The Romanian writer Mircea Cartarescu is interviewed and profiled in the latest post at www.signandsight.com, which is the most important culture site in the world. It is based on the best cultural articles from the three major German newspapers and is one of the very very rare sites that seems to be genuinely interested in a real cross-section of political and aesthetic view points. It used to come every morning, five times a week, but now it is only comes twice or so a week.
The site was celebrating Cartarescu's trilogy ORBITOR (Glaring) originally published in 1996, 2002 and now finished in 2007. The site reports that it, "describes a city awash with thrills and nightmares... captures the socialist capital (Bucharest) in the moment of its downfall. His magical realism gives a prefab block--- in reality a celebration of the perpendicular--- on oval window and the socialist years a metaphysical superstructure. Bucharest becomes a mystical city." Cartarescu says of his book, "Sometimes I explain my book as a mystical butterfly or a flying cathedral."
In 2005, I reviewed for the LATimes Cartarescu's first book to be translated into English, NOSTALGIA. (New Directions) I talked in terms of Joyce, Pessoa, Hamsun and could have easily gone on to Faulkner. And if you may forgive the blurb I buried in the review, "NOSTALGIA is gripping, impassioned, unexpected--- the qualities the best in literature possesses."
Earlier in the review I had gone on about reverberating nuance and self-consciousness but I tried to lure readers into the book with: "NOSTALGIA opens with "The Roulette Player, a hypnotic suspenseful prologue in which a man rises to an unimaginable level of success playing Russian roulette and, when no longer facing any challenger, decides to challenge himself by adding bullets to the revolver."
After reading the interview profile of Cartarescu I got in touch with New Directions his American publisher and heard back that it is unlikely that they will be doing any more of his books as NOSTALGIA has sold only around 500 copies.
No reader should think that figure is unusual. Back in 1979/80 I remember talking with the publisher of Alfred A. Knopf after CORRECTION by Thomas Bernhard had been published. This guy reported to me that to date they had sold a combined grand total of around a thousand copies of all three Bernhard books they had published, GARGOYLES, THE LIME WORKS AND CORRECTIONS.
Happily, Knopf was not discouraged by that figure and maybe New Directions will have a change of heart.
I had wanted to talk about my own books but that will have to be for another day.
Before I go, I was also thinking that today in two sections of a freshman composition course at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY, students were describing their experience of reading Ernst Junger's STORM OF STEEL. I also was re-reading it in preparation for talking about it on Wednesday and found this tiny bit that seems to be a fitting end to this writing.
It is from late in the book in the year 1918:
"I led my three platoons string out in file a cross the terrain, with circling aeroplanes bombing and strafing overhead. When we reached our objective, we dispersed into shell-holes and dug-outs, as occasional shells came lobbing over the road.
I felt so bad that day that I lay down in a little piece of trench and fell asleep right away. When I woke up, I read a few pages of TRISTRAM SHANDY, which I had with me in my map case, and so apathetically, like an invalid, I spent the sunny afternoon."