Introduction to A Wasted Morning

Translated and adapted by Jean Harris from Alain Nicolas’ review of “Matinée perdue,” L’Humanité, November, 24, 2005

Gabriela Adameşteanu | February 01, 2009
Translated by: Jean Harris


Vica Delcă has seen plenty in her time. She’s seventy years old, and except for her vitality, life hasn’t exactly showered her with gifts. Her good disposition doesn’t ward off (wonderfully readable) grumbling spells. She has a right to them, given the circumstances of her marriage, not to mention the rest of her life. Vica makes a habit of leaving her unpleasant, obese husband parked in front of the television from time to time, however. Then, she goes on a round of morning visits that involve giving her sister-in-law a helping hand here, seeing what’s up with her nephew there, having a bite along the way—all this as a warm up to retrieving or trying to retrieve her little monthly pension from another central character, Ivona Scarlat. If Vica doesn’t find Ivona at home, the morning will have been wasted. From our point of view, we could say, “not a bit,” although the notion of “wasted morning” has wider ramifications for the interpretation of the book as a whole.[1] But to hover around the level of plot, on the occasion of these visits we enter Vica’s interior monologue, which amounts to a trip into a memory that traverses all the great reversal suffered by Romania, beginning with the First World War. Here, we have to do with a huge chunk of the Twentieth Century as seen through the eyes of a simple woman who has worked on her hands and knees. Vica is, in fact, a person whom history has thrown back to square one, just when she had found her own little place under the sun—thanks to another war, another change of regime.

            Vica knows how to look about her though, and her memory is accurate and vast—not that the process of recollection abides with Vica alone. All the characters that cross her path this morning are bitten with a fever of reminiscence and story telling. Vica’s mocking (even bearish) interior monologue stirs other reverberations, and this technique of polyphonic narration multiplies echoes, epochs, and points of view. Having set out with Vica on a winter morning in Ceausescu’s Romania, we find ourselves in a petite-bourgeois parlor where considerations on the theme of social convention mix with political speculation, all on the eve of Romania’s entrance into the Great War. Where will Romania place itself, on the side of the Allies or on the side of the Central Powers? Romania depending as always on its alliances, this is a matter of prime importance.

            From this it should be clear that the novel operatesas a play of mirrors. Symmetries multiply, refract in perceptions, dreams, and the interior monologues of characters who have divergent visions and points of view—or who are even in open conflict with each other—beginning  with the conflict between women and men, husbands and wives. Seduction, scorn, the search for love, pity, resentment or ambition gather in a dance on this sunny afternoon when the war has not yet begun to trample the destinies of the weak and bring to light the evil and also, sometimes, the good in the characters’ personalities …

            A master of narration, Adameşteanu, entrusts the telling of the war years to Profesor Mironescu, whose rational, moderate point of view will be contradicted and retouched by the ulterior memories of the other actors in this drama in a way that gives the reader the sensation of travelling on a visit from one to the other. All this contributes to a parallel sensation of dissolving reality, which remains forever contradictory and hard to grasp. This mode of story telling comes under the sign of the inquest or tribunal. The actors and witnesses appear by turns, while the truth of a human being or an epoch labors to surface—a modality suited to this complex society fraught with Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Royalist and Soviet layers.

            All this very readable activity goes on inside a work that reinstates or restores the vocabulary of each period, each social class, each family, each and every character. We climb down from Professor Mironescu’s professorial turn of phrase, always full of French culture, to the Vica’s saucy, scornful, popular style…and the balance and unity of the book resides in their finely balanced opposition.        

[1] The translator can’t help thinking about the wasted dawn of Romania’s first democracy.


About this issue

This July, The Observer Translation Project leaves its usual format to present a special CRISIS ISSUE. Things are tough all over. Hard Times suddenly feels like the book of the moment. The global economic crisis impacts life as we know it, and viewed from Bucharest the effects reverberate in domains that include geo-politics and publishing in Romania and abroad, with the crisis at The Observer Translation Project as an instance of a universal phenomenon. read more...

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