A debut novel by a 34-year-old Romanian author that depicts totalitarian brutality from a child’s perspective.
When the father of 11-year-old narrator Djata leaves home, escorted by some strange men, he tells his son that he has to go to a research station and will be back in a week or so. As months pass, Djata must try to come to terms with his father’s disappearance. Is he imprisoned? Dead? Had the man he has always trusted completely lied to his son? Throughout the first half of the novel, many chapters read like self-contained episodes, even parables, with little narrative momentum. Yet the accumulation of detail allows the reader, sometimes earlier than the narrator, to discover hints as to what has transpired in this unnamed country (based on the author’s native Romania). The “crime” of Djata’s father was to sign a petition. His disappearance has deepened a rift between Djata’s mother and his grandparents, who blame her for their son’s plight. The grandfather is a recently retired Party secretary, whom even his grandson must address as “Comrade Secretary.” Does he still have the power or connections to come to his son’s aid? Or did the imprisonment of Djata’s father cost Comrade Secretary his position and influence? The novel details almost two years in the life of Djata after his father’s disappearance, years in which children turn almost as brutal toward each other (with a Lord of the Flies morality) as teachers, coaches and figures of authority are toward the children. One vignette has them playing soccer on a radioactive field; another has them playing war games that risk the fatalities of a real war. Then there’s the appearance of the mysterious Pickax, a man whose face has been disfigured beyond recognition and who has some seemingly mysterious powers. Is he Djata’s father? Does he know the fate of Djata’s father?
Dark comedy and enveloping tragedy converge in this powerfully disturbing novel.