Synopsis of Corpuri de iluminat / Dark Bodies, a novel by Stelian Tănase

Stelian Tănase | September 30, 2008
Critic: Jean Harris


Corpuri de iluminat[1] means “lighting fixtures.” You see those words on lamp stores in Bucharest where the novel takes place. Only, the Romanian for lighting fixtures translates word for word as bodies to be lit--implicitly “bodies in need of light.”  Translated in English as Dark Bodies, Corpuri is a rock/blues novel set in the politically dark hours of eighties Bucharest--the late Ceausescu period. That was a time of cold, hunger and restricted electric light. Electricity was being saved for industry nightly, so it’s not coincidental that the need for illumination announced in the title of Dark Bodies links physical conditions of the period with the novel’s themes, characters, technique and continuing relevance.

            There’s need for light when Sandu, protagonist of Dark Bodies, jazz musician and sometime rocker, wakes from a nap on Resurrection eve to the sound of the new, urban poor lost in a domestic battle that pours through his wall. In the hall, a demented conversation awaits: a fat, panting neighbor full of grotesque friendliness pokes into Sandu’s business for the sake of Mr. Făinuş, a Securitate operative, whom, one gathers in the course of time, is the devil in this novel of Faustian bargains.

            This nocturnal novel about fundamental darkness in unenlightened souls opens in the depth of the Communist terrain:  a geography of flat blocs, broken elevators, dark halls, cold, among an urban population of displaced souls who wander the streets with small lights born home from church.   At the level of principal characters, Sandu and Pia are lovers. Their story begins in the classic bohemia of beauty and disorder, with poverty and frustration, with the most intriguing woman, the coolest guy. For a while they defy, “the pressure and the bulimia of the surrounding reality from the bunker of their unreality immured by love. That’s the miracle.” It doesn’t last. Suddenly the woman has it up to here with poverty, she’s pregnant, and on top of that it turns out that the man’s artistic commitment is real, and all that stands in the way of the woman’s feline nature, all the core of her that stretches out to hunt, which is the expression of herself, the realization of her nature. An Emma Bovary of the flat blocs, open to seduction and exhausted by unsuccessful adventures, Pia dies, wasted by forty tabs of Luminal. She’s not the only one open to seduction. Făinuş aims at Sandu as well.


[1] In the absence of proper names, Romanian titles capitalize first consonants only.


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