Suhan’s debut novel, based on true events, tells the story of life in communist Romania.Sebastian is orphaned at a young age, and sent to live with relatives who lie to him about the stormy nature of his late parents’ relationship. At the age of 12, he encounters a man who turns out to be his father’s former therapist. “I don’t know how much your uncle Relu told you about your parents,” he says to the boy, “but I’m sure that he omitted many things.” When the true circumstances of Sebastian’s birth are revealed, he feels betrayed by his family, and it begins a cycle of anger and bitterness that follows him for the rest of his tragedy-filled life. The story also closely follows a woman named Andrea, who, much like Sebastian, had a difficult childhood that “deeply marked the rest of her life.” The chapters switch between separate accounts of Sebastian’s and Andrea’s lives, until they eventually intersect. Although other characters appear prominently, they’re often introduced so abruptly that readers may not immediately grasp their relevance. The first chapter is also confusing, as it sets up a framing device in which Sebastian tells his story to an unnamed, first-person narrator. Afterward, the omniscient, third-person perspective seems illogical; if Sebastian is “telling” the story, how does he know other characters’ thoughts? The plot is also disrupted by long philosophical passages that meditate on the nature of life. These sections, as well as an overuse of summary, make the book’s messages feel heavy-handed. The occasionally beautiful, descriptive prose creates an atmosphere of darkness and longing. Often, however, it features oddly constructed sentences. Some turns of phrase (such as, “Sebastian was like an extinguished, cooled-down candle”) might have been more compelling if they weren’t followed by passages that overexplain their meanings.
A dense novel that puts too much emphasis on its message and not enough on its plot.