Review of Miruna, a Tale in SEEJ

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Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, spring 2016 SEEJ_60_1


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However, the most sensuous aspects of the book are the six wood engravings by Sascha Schneider interspersed with the text. The illustrations augment the novel’s mystical and darkly spiritual motifs. Created in the style of Félician Rops and Odilon Redon four years before the novel was published, Schneider’s engravings do not directly represent the text but rather can be used to capture the essence of its atmosphere. They solidify the impression of angst and morbidity that the novel fosters. The complementary Decadent nature of the book’s text, images, and form makes the reader’s encounter with it both profound and pleasurable. Jonathan Stone, Franklin & Marshall College

Bogdan Suceavă. Miruna, a Tale. Trans. Alistair Ian Blyth. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2014. 141 pp. $15.00 (paper). Two young siblings, Trajan and Miruna, go to a mountain village to visit their grandparents. When their mother tells Miruna her grandfather is a giant, she says “[g]iants are in fairy tales,” but Trajan, the narrator, tells us there is “some truth” to what their mother had said, for their grandfather’s overgrown stature and bent-over posture resemble a giant’s (9). Bogdan Suceavă’s Miruna, a Tale begins with this message: fantastical, impossible narratives bring insight to, and extract truth from, the facts of everyday life. Trajan confesses, again on the first page, “I cannot claim to have understood [...] at all. Now, after so many years, I realize that back then I comprehended nothing” (9). The verb “understand” is repeated throughout the novel to show readers how varied and elusive truth can be. By thinking back on that time and telling the story to us, Trajan comes to “realize” something about the person he was “back then.” Here the importance of memory and storytelling, the premise of the novel, is first introduced. In accordance with oral storytelling, the story unfolds through frame narration. The plot is simple: an aging grandfather (Niculae Berca) spins tales of his town (Evil Vale) and father (Constantine Berca) for his two young grandchildren, just as those tales were passed onto him. Along the way, however, wrinkles and folds of rich context unfurl, including cultural change, from the Romanian War of Independence (1877–1878) to the emergence of trams and typewriters; Romanian history and folklore, with allusions to people, places, and times, poets, fairy tales, and epic heroes (all conveniently collected in the endnotes); along with a snapshot of peasant life in the Carpathians, where peculiar characters charm and delight. Evil Vale remains one of the last places untouched by twentieth-century modernity—a place that seems to predate Western empirical-rational assumptions of what is true. Rather, someone known as Old Woman Fira, an impossibly old soothsayer and speaker-in-tongues, governs the town with rumor and curse. Meanwhile, the priest Father Dimitrie struggles with a congregation that only attends church to admire his singing. The pair’s antics—which begin with Dimitrie’s convincing Fira she must renounce her supernatural activities in order to achieve everlasting life and end with his admittance that “all these years” she has been “one word ahead” of him (94)—represent the conflict between institutional and spiritual interpretations of truth. Niculae Berca’s matter-of-fact tone allows the reader to suspend disbelief in response to unconventional truths. He describes a mysterious portal from Romania to Greece with the same tone, neither more nor less embellished, that he uses for factual events. In fact, he reads newspapers aloud as if they had “a whiff of the unreal” (17). Mythologizing interjections—“it is said” (22), “so it is written” (44), “(so the captain told)” (83)—lend further authority to the tales (someone else confirms the narrator’s account) but also draw attention to their status as tales (narratives said, written, or told rather than occurrences seen or heard firsthand). We become children, like Trajan and Miruna, in our willingness to believe the possibility of anything. This suspension of disbelief, in which we do not assume that something did or did not defin-




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itively happen, but instead savor the dissonance of both literal and metaphorical possibilities, allows for imaginative turns of phrase. Niculae’s wife does not age quickly, so she “age[s] only three seasons a year” (41). When Constantine Berca utters a curse against his neighbor Enache Mâzgău, Mâzgău’s suffering “wither[s] the grass in his yard” (77). Or, in Evil Vale, when someone thinks of another person, you “would run into one another” (40). While these explanations are not necessarily impossible, they are unlikely according to a modern worldview. Some of the novel’s most memorable sentences, which complement the more imaginative explanations of day-to-day life, render human experience with simplicity and tenderness. Young Niculae, when overcome by reports of tragedy and cruelty in the newspaper, “would [...] peruse the classifieds offering items for sale, the more reassuring ones, the ones reasonably priced, the ones never causing heart pangs” (19). Would indicates that Niculae makes a habit of this small comfort, the reliable world of household objects. Near the end of the novel, Trajan writes, “I was as blind as a mole and felt alone, and I saw that Grandfather was ill and his room was in disarray” (109). Simple expressions, such as an idiom (blind as a mole) and being verbs (was appears three times) convey the helplessness of coming to terms with grief. Trajan’s poignant recollection of his grandfather’s death reinterprets the novel. Miruna, a Tale appears to be about Miruna—her inheritance of Niculae’s storytelling intuition (which readers must take for granted) and her embodiment of tales (“a tale” is not a subtitle, but instead an appositive). But Miruna’s sparse appearance in the narrative remains ineffective; her role in the frame narration, interruption, annoys more than it inspires. Trajan attempts to preserve his grandfather’s memory, just as Niculae attempts to preserve his father’s adventures and Evil Vale’s portrait of a world forgotten. When Trajan refers to “the best years” in Niculae’s life, he adds, “[h]e never told us anything about those years” (117), perhaps to reinforce that Nicolae tells stories for the sake of his listeners and cultural memory rather than selfish indulgence. Miruna, a Tale is a small, pleasant book. The text is only 120 pages in length and can easily be enjoyed within a day or two. Twisted Spoon Press’s product—clean and elegant, with highquality paper and excellent design (fonts, margins, inside covers)—matches the narrative’s charm. The book’s frontispiece, a black-and-white photo from the author’s archives, is particularly exquisite. Miruna would be well-suited for university courses with a focus on, and readers with an interest in, folklore or magical realism. Courtney Coppage, Charles University in Prague

Alexander Burak. “The Other” in Translation: A Case for Comparative Translation Studies. Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2013. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. x 218 pp. $29.95 (paper). The author of two earlier books, a series of lectures on problems of translation—Translating Culture 1 and 2—Alexander Burak continues his endeavors in comparative translation studies. In his new work, Burak brings together the theory and practice of translation, discussing approaches and strategies used by translators and analyzing ways to overcome problems which arise during the translation process. The author uses six case studies of different translations of the same texts to answer two questions: 1) What are the linguistic means, translation techniques, and cultural assumptions that are involved in reconstituting in English (or Russian) those elements of the Russian (or English) original that are alien to English (or Russian) speakers culturally and are untranslatable into English (or Russian) linguistically? and 2) How does this reconstituting of linguistic and sociocultural meanings affect the perception of the receiving audience? The argument is based on comparative translation discourse analysis, as opposed to an aesthetic approach, which focuses on the quality of sound in the target language (1). Two chapters present an analysis of translations into Russian of Hemingway’s works and

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