cover image Train to Trieste

Train to Trieste

Domnica Radulescu, . . Knopf, $23.95 (305pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26823-5

It’s 1977 in Ceausescu’s brutal Romania, and 17-year-old Mona Manoliu is falling for brooding Mihai Simionu, whom she meets on summer vacation in the Carpathian mountains. What should be a grandly simple first love is complicated by fear, especially for Mona’s father, a Bucharest poetry professor tracked by the secret police. Death and secrets plague Mona and Mihai’s affair, as friends and relatives die under suspicious circumstances. While the country slides further into poverty, paranoia is the norm, and Mona doesn’t know whether to believe the rumors she hears about Mihai. But after her father is detained by police, and then released through the intervention of a former student, it’s clear that Mona must leave Romania. Of the many well-known escape routes, she chooses to take the train to “Trieste” (actually the Yugoslav border). The book takes her much further than that, all the way to a confrontation with the truth about the men in her life, both past and present. Radulescu gives Mona a convincingly overwrought voice, loading her observations with sensory detail, literary and cultural references, and keening emotion. It won’t be for everyone, but it offers a unique look at the shadowy world of a brutal dictatorship. (Aug.)