Monthly Archives: May 2016

Mircea Cartarescu – Why We Love Women (De ce iubim femeile)

Mircea Cartarescu’s book is a collection of personal essays on women. I’m not sure why I picked it up; maybe it was the idea that soon enough I would be far away from Romanian literature (the odds of finding anything in this language in Bangkok are pretty slim) so I’d better take advantage of the time I had left and the books available. Strangely enough, a few days after finishing the book I found out about Romanian Writers Challenge hosted by Snow Feathers and thought this was too much of a coincidence. Hence the review.
I really liked this book up to the last story. That one robbed it of a 5 star rating. But bear with me, we’ll get there.

Mircea Cartarescu

Mircea Cartarescu

Twenty-one short essays about women – women who were unforgettable for different reason, some, because of their beauty, others because of what they did (or didn’t do), or the way they came back into the author’s life after a long time. Stories of lust, love, eroticism, betrayal, tragedy, all plucked from the folds of memory, dusted and printed on the page, ready to be smiled upon, frowned upon and even shed a tear upon. I smiled reading about Carturescu’s self-professed awkwardness and I can very well imagine the strange, thin youth who used to go around quoting favorite authors to the dismay of acquaintances and girls in particular. I kept smiling when he talked about finding a room filled with old books in a dilapidated building, and spending hours of pleasure immersed in reading, sealed away from the world until one day the room along with its treasure was gone.

It’s hard to describe with accuracy the tone of some of the stories. Imbued with the air of a long gone era – some of them take place during the communist regime that ended in 1989 – I found myself laughing at some of the expressions I found nearly impossible to translate. I wonder what the English translation of this book is like. Although Cartarescu is older than I am (he was born in 1956 and is still living), he talks about a Bucharest that doesn’t seem that old – a dilapidated house, a subway station, the gray apartment buildings rising tall and ugly (they’re still there), a black and white photograph (my parents still have those, where people look like ghosts printed on hard pieces of paper with jagged border all around), a big market that still exists where Gypsies are on the prowl for wallets belonging to inattentive customers. This is probably the main reason why I felt such a connection with these stories – he writes about the familiar, things and people I can readily imagine and accept because at some point I’ve seen/met them.

There are some stories that are not that personal – Zaraza is one of them. This is one of my favorites because it’s a tale of a love story so intense and dramatic I couldn’t help but be moved and immensely saddened by it. According to the author, this is a true story that happened in 1944 when Bucharest was caught in the grip of war and the nightlife was luxurious, loud and tumultuous. Two famous singers vied for public attention, Cristian Vasile si Zavaidoc. They were rivals and both under the protection of local gangs. Because they were so popular nobody would touch them, although Zavaidoc wished his rival’s death and even asked a local gangster to kill him. But the man liked Cristian Vasile’s music and refused to kill him. He killed his lover instead, the famous Gypsy woman Zaraza. Her death was the end of Cristian Vasile’s life as a singer. After she was cremated, he stole her ashes and ate them one spoon at a time, then tried to kill himself by drinking a toxic substance. He survived, lost his voice and kept on living, a broken man who made his living as a stagehand in a theatre, nearly voiceless and forgotten.
Probably his most famous song which bears the name of his beloved has survived and you can listen to it here:

The last essay in the book is an ode to women everywhere. Carturescu sees women as candid beings, sensual, sometimes difficult to understand but always great to be loved. He also shows a somewhat archaic understanding of women by claiming they don’t do things I’m sure most of them are familiar with. Here’s a 5 minute YouTube reading of that last essay. I found minute 4.20 particularly funny.

I enjoyed these stories/essays. They kept me alert, the writing is smooth and lyrical and sensual, with a pinch of the bizarre, and Cartarescu’s flair for the dramatic stands out. This is certainly a great book and one I recommend. You can find the English translation by following this link.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in February-March 2016






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A little bit of everything, including Easter eggs and squirrels

I am now back in Bangkok after eight months spent at home in Bucharest. Those were probably the most intense months I have experienced, save perhaps for the first year I came to Thailand (nothing will beat that year). These months left me feeling like I’ve been through an emotional cyclone – I’ve seen hospitals, scars and suffering, and I’ve experienced the horrible feeling of watching someone very dear to me fight unbearable pain without being able to do much to help. I’ve been to a funeral, two weddings, and was there when my two best friends announced their pregnancies. All this made me look at life in a new way and it is also the reason I was mostly absent from the blogosphere – spending time with family and friends took over everything else, even reading and most definitely writing.

Books for sale in central Bucharest

Books for sale in central Bucharest

It didn’t really dawn on me I was coming back to Bangkok until the last week – I had a “moment” while in a café & bookshop near Cismigiu Park, a moment when I realized it might be a while before I would be back. It was definitely a goodbye moment, something I didn’t really want to think about but apparently that wasn’t up to me.
And so here I am, and as I made my way out of the Suwarnabhumi airport, I got to experience all over again the overwhelming heat – it’s the hot season and the difference in temperature is shocking, even if Bucharest was warm enough for short sleeves when I left. Bangkok air is heavy and humid and it has an almost liquid quality – it feels as if the air itself pushes its sticky claws into your lungs.

Last Sunday was Easter day and I woke up thinking I should get up and do something before it got too hot to do anything. So I painted some eggs and took some photos and just about managed to avoid the worst of the heat. It’s hellishly hot from around 12 to 5 in the afternoon, which is the time I usually spend watching a movie and reading or aimlessly browsing Facebook posts and lying to myself that I’m just getting settled even if it’s been more than I week since my return and this is my first blog post in a long time.

Ship of Destiny As for reading, last year I left in the middle of a trilogy – I was reading book two of The Liveship Traders, a wonderful work of fantasy by Robin Hobb, and now I’m almost halfway through the last book. Ships with talking figureheads, a pirate, and a family drama unfolding against a backdrop of political unrest, this trilogy is truly wonderful (even if not as amazing as The Farseer Trilogy).

I’m still participating in the Romanian Writers Challenge and the review for the first book will be posted next week if the internet cooperates. It’s been behaving erratically these past few days.
I look forward settling back into a routine, definitely reading more and hopefully writing more as well. It may take me a while to catch up with all of the blog posts I missed but I’ll get there.
And finally, a squirrel, because why not. I took this photo with my phone, in a park back home, sneaking up on the little creature as it was in the middle of a feast.






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