Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu

Blurb from Amazon;

An incandescent love story—a thrilling debut novel—that moves from Romania to America, from the Carpathian Mountains to Chicago, from totalitarianism to freedom, and from passionate infatuation to profound understanding.

In the summer of 1977, seventeen-year-old Mona Manoliu falls in love with Mihai, a mysterious, green-eyed boy who lives in Brasov, the romantic mountain city where she spends her summers. She can think of nothing, and no one, else. But life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu is difficult. Hunger and paranoia infect everyone; fear, too. And one day, Mona sees Mihai wearing the black leather jacket favored by the secret police. Could he be one of them?

As food shortages worsen, as more and more of her loved ones disappear in “accidents,” Mona comes to understand that she must leave Romania. She escapes in secret—narrowly avoiding the police—through Yugoslavia to Italy, and then to Chicago, a city she calls “fit for my hunger.” But she leaves without saying a final good-bye to Mihai. And though she struggles to bury her longing for the past—she becomes a doctoral student, marries, has children—she finds herself compelled to return to her country, determined to learn the truth about her one great love.

Seductive, suspenseful, intensely evocative, and told in an astonishingly original, poetic voice, Train to Trieste is a force of language and emotion, as acutely observed as it is impossible to put down.

This is a story of young love during the time just before the Romanian revolution and the toppling off Nicolae Ceausescu’s oppressive regime. Our main character and narrator is Mona Manoliu who lives with her parents in Bucharest. Her parents especially her father, resist the political regime in an atmosphere of fear in the community generated by the underhand activities of the secret police. Mona has a passionate affair with Mihai Simionu whom she can never be quite sure is not a member of the secret police. As their living conditions become intolerable Mona is assisted to leave Romania and start a new life in mid west America without telling Mihai. Some twenty years later she returns to her homeland to find out what happened to her first love.

I plodded through this book hoping it would get better for me and it did but only a by a little. It is a very good story and I am somewhat perplexed as to why I did not enjoy it more. I wonder if it was the over use of flowery descriptive writing. Or was it that I didn’t feel anything for Mona? I am still not sure. The ending is abrupt with a somewhat unfinished feel and therefore disappointing. Towards the end of the book Mona finds out that her now deceased father wrote a diary or manuscript during the years of the oppressive Romanian regime and she sets out to discover what happened to it. This new twist in the story then seems to fade away without conclusion.

In summary, I think the most enjoyable thing about the book was finding out about Romania, its culture and people and I could recommend it for that fact alone. I also think the book would make a fantastic film with a strong story set in two continents.

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