I like books about misplaced histories. What happened in Romania under Ceausescu, the Armenian Genocide, India immediately after the British withdrew, Haiti after the revolution – all these events that happened and impacted thousands and have somehow been glossed over in history books and swept under the rug. Romania has always held a macabre fascination for me, I think mostly because I have lived all my life in Australia, where at most our political systems is laughable and at least we pay nothing for education and food is abundant. We are spoiled and fat and with the exception of what happened to the Aboriginal people during settlement, Australia has been lucky.
I don’t know enough to get into some political diatribe about Communism and security and nationalism and civil war and I liked that Black Sea Twilight doesn’t spend hours trying to negotiate the history of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Instead, it simply tells what was happening inside the country from the point of view of a young girl who is struggling to be an artist, struggling to be a daughter, a sister, a lover, a Romanian. As Nora juggles these roles, the story moves along at a frenetic pace. First Nora is fifteen and about to discover her passion for art and for the boy she has grown up alongside, a Muslim Turk named Gigi. When the pair rescue a melancholic and beautiful french tourist from drowning, Nora realizes that she must act in order to hold onto her loves and begins to paint the divine and grotesque images she has in her head. Life under Ceasescu is getting more and more unbearable, as Nora’s twin brother Valentin returns from Bucharest and Nora suffers septicemia after procuring an illegal abortion which brings her family and all those around her under government suspicion. When Nora, Gigi and Valentin all have their university applications knocked back after her and Gigi unwittingly overhear military secrets, Nora knows she must leave Romania and make her way to Paris where she can be free to live and love and make art.
After two years lost and alone in Istanbul, Nora finds herself in Paris once again saving the tragic Anushka from herself. She enters into the university of art and finds new friends, but she longs for the freedom of her beloved Gigi, to see her brother and family again. In discovering unspoken truths about her new friends – Anushka, the circus girl Didona who once broke her brother’s heart and the motherly Agadira – Nora finds herself learning more about herself, her art and what she is going to become. Finally the Romanian revolution overthrows the dictatorship and Nora is free to speak with her Mama and see her brother perform in concert. But so much has changed, not only within Nora herself, but with the country she fled and the love of her life who has been on his own hard journey. There is no going back, but what life are they going forward into?
This book doesn’t stop. Told in first person by Nora with dialogue both spoken and implied, this novel allows you not only into Nora’s life, but into her very soul. Colours and shapes and sensations come alive thanks to Radulescu’s beautiful and frenzied prose. Although in some instances it is difficult to keep track, this adds to the narrative – When Nora arrives in Istanbul, ill, suffering from amnesia and uncertain even of the language she is speaking, the scene and language picks you up and carries you on a bizarre carnival ride of emotion and longing and confusion and art. When Agadira and Nora are nursing Anushka through the ravages of heroin withdrawal, it seems as though time condenses into a long twilight with no sleep and no awake and no beginning and no end, which only serves to elaborate the desolation and suffering of Anushka and the desperation of her nurses. The tag line on this copy of the novel says it is “a spellbinding story of escape and self-discovery”. and I certainly found myself captivated, dizzied and gloried by it, enthralled by the sense of history and more than a little in love with Nora for all her strengths and weaknesses. I’m certainly on the look out for Radulescu’s other novel, Train to Trieste.