In this fictionalized memoir from the Romanian author and professor, a Romanian refugee flees the Ceausescu regime and becomes a professor of languages and theater in America.
Mona comes from a long line of strong Romanian women, beginning with her great-grandmother, who floats down a flood-swollen river and marries her rescuer. At 17, Mona meets the love of her life, raven-haired, green-eyed Mihai, while vacationing in the Carpathian Mountains. Mercurial Mihai’s last girlfriend was killed (accidentally, or perhaps not) by a rock kicked loose by Mihai while the two were hiking in the foothills. Between trysts with Mihai, Mona observes the contradictions of life under the Ceausescus—the dictator tag team of Nicolae and Elena. Public education is excellent—Mona’s high school has imparted a firm grounding in languages, comparative literature and classical music. However, the food shortages, empty store shelves and long lines plaguing so many Cold War-era eastern bloc countries oppress Romanians, including Mona’s linguistics professor father and poet mother, almost as much as constant surveillance by the Securitate (secret police) who slouch menacingly in the shadows of city streets and cafés. As the Securitate net tightens around Mona’s father, a member of a dissident group, her parents resolve to get her out. This will entail leaving Mihai, who lately has been spouting Party lines with unaccustomed fervor. Escaping via Yugoslavia into Italy, she’s sheltered by two Italian families who aid her passage to America. The section set in America is perforce less gripping than the Romanian scenes, and Radulescu glosses over her protagonist’s troubled marriage to an American psychologist, as well as the ensuing divorce and child-custody wrangling. After Mona’s parents join her in America they have the satisfaction of watching Ceausescu’s fall (and Christmas Day impromptu execution) on television. An immigrant cousin informs Mona of Mihai’s death. Finally, 40-something Mona makes her way home for a long overdue investigation of Mihai’s true character.
A pleasantly suspenseful narrative delivered in competent but unnuanced English.