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.