Friday, 14 October 2011

Review of Vaterflucht by Carmen-Francesca Banciu


This is a markedly autobiographical novel by the Romanian author Carmen-Francesca Banciu. It was first published in 1998 by Verlag Volk und Welt and was her first novel written in German. 

It begins with the un-named narrator and her young son arriving back in Romania for a visit to her father, having lived for seven years in the west. None of the narrator’s family is ever named, the only named characters being minor ones - school friends, party officials and so on. The narrator looks back over her childhood and recounts her difficult relationship with her parents, her upbringing in a “model Communist family” and the repression and oppression that she experienced both internally and externally. Her father blames her for the destruction of his political career and for many years he refused to speak to, forgive or acknowledge his daughter. The seven years that have now passed are a magical, fairytale time span, allowing for reflection and a measure of forgiveness so that father and daughter are able to meet again on amicable terms.

The style of writing is unique, using abrupt phrasing, with sentences broken off, apparently at random, and seemingly haphazard punctuation. However, this is in fact carefully crafted and, combined with the author’s use of punctuation, it gives the novel a bitter, yet lyrical quality, emphasising the points that she wishes to make. It would be challenging to translate as apparently simple phrases convey complex layers of meaning - the title itself is a case in point as it could mean "flight from father" or, as two words, "father curses".

There are also quite a few untranslated Romanian words and phrases, not all of which can be deduced from knowledge of other Romance languages, and the text assumes a certain level of knowledge of Romanian and East European political history which I occasionally found confusing.

Despite its brevity, this book requires a sustained level of concentration. This is partly due to the repetitive, almost hypnotic, style, which can make it easy to lose track of where you are, and also to the political/historical allusions, which can easily slip past. It was extremely interesting and gripping, but not an easy read.

This review was originally written for New Books in German.

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