Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: The Romanian

Bruce Benderson. The Romanian
Published by Snowbooks
Reviewed by Andrew Theophilou

What would happen if you went to Eastern Europe with no previous knowledge and nothing to guide you but your own libido? Bruce Benderson finds out as he delves into the seedy underworld of prostitution that thrives in a post-Communist era.

While on a journalist’s assignment in the region, the flabby, middle-aged American writer falls for Romulus (pictured, right), a svelte, young Romanian hustler who embodies a down-trodden nation. Back in New York, Benderson is unable to forget about Romulus. As his passion for the hustler grows, Benderson returns to Romania armed with a suitcase-full of history books and codeine pills. The nine-month affair that follows is not just one with Romulus, but with Romania itself.

The intimate narrative of Benderson’s personal infatuation is alternated with an almost textbook tone as he recounts the country’s lewd royal past. This provides a seemingly jarred narrative that is disorienting – even irritating – at first. But parallels between the personal and political are soon made clear and it’s hard not be won over by Benderson’s style. What he ultimately produces is the compelling memoir of an outsider, where his story and history are skilfully interwoven. The result is a highly addictive read.

Andrew Theophilou is a writer currently taking part in the Apprenticeships in Fiction Scheme. Legend Press is publishing a short story of his in a collection due out in February.

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