Maurice, a young Romanian Jew, tells his story to a psychiatrist after being committed by his lover, Irina. It is an unusually idyllic tale considering Maurice’s circumstances, marred by the fact that his cousin and former best friend, Octav, is bent on destroying his life. The book opens with Maurice’s first-person account of growing up during the 1960s and ’70s in a prominent family with political connections in Romania. At school, he excels at football, with Octav’s help, and spends most of his time carousing with his beloved cousin. What’s more, he and Irina are in love, but a vengeful Octav has managed to block his every opportunity for work, despite Maurice’s unassailable academic credentials. What follows is an intriguing tale of truth and deception and the lengths people, particularly Jews, must go to survive in Nicolae Ceauescu’s Romania. As Octav and the psychiatrist, Dr. Mona Ionescu, discuss the true details of Maurice and Octav’s relationship, Mona, a loyal party member, begins to fall in love with Octav, a non-communist Jew. In the end, the real secret Maurice and Octav share, concerning a powerful party official, returns to plague everyone to devastating effect. Though the exciting book is filled with twists and foreshadowing, the slightly awkward grammar, also present in Costin’s first novel, takes some getting used to, as if English is Costin’s second language. In some ways, the effect adds a certain verisimilitude: “But at least it was Soviet Union he was fleeing to, and which true communist didn’t dream to reach one day its sacred shore and kiss the soil stained with the blood of all those comrades who fought in the greatest revolution the humankind ever knew?” The book holds wide appeal but will be of special interest to readers who grew up during the Cold War and historians of life behind the Iron Curtain.
A human tale of ordinary people living under the extraordinary conditions of totalitarian authority.