cover image Captives


Norman Manea, trans. from the Romanian by Jean Harris. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2047-7

In this bold novel, Manea (The Hooligan's Return) explores a population "imprisoned by the ravaged waters of impossible forgetting" in the aftermath of World War II, trying to make sense of what it means to have survived. An unnamed office worker cannot forget about a lonely piano teacher, Monica Sm%C3%A2nta%CC%86nescu. He can't forget about the apparent suicide of fellow comrade, Captain Bogdan Zubcu, or the Captain's orphaned daughter. As these reflections mix with recollections from his youth in Stalinist Romania, the office worker's instability rises to the surface. Translator Jean Harris describes the book's structure as, "The semi-therapeutic writing of a madman." As the narrator wanders around, trying to make sense of his existence, the plot is uncovered in a succession of memories between 1947 and 1965%E2%80%94often these moments are told out of order, scenes flow into each other and perspectives swirl together using first-, second, and third-person perspectives. Many scenes are revisited and reimagined, and every retelling provides more lucid descriptions. As the narrator repeats, again and again, an outburst to his superior at the office or recalls the recurring image of hands on throats, each occasion carries new and greater meaning. A masterful work. (Dec.)