cover image The Return: A Family Revisits Their Eastern European Roots

The Return: A Family Revisits Their Eastern European Roots

Petru Popescu. Grove/Atlantic, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1613-0

Popescu has written what at first glance appears to be a tale of one who grew up under communism, escaped and then returned to visit his native land. Yet as a novelist (Almost Adam), journalist and filmmaker, he brings more to this account than a string of wistful memories. Popescu is a keen observer, and his description of life under one of Europe's worst dictatorships since WWII is chilling. Especially revealing and at times hilarious are his experiences as a journalist in the entourage of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu: he wrote his articles before the events he covered occurred, because he understood how the controlled press was expected to report. Popescu, who was a well-known author in Romania before his defection as a young man (the text is not always clear about the dates of such events), also writes affectingly here of the death of his twin brother from polio at age 13 and its effect on his family. His text is at times overwritten (the novelist repeating for effect?), and he doesn't resist letting us know he's a success in America by his frequent name dropping (""my friend John Cheever"") and other boasts: when he returns to his native Bucharest in 1991, he has to tell us he's wearing an Armani jacket (le collezioni or just Emporium?). Yet, despite the rough spots, this is an enlightening, absorbing work about surviving totalitarianism and going on to achieve the American dream. (Sept.)