavier than all the others and so it will tend to fall towards the bottom. Never having handled a gun, I have no idea whether the chamber is loose enough for this to be true. But I like the extra element of doubt!

I love the conclusion of 'The Roulette Player' because it states a few elements of story-telling which are central to why I like this particular type of fiction more than any other: "There is a place in the world where the impossible is possible, namely in fiction, that is, literature". It is the impossible that I am always drawn to. He precedes this by saying, about the roulette player, "It was impossible for him to exist, still, he existed." That too is wonderful, as is the credit he gives us, the readers, for keeping the characters alive -the eternal characters who never lived and therefore can never die - each in our own way.

The boys had a hilarious misconception (if you'll forgive the pun) of what occurs between a man and woman during sex, but the mysterious truth of what might have to be done in that other, mysterious plane of being is something they don't want to be confronted with. So here, as with the roulette player, a mythic sheen seems to emanate from the two children, "We felt as though we were in the temple of a powerful and incomprehensible deity". A ray of light "scattered a luminous steam around it". Memory creates its own legendary moments. The curiosity is tinged with fear of that other world, the desultory world of adults, with its overbearing reality and mysterious couplings.

Mentardy is how the boys name is translated which seems good to me because it includes the suggestion that he is a bit "mental". He is fascinating because he too is "impossible", a figure who can transcend the ordinary elements of life and make you believe in the incredible, just like those men in Satantango. His mask allows him to move even further outside his existing outsider status. It reminds me of Mikhail Bakhtin's idea about the freedom available in the carnivalesque http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival... . But Mentardy exists because we bring him to life. "Erika" and the author no longer have control!

I thought a few times of The Băiuț Alley Lads as perhaps you did and, as with that book, it is the highly imaginative rents in reality which the children make that I especially love.

I was amused too to read about "the oval, coin-like leaves of the acacia trees. Remember I mentioned that the acacia was the tree that was growing in "Eden" and many other areas of open ground?

Did you get to do much exploring of basements and backstairs when you were young(er) Ema? I really like that aspect of the story too.


Declan I've corrected the link above. I thought of you Ema when I looked at the list of previous winners because I know that you like Ludmila Ulitskaya very much. I will read her eventually. There seem to be two of her books available in English translation at the moment, with another due later this year. I see that you especially like The Funeral Party, so I will try to get that one at some stage.

As you probably noticed there has only been one Irish recipient of the prize, John Banville. But I approve of many of the choices, especially Claudio Magris, Dubravka Ugrešić, Agota Kristof and Italo Calvino.


message 8: by Ema (last edited Apr 27, 2015 01:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema I don't know what a novel is supposed to mean anymore. :)) But, unless there's a thread or a character uniting the stories, for me they are still short stories. :) We do have a contemporary Romanian book which is entitled a novel, although the only thing the stories have in common is the theme of communism. I read it at the beginning of this year, it's not translated into English. As for Nostalgia, I'm waiting for the thread that sews the pieces together, if there is such a thing, but still, I won't be disappointed otherwise.

Maybe the common thread of these stories is the immortality of the writer through his characters. So far, the narrator is a writer or at least a person who writes. They all challenge the reader through impossible characters and events, becoming characters in their turn.

If you say that you are drawn to the impossible, then I expect you are enjoying the fantastical episodes in Cărtărescu's novel. They remind me of Mircea Eliade's stories, another great Romanian author who had an entire series of fantastical prose. As for me, I don't succumb with ecstasy at every weird episode which seems to be drawn out of a dream - in "Twins" there are too many of them, becoming - at least for me - a bit excessive, pushing too far the limit between what the reader can and cannot believe. The small dose of supernatural which is to be found in the first two stories is in the perfect amount, though. The travel in space, through the chests of several gods, was especially amazing - I was impressed by that scene, the zipper-like formation left by all those fallen gods.

I've finished "Twins" today, I liked it for the most part, but I was bored to death by the enumeration of exhibits in the Antipa Natural Museum. Also, the revival of the exhibits seemed like a cliche, but maybe it wasn't in 1989, when the book was published. The movie "Night at the museum" spoiled it for me. :P

I don't know why, but I think that Andrei from "Twins" encapsulates the adolescence of Mircea Cărtărescu. At least I can imagine him like that in his youth. What do you make of that switch of appearances? At first I thought that the person who writes in the middle section is in fact the girl, Gina, who went mad - but now I've read the first part again and, indeed, everything points to a "real" switch. But I still can't understand where is the person who writes - at first it looks like he or she is in Gina's home, but later we find out about a hospital room for mental people. What do you make of this story?

Thank you for replying to my questions and uncertainties, Declan. Indeed, I remember the acacia trees, the leaves look exactly like those of the trees at Eden. As for the basements, I've always been drawn to them, as well as caves. I did explore some when I had the chance, but this happened rarely in my youth. Now I'm a bit afraid of the dark. :)

The book does have things in common with The Băiuț Alley Lads, but I haven't thought about them as similar, as the writing is different, as well as the events (I hated the part with the animal cruelty, btw, it was awful). Cărtărescu mentions Obor a lot, I think you are glad that you lived in that area and know about it! Of course it looked different back then, but he mentions blocks of flats being built, so it must have been close to what it looks today. Google Maps doesn't show Venerei street, but I think it is the old name of Parintele Galeriu street, which is near the church we spotted on one of our walks - the one I didn't know, with twisted spires. That's the area were Andrei takes his walks, including Silvestru street (the name of the church, too). I hope you can see it here and take a virtual walk on those streets. I know I'll take a real one again soon, wondering where Gina's house might have been. :)

Also, Venera is the Russian, Bulgarian, and Albanian name for Venus, the Roman goddess of love - I don't know if it has any importance or not, but it matches the story and Gina's character.


Declan Wow, we certainly have very contrasting opinions of the Twins chapter! I liked every aspect of it, including all of the scenes in the museum, but then I've never seen 'Night In The Museum' :) Yes, for me this is why I like fiction so much; a seemingly impossible situation becoming plausible within the context of the novel. I believe ever word of it!

I loved the description, early in the chapter (or story?) of the visit to the house where there is a room full of toys with two children in it which, later, his parents have no memory of ever having visited, nor of seeing a film called 'Venice, the Moon, and You'. For me that evoked perfectly that sense we have - or that I had anyway - during childhood, that there is a great mystery about what adults are doing most of the time. That they bring you places and you have no choice but to go with them. You get brought to houses where there may, or may not, be something for you to do , or someone to play with. I recall the house in which, just as in the museum, there were butterflies pinned in display cases (although they didn't come to life) and the swing in a garden with two girls in what seemed to me to be the most perfect setting ever. I long for it still!

I have a lot more to say, but unfortunately I have run out of time now. Lots more later.


Declan So, where was I? Oh yes, the levels of puzzlement do increase as the story progresses, especially, as you say, around the person (and gender) of the narrator. The chapter begins with a man shaving and then dressing in a woman's clothes. Then there is a part - which caused me to stop and wonder - when the old man (as I had thought) mentions how the nail varnish is peeling. I thought that perhaps longing had reduced him to dressing as the lost love of his life. Later, of course, I learned about that unique and astounding act of intercourse in which one became the other. It's interesting that on checking the etymology of intercourse I read that the word comes from from the Old French word entrecours, meaning "exchange, commerce,". Thus, they "exchange" and so, somehow, it is still the mind of Andrei (which is what matters to us as readers) in the body of Gina.

I'm sure you're right about Mircea Cărtărescu drawing on aspects of his own life to create a narrative frame onto which he can add episodes of great imagination that relate to perceptions of how relationships, books etc. impacted on him and created feelings which were beyond rational understanding. Did you think that Gina was a believable character, with all of her capriciousness and sudden passions?

Oh dear old Obor! If I was to write my story now I would include an episode in which I was trying to find my way back to the apartment and saw a long-haired, self-absorbed young man coming towards me on the street!

I remember that amazing church with the twisted spires. Those windows look so strange, it is hard to believe that the photo has not been distorted in some way. But, of course, I know I saw them in front of me and I'm very glad that I did, thanks to you Ema. But such memories can seem dream-like too as time passes and the precise edges of what was once clearly remembered become milky and clouded. It's funny how some of those places return to my memory often and one of the places I often think of is that little bar we found early one day. Do you remember it? I hope so much that I can go back there sometime.

Thanks for the photo and information about the streets because I had checked Google Maps myself to see where Venerei street was and couldn't find it.

You have probably read much further that me now so I might take a little while to catch up, but I was amused when I saw that he listed Potocki's 'Manuscript Found in Saragossa' at the start of the next chapter, leading us on towards the next book.


message 11: by Ema (last edited May 03, 2015 01:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Oh, yes, the mentioning of Potocki's Manuscript is a clear sign that we must read it soon. :) I'm really glad that now I have the book in my library and don't have to depend on the public library loan anymore.

Thank you for your explanations, Declan. The meaning of "intercourse/entrecours" is indeed helpful in this story. I too enjoyed it very much, with the exception of that exhibits enumeration at the museum, which I'm glad didn't bother you. I was also spellbound by that room full of toys - plus, the Chinese toy he finds again in Gina's possession, hinting at a link with that past episode. I thought that Gina was a very real character, she fitted perfectly the behaviour of some girls I knew in real life.

It would be really interesting to write that story you mention, including Andrei in it! I was surprised to meet a small character from Twins in REM - you must know whom I mean if you got that far. I don't know where you are in the story, but I've managed to read quite a bit today, until Nana's egg. I was entranced by the story and couldn't stop reading! Luckily there was a pause in the narrative and I managed to get up and walk my dog.

I can see that Obor is mentioned at large in REM, the way it used to look in the 1960's. I've heard that Cărtărescu mixes reality and fantasy in his description of places, but I'm sure they are reliable to a great extent. I've searched some photos from that time, but I couldn't find a representative one. There are some interesting photos in this article, about Calea Moşilor (where Nana lived as a child) which extends from (close to) Unirii square to Obor. I've found a picture with an old tram, though - it even writes Obor on it. :) But I'm not sure it's the wooden tram Nana is speaking about.

description

I'm not sure which little bar you are referring to - was it the bicycle-themed one? Also, you wrote above something about "a house with butterflies pinned in display cases and the swing in a garden with two girls" - have we seen this together or was your memory only? I can't really recall such a scene! I'm sure we have different memories of your trip to Romania - what I perceive as mundane and normal must seem to you a memorable, picturesque setting.


Declan Yes, I thought of you Ema when that scene by the lake recurred because I thought maybe it can now be called a novel after all :).

The memories I mentioned of the butterflies and the girls on the swing come from my own childhood! Perhaps you thought I was hallucinating as we walked around :). The bar, on the other hand I thought you would remember. It was not the one with bicycles which was fun, but that was in the old town which I found tacky and overly commercial. No, the bar I liked was a leftover from the Communist era. It had two small rooms and, as I remember it, tables set between facing benches. You spoke to the owner, a woman. Does that bring it back to mind? I hope so because, as I said, I'd like to have a drink there some day.

You've got further than me, so I won't say much more for now and I'll have some time for reading. But thanks a lot for the photo and the article. Funnily enough, I spent some time yesterday using Street View to 'walk' again around Obor. I found the Mega Image I shopped in a few times and the street nearby that was a much more direct way of going to that blighted apartment! I looked at La Rond too and I remembered it from our interminable return journey from the countryside, although it is now a long way from marking, as it did in the book, the end of the city and the beginning of the countryside.


message 13: by Ema (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Yes, in REM appear some links with the previous stories (Vali being the author of The roulette player, as well as Nana being the distressed woman). I won't add anything more for the moment, I'll wait for you to catch up - but don't worry, take your time.

Vergului Crossing is now Piața Muncii (Work's square) and is called Eudoxiu Hurmuzachi square. I've found an old photo where you can (barely) see the statue on the right (it's small). About La Rond, I'm not sure where it was and if it still exists. I couldn't find any information on google. Home comes you could find it? :P

description

Yes, I do remember the little bar - I thought about it when you mentioned it, but I was not sure you were thinking about that one, seeing that we didn't stay inside (I guess it impressed you, just like it happened to me). It's called Pizzeria Interbellico. I've been there once since your trip to Bucharest and I loved it! The owner is great, he comes to speak to the customers at the table, and the lady that serves is very nice, although modest. The bar is not from communist times, but it's old. The owner decorated it like an old Italian cafe and I think he did a great job. Everything is lovely there, minus the cigarette smoke. You can see it here on Google Maps.


message 14: by Ema (last edited May 08, 2015 02:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema One more photo, with the etching Nana sees on the door of the "shed", the one by Rem..., which I gathered would be Rembrandt - it took me a while, but I'm glad I found it. :) It's called "Joseph and Potiphar's Wife" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_a...).

description

On another note, I did the most daring thing and contacted Mircea Cărtărescu on Facebook to ask him about La Rond, but he hasn't answered me and, most probably, he never will. Well, he's more famous than Bogdan Suceavă and surely thought that my question was stupid. :) Anyway, I would like to go to (almost) every place mentioned in this book and write an article about this experience, but I'm not sure the places (if I could find them, that is) will be of any interest outside the story.


Declan Oh superb Ema. I was going to do a search for the etching, so you've saved me the bother. It's great to see it and like you I made the link in my mind to Rembrandt.

When I searched for La Rond, Obor this is the area that came up
www.google.ie/maps/place/Rond+Obor,+B...

Have I the right area?

I have finished REM, but I think I need to sleep with a little shell under my pillow before I can untangle my thoughts, especially regarding the ending. All I can say for now is that it was stunningly good. This really is what, as far as I'm concerned, fiction is for: the unfurling of wondrous, mind-dizzying imaginative leaps into the previously unthought.

We are REM!


message 16: by Ema (last edited May 08, 2015 11:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Rond from Obor is too close to be that Rond. They walked to Obor, then took the tram to Vergului Crossing (which is now Piața Muncii) and Rond came after that. I think the itinerary was something like this.
I loved REM, too. By pure coincidence, my brother had read Nostalgia a week earlier and we discussed it a bit last evening - but he said he wasn't really impressed by REM. He loved Twins and Mentardy, though. Please untangle your thoughts, so we could discuss the story and its ideas. :P


Declan Thanks for going to so much trouble with that map Ema. I knew I couldn't be correct about the location if you were in doubt about it :) .

It was nice to see a photo of Pizzeria Interbellico too and good to know it is such a pleasant place to have a drink. I'll try it next year when I'm back in Bucharest! (Hold me to that statement, won't you?)

So, REM. First of all I liked the construction of the narration which was as convoluted as that in many books of the 18th and 19th century. I haven't come across a spider-type creature (with "paws" according to the translation) burrowing into peoples heads to gain access to their thoughts, but in outline the system is similar to 'Wuthering Heights', in which Mr. Lockwood is the one hearing, and telling us, the story which is told to him by Nelly Dean, who has remarkable recall of all the dialogue and details of her startling story.

I found the inside of Vali's brain intriguing. At first he seemed sensitive towards Nana and appreciative of her as an imperfect woman, but eventually he becomes quite nasty in the dismissive way he describes this 35 (!) year old woman. And all that after she had told him the most amazing series of stories anyone could hope to hear! Fool! She may not be perfect in appearance, but she's an awful lot more interesting than any young woman he'll ever meet.

The stories Nana tells are engrossing, even those which are in a sense unremarkable because of their ordinariness (I liked the details of their trips to Aunt Aura's house; the tram trips and the shops) but when we get to the girls playing Queens, the story becomes utterly mesmerizing. The descriptions of the way each object yielded the impetus for their 'games' was remarkably well handled and completely convincing in this context (you might remember me saying before that I will believe anything if the writer has created a credible framework). I found the 'game' in which they walked across the decades of their life especially amazing, but horrifying too. I was genuinely shocked when Whale collapsed before reaching the fifth line and I realised that each girl was going to reveal to the others the decade of their death. What an idea! To read about their accelerated lives, and the inevitable end, was disturbing when one thought of the youth of the girls. But why do you think Puia never changed as she walked across the lines?

I loved too Nana's musing about where she might have been before she was born

The world had been around for millions of years. What had I been doing during that time?

A very child-logical question to ask.

Egor, with his huge, benign presence adds yet more layers of imagination and wonder to this book. What was the dream leading to and what revelation were the people who brought the flowers waiting for? Are they waiting/hoping to be 'created' through an act of writerly creativity? Nana leaves her innocence (if you could call it that after all she had experienced) behind when her father takes her home and she has her first period. She has arrived at a moment of transition and perhaps Egor is not so benign because, as creator/controller of the dreams, he is also the bringer of death. My reading of the REM moment is that Nana was given the date of her death. The egg cracks,her nemesis arrives and she becomes the nEGatOR, Egor, writing "no" over and over, each one given a particular, exact emphasis. She is the antithesis of Molly Bloom in 'Ulysses' who ends the book with so many utterings of "yes"

yes and how he kissed me
under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my
eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I
put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes
and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.



message 18: by Ema (last edited May 11, 2015 01:36PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema I can see you've written a review for Nostalgia and I'm very glad that you did - this way people will hopefully get interested in this amazing novel, which I'm proud to have been written by a Romanian author. :) I wrote a review for my blog as well, hoping to understand things better - there are a couple of things I still don't quite get, but new ideas came to me while I tried to untangle the events and ideas.

For example, I realized that the cave where the girls found the giant skeleton might be (the symbol of) a huge womb, which connects to their combined act of revival and the re-birth (or coming to life) of their giant child. Nana's egg might also symbolize fertility, conception and birth (she became fertile after she received the egg, after all), although your idea about Chimera bringing Nana's death sounds way better. In fact, I mentioned your idea in my review (with credits to the source, of course) because I thought it was a great explanation - well done, Declan! Haha, and what a great play of words with that nEGatOR, or nEGOtiatoR, which unfortunately is not valid in Romanian (only negociator).

I also realized that Chimera's description was identical to that of the syruses (or cyruses, I'm not sure how this term is translated) that killed Signor Firelli, Egor's grandfather. The description is also similar to the She in the cave from the emerald island. Btw, what did you make of this island Vali is fantasizing about and the She he finds in the cave? Is this about the murky depths of women's souls or again about fertility?

As for Nana's musing about where she might have been before she was born, when I read that passage I realized that it connected to what the author in the Roulette player was saying about the self which surely has found a way to survive in the afterlife. It's like the characters deny the limited and finite existence of soul and self, a denial similar to Egor's. Did you also think about Thomas Bernhard's Yes? Although this was a different uttering...

I'm so glad you enjoyed REM so much! Indeed, I too loved Nana's trips through Bucharest (my brother told me he was bored by them, though) and was mesmerized by the game of Queens, where everything was amazingly inventive - especially the game when the girls speed through their lives, but also the one when they find the giant skeleton (what do you think this skeleton means, btw?). As for Puia, Nina says she didn't have any sex, like a giant doll that belonged to her mother - maybe she didn't really live, so she never dies, like you said about the characters in fiction.

I too was intrigued by Vali's changing feelings towards Nana (we seem to have reacted to REM in a very similar way). Although he doesn't seem impressed by her stories, he will use the imagery of that giant androgynous being (hint: the red rose in God's hand) in his short story about the Roulette player.

I've read an interview with the author about Nostalgia (http://adevarul.ro/cultura/carti/mirc...) and he says that many of his characters were real people. For example, Mentardy really existed (but I'm not sure he also said all those witty things), as well as the gang in the story and their games. Now I'm positive that Cărtărescu included himself in his stories, like Nana says about the author she meets in her dream (he is part of REM too).


message 19: by Declan (last edited May 14, 2015 01:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Declan I think that between us, Ema, we have proved the truth of Cărtărescu's belief that each reader brings something unique to the novel because you have picked up on a whole lot of things that didn't register with me so much and vice versa. It is a novel one could read repeatedly and find something fresh and previously unnoticed each time. I think too that one of the joys of the book is that, as in the best Surrealist art (de Chirico or Magritte, for example), there are puzzles, but there is no 'correct' solution. So, I wonder if the skeleton the girls find underground might not be Egor's father? I can't remember now what was said about him. Was he mentioned in Egor's long story about his antecedents? Of course it could equally, as you say, represent a place of both birth and death and the girls transition to womanhood. There's just so much to be said and thought about almost every page of the novel!

I hadn't thought of the Thomas Bernhard 'Yes', but that's a very neat connection because with that link you could suggest that "Yes" and "No" can sometimes mean the same thing and herald the same ending.

I hope we'll read it again sometime because I'm sure we'd notice all sorts of other connections that hadn't occurred to us first time; particular symbols, repeated images etc.

Regarding the final story, I read on your blog somebody suggesting that it was a parody of a story by Thomas Mann? Am I correct? I've no idea about that, but I enjoyed it at the simplest level, as a story of obsession. I could almost imagine it being about me filling more and more of the house with books until rooms cannot be entered anymore. Then the house itself can no longer be entered and I am living in a little shed outside until it too is filled with books etc. etc.

I was pretty impressed by the architect's concentration when playing, especially when his wife and the music professor were having it off on the back seat! I found that quite comical. It wasn't the best story in the book, but I enjoyed it very much and I liked the progression from minor curiosity to overwhelming compulsion a lot. Again it convinced me completely. I could just see him floating off into space. It made sense in the story. That's why I like this sort of writing so much more than so-called 'realism'. When I read something like 'Judith Hearne' I judge it by the challenge it sets itself which is to convince me that this represents and recreates real lives as lived by real people. That's why I judge such books quite sternly: I'm rarely convinced. For me, 'Nostalgia' represents reality much more accurately than 'Judith Hearne' because it includes the lived experience, the thoughts, the dreams, the perceptions, the mistakes we make about what we think we've seen, the wishes, the secret desires, the way the nightmare lingers into the living day, the myth into our superstitions. And so on. That, for me, is why this great novel worked so well. It included so much of life.


message 20: by Ema (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Yup, this book has so many elements which are not quite straightforward that I wouldn't wonder if a third reader would have found some other interpretations to all these events and ideas. Maybe we'll read it again someday and, as you say, I'm sure we'll find a lot of things that we missed - or new interpretations. :)

It's interesting that you say there are no correct solutions - so all our hypothesis are merely speculations! Maybe this is the type of book that would get one crazy for trying to understand everything and as close as possible to the author's intentions. Now you reminded me that at first I too thought that the skeleton could be Egor's father or at least a relative of theirs, the ancestor who started it all or I don't know - and later I tried to find some other complicated explanations. :))

That 'somebody' was Marian, my brother, who made me the honour of commenting on my blog. :)) He was saying that the motto at the start of The Architect story was taken from Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, where the main characters gets consciously ill in order to attain greatness. He was also saying that Cărtărescu's story sounded like a parody and maybe it was intended that way. It's true it has a comic and ironic tone of voice (which I enjoyed a lot), but did you notice that it exemplifies, word by word, Egor's ambition of greatness, the wish to be Everything?

Another person who commented suggested I should read "The end of the game" by Julio Cortazar, a short story that could put REM in a new light.

You are right, the great thing about this novel is that it makes you believe in everything that the writer had imagined. I wonder, though, how it would be perceived by a person who doesn't enjoy fantastical narratives. But it sounds so strange that we are ready to believe in a totally different world, while weare skeptical about plots that happen in real life! Your comparison to 'Judith Hearne was a really good point, Declan - and such a great paragraph you've written as to why this happens! "It included so much of life" is a wonderful conclusion - I haven't thought about that at all, but you are right!


message 21: by Gaurav (new) - added it

Gaurav Excellent review, Ema. I've this book on my TBR for a few months now and having read quite a few positive reviews about, I want to pick it up soon. I once read in an interview that the author never edits what he writes and produced everything as first hand manuscript, which speaks volume about his greatness.


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