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Latest Review: "Hotel Europa" by Dumitru Tsepeneag

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Monica Carter on Dumitru Tsepeneag’s Hotel Europa, which was recently published by Dalkey Archive Press in Patrick Camiller’s translation from the Romanian.

Dalkey has published several Tsepeneag novels, including the wonderfully complex Vain Art of the Fugue, and the less than amazing Pigeon Post and The Necessary Marriage. It’s nice to see Dalkey keeping on with Tsepeneag (as with a lot of the authors that are part of their “canon”—more on that in a later post), although based on Monica’s review, it doesn’t sound like this is one of Tsepeneag’s best works.

Before getting to the review, I should mention that Monica is a contributing reviewer for us (special thanks to the New York State Council on the Arts for supporting this program) as well as a member of the Best Translated Book Award fiction committee. She also runs Salonica, a “virtual salon dedicated to promoting international literature.”

Here’s the opening of her take on Hotel Europa:

After reading any of Dumitru Tsepeneag’s works, the one foregone conclusion that a reader understands is that he is undoubtedly a writer of remarkable innovation and skill. This is evident in his work Vain Art of the Fugue and Pigeon Post, both highly original yet very different. In Hotel Europa, his latest novel, we are overcome by both, fooled by both, lulled by both and ultimately fatigued by both. It’s as if he’s fighting with his own originality and nobody wins. With Hotel Europa Tsepeneag returns to the theme of Pigeon Post in which the character is the author who is trying to write a novel. At turns comic, Pigeon Post flitted between two fictional worlds that the author presents to the reader. In Hotel Europa, the combining of the author and narrator creates a two-headed literary monster. It is impossible to choose between the two because they castrate each other, leaving the reader frustrated that there was no winner. The novel is laced with autobiographical elements and also a surreal intertextuality: he tells a story, tells his own story, comments on both and knots both together so it is impossible at times to tell whose story it is. And there may be legitimacy to the claim that “life in a Communist country does much to mask the individual.” Although this is not solely a historical novel, the historical events are handled in a realistic and direct manner, infused with a keen sensitivity.

So here we are presented with the story of a Romanian writer working a novel about Romanian students adapting to life after the collapse of the Ceausescu regime. This seems fertile ground for Tsepeneag because in 1975, Tsepeneag, who was living in France at the time, had his citizenship revoked by Ceausescu. After being exiled, Tsepeneag chose to remain in France and soon began writing in both French and Romanian. The Communist regime clearly impacted the author who infuses the whole novel, successfully, with blatant paranoia. This may also be why France figures prominently and is presented with a bit more benevolence than Romania. In the novel, his wife, Marianne is a Francaise who challenges him and also worries about him. Then the author-narrator escapes to Brittany so that he can work on his novel uninterrupted as if France provides a nurturing matriarchal presence.

Click here to read the full piece.



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