"Bucharest, my city, my alter ego"
The narrator of the novel is named Mircea and lives in Bucharest; the parents of the novel-Mircea met in 1955; the actual-life-Mircea was born in 1956, in Bucharest. But the novel isn't all that grounded in time; and while it's definitely centred in Bucharest, it isn't entirely grounded in place, either. It flashes back to the narrator's mother's family, the Badislavs, a Romanized family of Bulgarians who relocate to Romania in the 1850s. There are also sections that follow Cedric, a black jazz drummer from New Orleans, who ends up playing a club in Bucharest in the early 40s, and becomes the lover of Mircea's aunt.
It's a novel with surreal/magical/folkloric elements: The migration of the Badislavs involve the ritual sacrificing of the shadow of a young boy, to safely cross a frozen river; we're told earlier generations would have sacrificed the boy. Scenes involving Cedric take place in Louisiana, and involve the ritual exploration of an arch that opens like a vagina. I admit to finding the use of Cedric as symbol dangerously close to offensive, though I'm pretty sure it wasn't meant that way.
I found the jumping back and forth in time and place a bit difficult, though I do think an actual Romanian reader would pick up on the clues faster than I did, and it may not be so difficult for a Romanian.
There's quite a lot of symbolism involving butterflies. The other two volumes of the trilogy are Blinding: Body and Blinding: The Right Wing, so make of that what you will.
Also the narrator's mother's name is Maria/Mary. A revelation occurs at the end, after that trip into the Louisiana vagina/arch:
It heralds the Gospel for all. There is no other annunciation than a person' birth. And every birth creates a religion, it is an annunciation. And religion itself has no other meaning than birth. It shows us the Way, it reveals the Steps to us. It preaches Happiness. Already our eyes, fallen out of their sockets from such blinding blinding, will see the embryo, the child, wonder, ransom. Black and white, Asian, women, men, and children, we wait, on the edge of the abyss, rejoicing. We take light from light and never die again...I think this means well, but I'm not entirely sure. What got us here, to this revelation, was impressive, but for me at least, not entirely lucid or convincing. I'm no longer entirely certain what got me interested in this book, and while it's not really my thing, I have the suspicion it's pretty well done. Interesting, at any rate, in the Bucharest sections. A blurb on the back page compares it to Borges, García Marquez, the Brothers Grimm, some others. I'd say no. The best cite from the back of the book is Bruno Schulz. But if I was picking a comparison title, I'd say Witold Gombrowicz.
Covering Romania for the European Reading Challenge, hosted by Rose City Reader.