Gabriela Adamesteanu - He’s made it back to his native village. There he finds his whole family gathered around a big table, as if for a wedding, a baptism or a wake, but no one recognizes him, not even his mother

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Gabriela Adamesteanu, The Encounter, Trans. by Alistair Ian Blyth, Dalkey Archive Press, 2016.

Pushed around by ticket takers who demand his ticket in several languages, a middle aged man goes through a nightmare of hiding and getting away until he manages to cross a frontier guarded by soldiers and dogs. He’s made it back to his native village. There he finds his whole family gathered around a big table, as if for a wedding, a baptism or a wake, but no one recognizes him, not even his mother.

Harassed by train conductors who demand his ticket in several languages, a middle‑aged man endures a nightmare of hiding and flight, before managing to cross a frontier guarded by soldiers and dogs. He has returned to his native village. There he finds his whole family gathered around a big table, as though for a wedding, baptism or wake, but no one recognises him, not even his mother. The relatives take him for a lunatic on the run from an asylum, or for a Securitate informer, and chase him away.
Traian Manu, a renowned scientist in Italy, wakes up from this typical dream of exile in a car driven by his wife on the highway between Naples and Rome. In spite of his wife Christa’s opposition, Manu has agreed to visit his native country of Romania, at the insistence of a former colleague, Alexandru Stan, in spite of not having had any ties with the country since it became a Communist state. It is August 1986. Romania is still a Communist country, ruled by Nicolae Ceauşescu.
Of German origin, Christa understands Manu’s nostalgia but warns him of the dangers lurking in any totalitarian regime. To persuade him, she tells him stories from her own childhood and adolescence during the Nazi dictatorship, about growing up with the feeling of being permanently watched, about the humiliation of being part of a collective that glorifies a dictator, and about how she lost her family members one by one.
Manu’s trip to Romania is in fact the brainchild of collaboration between Alexandru Stan, a Romanian official, and the Securitate. The aim is for the communist regime to take advantage of Manu’s relations in the West. Manu is followed everywhere, his every move is recorded on tape and in reports by the spy team, which finally (and paradoxically) succeeds in making Manu trust only those people who are actually Securitate agents—to the exclusion of all the innocent people who had been waiting for him in good faith. All this evolves into a perverse plan to enlist the innocents as informers via a blackmail scheme. Among the innocents is Manu’s nephew, Daniel, who vainly hopes to be recognised as his uncle’s younger alter ego—a character important to the story on account of his incisive point of view.
The Securitate’s plan falls apart at the very moment when there is nothing left to oppose them. Safely back in his adopted country, exhausted by the trip and wracked by conflicting emotions, Manu suffers a heart attack in the car as his wife drives him home. -

An exiled scientist returns home to a country that has forgotten him. Or has it?
Odysseus wandered for years before arriving at Ithaca. Manu Traian has been away as long, having left his homeland before the Iron Curtain clanged shut. As this novel, the latest by the renowned Romanian writer Adamesteanu (Wasted Morning, 1983, etc.), opens, he is dreaming fitfully of running a gauntlet of officials demanding documents he cannot produce, then making his way, finally, to a place where he is now a ghost. It is a dream he has often. His name contains that of the Roman emperor Trajan, who conquered Romania, just as other names are suggestive of other times, other stories. Now that he is actually homeward bound, it’s the Securitate that means to conquer him, though, by ringing him with traps; invited to speak at a university, he flatters himself to think that his fame might be preceding him, without pausing to consider that the academics are implicated in the police state, as is everyone else. His German-born wife sees the danger clearly (“She knows it is too late to turn back. But she cannot stop herself from trying”), but he does not; his nephew, Daniel (think lion’s den), is perhaps the only innocent, but even he, the Telemachus of a book that resounds with allusions to and quotations from The Odyssey, is suspect. Even though there are hints everywhere that the Ceausescu regime is on its last legs, the police are vigilant enough to keep fat dossiers on everyone, from exiles to librarians (“It’s no accident that his daughter is called Mihaela, he says that he gave her this name in memory and honor of the last king of the former bourgeois-landowning Romania”). Still, in the end they have nothing to pin on Traian, who bungles through somehow—which is no guarantee of a happy ending.
Layered, nuanced, and deeply allusive; readers without a grounding in recent Balkans history may miss some of the clues. The meaning of the story is clear enough, though, even if parts are opaque.
- Kirkus Reviews

By the late 1980s, government surveillance had become an accepted part of life in Romania. The Securitate, President Nicolae Ceaușescu’s secret police, tapped civilian telephones, bugged civilian homes, and had a permanent desk at virtually every business establishment in the country. This didn’t happen in response to a guerilla insurgency or a growth in terrorism. Ceaușescu and his cronies were simply paranoid. At the height of his regime, one in thirty Romanians was on the Securitate’s payroll. Anyone was potentially guilty, anyone potentially a spy.
A young translator named Herta Müller, for example, attracted the Securitate’s attention because her debut collection of short stories featured “tendentious distortions of realities in the country, particularly in the village environment.” Soon after its release, she was arbitrarily fired from her government job. After that, her best friend was strong-armed into spying on her. When that didn’t work—Müller found a duplicated set of her own house keys in her friend’s suitcase—her apartment was bugged. Such activities were often followed by violent government intervention, but Müller’s fledgling literary success served as her shield. Realizing that she wasn’t safe in Romania, she fled to Berlin in 1987. She has lived there ever since.
In a 2009 essay that reflected on her experiences with the Securitate, Müller wrote, “For me, each journey to Romania is a journey into another time, in which I never knew which events in my life were coincidence and which were staged.” What she’s describing here is a toxic existential condition, one shared by innumerable exiles from police states. It is also shared by the fictional Professor Manu Traian, a long-time Romanian exile based in Italy, and the protagonist of Gabriela Adameşteanu’s novel The Encounter, newly translated by Alistair Ian Blyth.
Adameşteanu is one of Romania’s foremost post-war literary figures: a writer known both for her books and for her opposition to Ceaușescu’s regime. (Unlike Herta Müller and Norman Manea, other major authors of her generation, Adameşteanu never left Romania; she stayed and worked at Group for Social Dialogue, an influential dissident NGO.) With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that she possesses the two basic skills of a political novelist: an ability to conjure the numbing nightmare that is history, and a desire to wake us up from it. As readers, our role is to observe how she combines these skills.
In Wasted Morning, her best-known novel (and the only other translated into English) Adameşteanu reconstructs seven decades of Romanian history by detailing one day in the charming, gossipy consciousness of Vica Delca, a seventy-year old working-class woman born soon after the Second World War. This is achieved through a modernist interweaving of past and present, as well as of memory and desire, into a single, seamless story. Vica will be talking to her upper-class employer, for instance, when her thoughts and memories spiral away to reflect on the communist purges and counter-purges that so affected her employer’s parents. Adameşteanu deploys a similar technique in The Encounter. Only this time, history is channeled through the alternating perspectives of a timeworn marriage.
The Encounter opens with a terrifying scene: an unnamed man, addressed here in what can be called the "close second tense" is traveling on a train when he hears soldiers approaching: “You burst out of the apartment and break into a run, behind you, you hear the soldiers’ boots, your pajamas are unbuttoned and your half-shaven face is lathered in foam. At speed you bump into the walls and their shiny, smoky, dark windows... and the strange faces gaze at you tensely, you are running, running, running!"
But before you prepare yourself for a noir thriller, know that none of this is real. It is late 1989, and our protagonist has fallen asleep in the most peaceful of circumstances: beside his wife Christa in the family car. Internally, however, Manu is far away—suffering a nightmare about the Romanian Securitate. Or rather nightmares within nightmares about the Securitate. Manu runs down the train followed by the soldiers. Just as they catch him, he wakes up, only to find himself on a new train, chased by a new set of soldiers. This cycle of psychic border crossings makes for an opening chapter of gripping and hallucinatory prose writing, a sort of vortex through which we descend into Manu’s paranoid consciousness.
I say "paranoid" because Manu doesn’t actually have much first-hand knowledge about Ceaușescu’s Romania. Indeed, he hasn’t been back home in decades. A working-class boy born in the 1920s in the rural town of Cărbunești, Manu tenaciously earned himself a place at Bucharest’s best lycée, and then went onto paid graduate positions in Italy and France. But the communists took over Romania when he was away, and with growing unease (the country had never been kind to him anyway) he delayed and delayed his return. Years became decades. The exchange student became an exile. And then the sort of exile that never returns home.
Things, however, are about to change—as they should when a novel opens. After almost half a century of resistance, Manu has caved in and accepted an invitation to lecture in Bucharest. Christa is now driving him to a hotel where they’ll spend a night before he catches his plane. There we will learn if his nightmares are justified.
Like all couples do, Christa and Manu are bickering. Manu has his mind on visiting Romania, whereas Christa still disapproves of the trip. Their conversations are ferociously unsentimental and vividly realized, a real tour de force of domestic drama. What’s more, they are inextricably wound up with the historico-political forces that animate Manu’s journey.
When, for example, Christa informs Manu he was speaking Romanian in his sleep, he begins to wonder: “How long it had been since he had spoken Romanian when he made love to a woman? How long had it been since he had stopped speaking Romanian altogether? Forty-five years? Less, more? What might Crista have heard him say?” This train of thought returns him to an old uncertainty, the sense that he doesn’t belong with Christa because of his outsider status in Western Europe; she herself is a German emigrant who lost her entire family to the Second World War. In a more wrenching turn, Manu is overwhelmed by a momentary suspicion—we always suppress such thoughts—that he might never have loved Christa, but simply wanted the legitimacy she offered: “[Christa had] singled him out on the very first day she [saw him]…And he had listened, flattered, as if being given the news that he was to be promoted: had he confused Christa’s perseverance with devotion, had he confused love with his desire for legitimacy in his adopted country?”
What makes this brief surge of memory so unbearably poignant is that it is withheld—and forever will be withheld—from Christa. The couple might be sitting beside one another in a car, but their internal lives seem countries apart. As Christa reflects later, “It is plain that despite the moments of weakness when she confessed to him, Traian has not really grown close to her.”
The quotations included thus far should give a sense of the virtuosic range of narrative techniques that Adameşteanu employs in The Encounter. Instead of abiding by the standard realist conventions of "he thought" and "she thought," she acrobatically, and often without warning, shifts between the first, second, and third person; as well as between the past, present, and future tenses. The net result is a reconfiguration of the word "free indirect." There is no "authorial voice" in her book. Only a battle between consciousnesses that express themselves in a dizzying variety of ways. This dynamism—which Michael Hofmann has identified as the biggest challenge for the prose translator to recreate—has been replicated expertly in Alistair Ian Blyth’s translation. A veteran translator of Romanian literature, Blyth renders unfailingly lively versions of Adameşteanu’s sentences, deftly imbuing them with narrative thrust.
But despite her acrobatic style, Adameşteanu can’t always bring her characters to life. Christa, for one, is more of a conduit for history than a real person. Her internal life isn’t intimately or urgently felt. The problem, I think, is that she lacks a stake in the book. Though she has a terrible backstory—losing her entire family to the war—it has little to do with The Encounter’s unfolding events.
Manu’s backstory, by contrast, does. And this charges his every thought and feeling with meaning. It also allows for a more nuanced exploration of his interiority. Female novelists are seldom praised for writing vivid male characters; perhaps because they’ve been doing it well for so long. (The reverse, of course, is not true.) Yet Adameşteanu must be singled out for creating Manu Traian. Part heroic exile, part sentimental old fool, part scholarly genius, part insensitive patriarch—Manu is a marvelously realized character, someone at once irreducible to words yet vividly understood. Adameşteanu is eminently comfortable describing his intellectual side (Manu, amongst other things, is a casual scholar of Greek and Latin) but she is also careful to attend to the physical realities of his ageing body, with all its aches, itches, and desires. In this, he is equal to Vica Delca, Adameşteanu’s other great creation.
Unbeknown to Manu and Christa, the Securitate has begun preparing for Manu’s visit. Alexandru Stan, the professor who invited Manu to Bucharest, has been coerced into spying on him for the government, and we learn this through the series of intelligence dossiers that Adameşteanu deftly weaves into the text. She does a good job of aping the icy language of bureaucracy. But what’s most frightening about these dossiers is not the brutal efficacy of the Securitate—it’s actually a bumbling organization of bureaucratic fools straight out of Arendt—but the sheer arbitrariness with which they decide that Manu is their enemy. “Manu Traian,” we learn in the first chilling dossier, “betrayed his country [by] going abroad to study in France and Italy.” In other words, he’s guilty for being an exile.
The dossiers make it eminently clear that Manu is an apolitical man, that he presents no threat to the communist hegemony. Yet, the Securitate’s leaders have such a mad, existential hunger for surveillance (which their subordinates are only to happy to feed) that a plan is drawn up to monitor Manu throughout his fortnight-long visit back to Romania. Not only that, the Securitate will even send spies to accost Manu, posing as "long-lost friends" or admiring professors. The vast majority of his visit home will be, to quote Müller, “staged.”
By the end of The Encounter’s first section, we are completely invested in Manu’s fate, and raptly awaiting our chance to see Romania through his eyes. It thus comes as a surprise when Adameşteanu abandons Manu’s consciousness to introduce Daniel, a teenager living in Romania.
Daniel is a rather likable boy. Painfully shy and good-hearted, he suffers under Romania’s patriarchal, provincial, and economically backward society. But "likable" does not equate with "compelling," and we soon wonder about Daniel’s raison d'être as a character. Anticipating our question, Adameşteanu establishes a tenuous connection between him and Manu: Daniel’s recently deceased grandmother Anna Maria was Manu’s ex-girlfriend. As he puts it: “After Nana [Anna Maria] died I thought of Uncle Traian for the first time. I knew from Uncle Victor that he would be coming in the summer. Once I heard him on Radio Free Europe….Then I thought that if he had married Nana and stayed here, I would have been called Daniel Manu.” Though repelled by their provincial ways, Manu is forced to spend most of his trip with Daniel and his family. And here’s the kicker: it’s Daniel, not Manu, who will be narrating the trip.
Filtered through a teenager’s unknowing eyes, Manu’s experiences in Romania are muted, and The Encounter’s hard-won narrative tension weakened by an aimless subplot involving Daniel’s recent expulsion from university. Add to this some tragicomic familial satire and more Securitate hijinks, and suddenly we are faced with a book that’s accruing more and more components, but moving further and further away from its heart. Whereas The Encounter’s first section featured a remarkably cohesive domestic narrative, the middle section is a slapdash combination of political noir (the documents pile up, and we hear from spies that track Manu’s movements), coming-of-age story (Daniel discusses his life in Bucharest), and family melodrama (Daniel’s parents share their woes with Manu).
Adameşteanu gives voice to the local Romanians—both hostile (spies) and cordial (family friends)—who are awaiting Manu’s arrival in Bucharest in a variety of different forms: intelligence dossiers, letters, monologues, and some short third-person narratives. But these sections read more like formal achievements than deeply felt fictions. For all their inventiveness, they lack well-rounded characters. Adameşteanu’s spies are little more than stereotypes, and her local Romanians aren’t fleshed out.
Some of The Encounter’s early thrill is regained in the final section where Manu returns (safely) to Italy to discuss the discomfort and "unreality" of his trip with Christa. But such matters are better experienced than simply discussed. (Isn’t that why we read fiction?) In either case, there are too many narrative balls in the air by then. Unlike the opening, in which Manu and Christa’s conversation was usefully juxtaposed against the Securitate’s plotting, the final section is a shapeless mélange of their car conversation, Daniel’s monologues about Romania, and the idiotic communiqués that the Securitate has drawn up about Manu’s visit. The book ominously closes with Manu having the same nightmare he suffered at its opening. This, presumably, is meant to suggest he’s learnt nothing from his trip. The problem is: neither have we.
I have dedicated a vast majority of this review to The Encounter’s opening section because it seems to me part of a different—and far better—book than those that follow it. Manu and Christa’s conversations, taken in isolation, comprise an excellent novella or half an excellent novel. Perhaps we should simply treasure that—it’s more than most writers produce in a lifetime. - Ratik Asokan

Can horrific psychic wounds from wartime ever really heal? Can one merely will oneself to forget? These are the major themes explored in this newly translated novel by Gabriela Adameșteanu. We become acquainted with Traian Manu, a Romanian scientist who defects to Italy after suffering heavy losses in the Second World War. Considered a deserter by the Ceaușescu regime, he is forbidden to return until a sudden invite in 1986 by a former peer (and now, unbeknownst to Manu, Communist Party informant) to give a lecture in Bucharest.
Housed in the infamously bugged Intercontinental Hotel in Bucharest, Manu reverts to depressing wartime memories, which only renew his animosity toward his homeland. Manu’s German wife, Crista, grew up under the Hitler regime and suffered even more tragedies in the war and struggles to overcome nightmares and flashbacks.
It’s been said that one measure of a talented writer is the ability to utilize different viewpoints in one’s fiction. Adameșteanu employs multiple narrators, tense, and voice to tell her story, thus requiring her reader to constantly readjust to these varying perspectives. We read through the lens of not only Traian and Crista but those of family, students, and bureaucrats. Unfortunately, in addition to the use of abrupt changes of narration and chronology, a section will occasionally arise where it is difficult to identify the speaker.
One main hurdle still facing Crista is survivor’s guilt. Though the war has been over for four decades, Crista still regularly plies Manu with flashbacks and nightmares. He advises her that it is possible that the wounds of the past can heal, especially if one keeps them under wraps, as he does. Crista disagrees.
In a further twist, Manu wonders if perhaps some healing and forgetting hasn’t already taken place with his wife but that she is resisting this, which ultimately leads one to wonder if peace can be made after such devastation.
Comic relief can be found in the “copies” of party dossiers on Manu by various apparatchiks, showcasing the absurdity of Ceaușescu’s minions. They follow his every move during his visit.
Romanian sensibilities abound in this story loaded with footnotes about philosophers, politicos, and cultural factotums. The translator does a marvelous job switching voice for all the various characters. One wonders, though, if perhaps the author makes her readers work a bit too hard to follow along in this valuable tale. - Virginia Parobek

Yet again, as always, he finds himself on a speeding train and an official is approaching, demanding a ticket, identity papers, some proof of an existence that will be acceptable. A familiar sense of panic swells up: “The eyes of the people in the compartment are fixed on you: are they looking? Are they not looking?” None of it matters because it will come back to haunt him; the same old dream in all its variations, always the same fear.
Romanian Gabriela Adamesteanu’s daring, allusive novel reads as a series of dreams merged with vivid memories. At its centre is Prof Traian Manu, an academic who left his native country many years earlier, before the door of communism slammed shut. In his dreams he has returned many times, only no one ever remembers him: “It is me, your son, brother, nephew, uncle, son-in-law. “
Protest away, but no one recognises him, and the logic confronting him has echoes of Lewis Carroll: “How good it would be if it were you, but it cannot be you! If it were you, you would not be here, with us, you would be far away! If it were you, you would be on the Other Side! You would be as if dead!”
Even when he joins them sitting around a table, always a table, they all whisper among themselves and ask: “Whose son do you say you are?” Manu is doomed to be an outcast, yet he left by choice and realises that however much he tries, he can never return home, because home is no more. Even his long-dead mother asks him: “What do you want, stranger?”
Whatever about the prevailing images of train carriages, the actual reality is even more confined. He is a passenger in a car being driven by a tense, angry woman, his wife, a woman preoccupied by her horrors, her guilt and a wartime past.
It is a subtle prism of a novel that speeds along, much as the nightmare trains. The scene is constantly changing and Manu, the central character, is very passive, little more than a passenger. The surest key to grasping Adamesteanu’s several meanings rests in an image of shrouded mirrors. No one is really sure of anything, least of all how much time has passed or how the characters have changed. There is also Manu’s love of Homer’s Odyssey, his favourite poem and greatest comfort in life. Adamesteanu makes effective use of this in bringing Manu alive, as he is a quiet personality and far from being a man of action, although, ironically, he does preoccupy the authorities who provide much of the humour in a novel that shifts intriguingly – and unexpectedly – between personal tragedy and black comedy.
“What I have just discovered,” wrote Romanian master Mircea Eliade, “is that the chance to become a new Ulysses is given any exile whatsoever (precisely because he has been condemned by the gods, that is, by the ‘powers’ that decide historical, earthly destinies) But to realise this, the exile must be capable of penetrating the hidden meaning of his wanderings . . .”
Adamesteanu quotes this as an epigraph that also shapes the narrative. The Encounter was first published in Romania as recently as 2013 and Alistair Ian Blyth’s symphonic translation conveys the various tone shifts of the several narrative viewpoints engaged with piecing together the story as the novel balances the melancholic with the farcical.
The mild-mannered professor is caught up in his thoughts, aware of his position in returning to his homeland: “ . . . I’m a foreign citizen, I enjoy the protection of my adopted country, and what’s more, my former colleague Alexandru Stan, who I mentioned, has a good deal of influence. And I can vouch for him: after all, we’ve known each other since the age of 20, since we went abroad to study . . .” Only Stan did return. This proves crucial.
Set in the dying days of the Ceausescu regime, the cracks are already obvious, yet still the Securitate is intent on sending out agents to gather often false information. A case is being constructed against Manu. The evidence is flimsy: “I met Manu around the year 1944. He was studying at the Sorbonne . . . I had no relations with him of any kind. I know nothing about his political activities. I do not know the persons with whom he was in contact in Romania or abroad apart from his colleague Stan Alexandru, with whom he came to the legation to extend his visa. He said he wanted to go to America. It is thereby evident that he was engaging in actions hostile to our people’s democratic government.”
While Manu is at a remove from the world from which he came and is dominating not only the high-speed exchanges of the confused officials – one of whom waits until he is alone in his office so he can “put his feet up on the desk, like an American” – the members of his extended family offer their extremely contrasting versions of Manu’s personal history. For this, Adamesteanu, who enjoys playing voices and tone shifts, summons a chorus-like communal voice that contradicts every fact. This confusion proves curiously helpful in establishing a very real sense of a society in upheaval.
The plight of young Daniel, a most perceptive onlooker whose future at the university is derailed following the death of one of his friends during a late-night party, has echoes of Nobel literature laureate Herta Müller’s far darker and more surreal The Land of Green Plums (1993; translated by Michael Hofmann). Adamesteanu possesses a lighter touch than Muller, her humour is more benign, yet still sufficiently barbed to make a point.
During the exchanges between Manu and his fraught wife, Christa, the widow of her dead sister’s former fiance, it is easy to recall Saul Bellow’s late middle-period novel The Dean’s December (1982) in the edgy marital banter that is convincingly, at times touchingly, handled. Bellow was a colleague of Eliade at the University of Chicago. Manu is an Everyman figure, alert to the ways of men and also to how a life takes shape: “Beneath the weary gentleness of his gaze, there is expectation, disquiet. His pupils flicker for an instant, uncertainly, and then his face relaxes: he hastens to laugh. ‘I am afraid that half a century may have passed since I left there to begin my life here! And when you go back, it is always as if in a dream: the same houses, the same streets except they are smaller, shrunken.’”
Adamesteanu’s kindly wanderer, an academic, not a warrior, is no less heroic for being one and is also sympathetic. The mirrors may be shrouded, yet the various reflections of lives and experiences are there to be seen, catching the light as so many truths slowly emerge from fragments of memory and half-remembered, never-forgotten facts. - Eileen Battersby

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Gabriela Adamesteanu, Wasted Morning: A Novel, Trans. by Patrick Camiller, Northwestern University Press, 2011.
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Upon its original publication in 1983, Wasted Morning catapulted Gabriela Adamesteanu to the first rank of Romanian novelists. She has since been translated into many languages, and now her most famous novel is available in English for the first time. At the center of Wasted Morning is Vica Delca, a simple, poor woman in her seventies who has endured the endless series of trials and tribulations that was Romanian history from WWI to the end of the twentieth century.

She's a born storyteller, chatting and gossiping tirelessly. But she also listens, so it is through her that Adamesteanu is able to show us a panoramic portrait of Romanian society as the fortunes of its various strata shift violently. Rich or poor, honest (more or less) or deceitful, all of the characters in this polyphonic novel are brought vividly to life. From Bucharest's aspirations to be the Paris of Eastern Europe to the darkest days of dictatorship, the novel presents a sweeping vision of the personal and collective costs of a turbulent century.

"Considered one of the best novels of Romanian postwar literature, Wasted Morning is a modern chronicle of seven decades in Romanian society, from 1941 to the mid-1980s, from the time when Bucharest started to be a 'Little Paris' to the decay of Ceausescu's bleak dictatorship. Time seems to be the main character, but the novel's exceptional heroine, Vica, a colorful, gossipy witness with a harsh tongue—a kind of Leopold Bloom in a skirt—unites the many layers of this great narrative in a seductive mixture of irony and pathos, gravity and ridicule, social-political turmoil and the fervor of a vivid inner life. Powerful, subtle, original."—Norman Manea

Gabriela Adamesteanu is remarkable both for the quality of her writing as well as for her brooding gaze, which encompasses, with some cruelty, nearly a century of Romanian history. Wars, persecution, shortages, privations, and censorship are among the calamities that emerge, woven together by the sheer strength of her prose."—Le Monde

“Wasted Morning is, doubtlessly, a painful symbol of a Romania sacrificed on the altar of two world wars and communism for one century. Although these sinister spectres obsess the author, she displays a sarabande of picturesque, highly vital style, in the oral style of Céline, re‑inventing the idiom of simple folk and discovering the poetry of the street, in a country where the wooden tongue had grown into a coffin of imagination : Vica, Gabriela Adameşteanu’s protagonist, is a free individual because she chats away like Céline’s character, Bardamu… She goes back to her adolescence, when her mother died and she had to raise her many siblings. Vica, the poor Cinderella who lost her way in a dependency of the Soviets, had to survive, with her legs planted on the stone of utter poverty. But this tireless gossiper knows how to listen to others too, so we have magnificent portraits of other characters such as Sophie Mironescu Ioaniu, depossessed by the communists, who gradually withers away in her apartment in Bucharest. Her daughter Ivona, a strange woman who roams around the city, her son‑in‑law Niki, who is always chasing after whores, her sister, Margot, shadowed by the Securitate... From one character to another, from WWI to Stalin’s time, from battlefield to prisons where political convicts are thrown to rot, history in a red and black cloak marches across this forever wasted morning. The novelist is not much more tender­‑hearted towards what she calls, with a degree of cruelty, national ‘vices.’”—Lire

To say this was one of the best books I've read this year would be an understatement; this is certainly one of the best books I've ever.
Wasted Morning is one of those wonderful novels that at first seem unprepossessing and yet soon have you glued into what is an immensely rich and detailed story. That it took so long to be translated into English is a crying shame - but then there are so many literary treasures awaiting translation from Romanian that it is hardly a surprise.
Gabriela Adamesteanu delivers what is, essentially, a family saga, that sees Bucharest and Romania traverse its troubled history. Making use of multiple narrative voices, the story is - while far from a 'feel good' or 'happy ending' - gripping and detailed.

Gabriela Adamesteanu was born in 1942 in Targu Ocna, Romania. She has worked in literary and scientific publishing and has been the editor in chief of the magazine 22 since 1991. She is the president of the Romanian PEN Center. Her awards and honors include a 2002 Hellman Hammett Grant, administered by Human Rights Watch, and the 2004 Ziarul de Iasi National Award for Fiction, and she has also received grants for her translations from the French. She is the author of the novels Intalnirea [Meeting], Dimineata pierduta [Wasted Morning], and Drumul egal al fiecarei zile [The Equal Way of Every Day] and the short story collections Vara-primavara [Summer-Spring] and Daruieste-ti o zi de vacanta [Give Yourself a Holiday].