A perversely inventive and amusing portrayal of alienation and despair from a highly regarded Romanian author whose work is here translated into English for the first time. It's a chronicle of journeys and encounters, described by first-person narrator Gellu Nauma blocked poet and novelist who ``couldn't care less about literature and words,'' scans the newspapers for reports of bizarre if not paranormal phenomena, and endures meetings and relationships with interestingly deranged people (including several loquacious corpses) who seem to be ingeniously distorted simulacra of people he has loved, tolerated, hated, or fled from. The action, if it is such, ranges from the cramped streets of a surreally reinvented Bucharest to a ``swamp'' to which Naum escapes with his (imaginary) beloved Zenobia, an incarnation of the Woman Spirit that alternately seduces him, sustains him, and scares him half to death. What we're observing, in this uniquely creative comedy of philosophical self-scrutiny, is a flirtation with loneliness, creative sterility, and death, which finds a revivifying counterbalance in the saving disturbances posed by ordinary people and quotidian life (``I needed them, the presence of each and every one, and their words, however stupid, to convince myself that we existed together''). It sounds forbidding, and its curious rhetoric takes some getting used to, but Naum's ingeniously acerbic and paranoid crank (who has a little of Dostoevsky's Underground Man in him) proves himself surprisingly good company. Oddball specificity and intricate generalization coexist smoothly here and give Naum's eloquently cadenced prose both a rich texture and a surprisingly brisk pace. (The translation effectively conveys Naum's penchant for abstractionbut readers may grind their teeth at its occasional misuse of ``like'' for ``as.'') High metaphysical hilarity from a hitherto unknown master whose work in its strongest moments recalls the best of Beckett, Gombrowicz, and Ionesco.
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