|Doina Ruşti||Manuscrisul fanariot||Mămica la două albăstrele||Patru bărbaţi plus Aurelius||Cămaşa în carouri||Lizoanca||Fantoma din moară||Zogru||Omuleţul roşu|
25 09 2008,
9 10 2008, 17h, Bucuresti, Carturesti Club
6 10 2008: Sibiu
24 10 2008: Cluj
16 10 2009 - Frankfurt
video tv cultural
“The product of a powerful original prose writer, a rara avis in post communist Romanian literature, The Ghost in the Mill is not only a first-rate literary event of the current year, but also one of the most convincingly poignant works of fiction addressing the topic of local communism to be published during the last decade. (Paul Cernat - Revista 22, Bucureştiul cultural, 2.12.2008)
This mill, which is an axis mundi, the center, the hearth and the obsession of the village, where the character has no clue if he has met the angel or the devil, this mill is the place where a murder occurs, as at the dawn of all worlds: a certain Max, an epileptic, is killed by mistake [...] and everybody is obliged to keep silent, thus becoming accomplices in the murder. We have all been accomplices in what has defined and punished us. This is the parable of communism. A novel with substance, a sinewy prose which, I repeat, equals a part or several parts of Cărtărescu’s Orbitor”. (Dan C. Mihăilescu, Omul care aduce cartea, ProTV, 13 10 2008)
Doina Ruşti has the vocation of a builder constructor, the capacity to build a meaningful narrative and exuberant imagination. If asked to recommend certain characters, pages or sequences from the second part of The Ghost in the Mill, I wouldn’t know which to mention first, because almost all of them are remarkable. There is no doubt that it would be far too less if I only mentioned Săndina, the old cooperative worker, that lurks around the deserted mill and writes, without anybody suspecting her, informative notes for the Secret Police, the grotesque Gabriel Neicuşoru, the unctuos physicist from the Phenomena Institute, or the terrifying scene where the mill is demolished. Bianca Burţa Cernat - Observator cultural, nr. 459, 29 01 2009
The Ghost in the Mill (Polirom Publishing House, 2008) is, from my point of view, the best novel published last year. Şerban Axinte – Observator cultural, nr. 459, 29 01 2009
The characters drawn by Doina Rusti are incredibly genuine: the author has the rare gift of seeing things both in a synthetical and a contingent way, including detail within the portrait. The core of the novel is the second part: The Mill, being slightly over 200 pages and exceptional. It is this time-space condensed sequence that reveals the great qualities of the author; these are the narrative construction and the capacity to suggest the texture (substance) of a certain humanity. Mihai Iovanel, Cultura, 29 01 2009, nr. 4
Doina Rusti is a mature, complete writer, one of the most professional Romanian writers today, with well-defined themes of work and a qualified view on the way literature should be written. Her talent does not necessarily stand for her ability to build phrases, but characters and situations which are not only convincing, but also give you the sentiment of contingency. The imagined scenes are stringent and their fall-like succession is overwhelming. The theme of communism suits very well with such a gifted writer, the demoniacal history of the terrible 45 years that
has undergone in the isolated space of a village. (Doris Mironescu - Suplimentul de cultură, 9-15 mai, 2009) Romania
Doina Rusti joins the elite of our still youthful prose writers with her third novel, both ambitious and masterful. (...) The second part, the longest one (of The Ghost in the Mill) is read and assimilated with higher difficulty, as the description is a little too detailed, almost journalistic. But it is worth reading. The whole construction is remarkable: the epic matter, both dense and fluid, typologically diversified and symbolically rearticulated; the varying rhythm, alert or slow, of the narrative; the clever assemblage and great control. And above everything, an obvious artistic maturity. Daniel Cristea Enache - Timpuri noi, Ed. Polirom, 2009, p. 177
The Ghost in the Mill is, without any doubt, one of the landmarks of Romanian contemporary prose, because of the technical clearness of the writing which simulates innocence, the morbid-exuberant imagination and, last but not least, the convincing manner in which it revisits the totalitarian period, with tender detachment, obsession for details and understanding. Gabriel Cosoveanu: Ramuri, No. 10, October,
, 2008 Craiova
The Ghost in the Mill
Polirom Publishing, Iasi, 2008
The real mill
trans. Alistair Ian Blyth
1. Last year, sometime in November, I saw the novel in the window of the Sadoveanu Bookshop. The book was placed in a prominent position; the title was in large letters, Arial font: The Secret Life of Adela Nicolescu as told by Florian Pavel. My brain furrowed fleetingly and I remained stock-still, my eyes glued to the window. On the navy-blue cover was my own name, which I was seeing in print and on display for the first time. Maybe it was a coincidence. I read the title on the cover once more and went into the bookshop. The counter was heaped with books, but all I could see was my own name. I opened the book and had the impression that everyone was looking at me. I felt as though the door of a hot oven had suddenly opened inside my head. The book was about me. From the very first page I knew it, and now, having read the novel, I know it for sure.
Then, that dyspnoeic November day, I bought the book, I went home, turned on the heating, snuggled up in an armchair, and began to read:
That spring, Del realised that the world was changing, perhaps not in any lucid way, but she knew that what she was feeling came from a perilous zone of fundamental transformations. One evening, after having spent the day, as usual, with Auntie Lena in the summerhouse in the yard, she had gone back into the big house with the feeling that something grave was happening. It was empty, as though everyone had died. The mirror in the hall was gone and no one had lit the lamps. From between the brick-red curtains the familiar figure of Ion Nicolescu could clearly be discerned, peering from a gilded frame, straight ahead, from beneath his bowler hat, holding his lion-headed walking stick. Del slipped through the darkness as far as the bedroom. But nothing remained of what she once knew. There were no longer the beds and the wardrobe with three mirrors, but only a round, rather low table, which she had seemingly seen somewhere else. And a few chairs. Warm evening light was streaming through the windows, Del took a step towards a familiar settee, which was dark green, like most of the chairs in the house, and nestled in it, thinking that if she closed her eyes and sat like that for a while something miraculous would happen and bring back all the familiar objects. She had not been sitting for long, or perhaps time had acquired a different consistency, in any case after a little while she felt a strange presence, a soft step, a gliding along the walls. She fondly opened her eyes, expecting to see her mother or grandmother or someone from the household. She peeped though her eyelashes. Then out of one eye. Next to one of the windows a man was standing, rather a kind of dwarf, an individual with short legs and a scrunched up head, as though it were made of pellets of paper. Del shuddered. The little man had gleaming, restless eyes, although she could not say what it was that made him seem that way. He was hideous. He was a frightful little man, with huge eyes, with fat jowls, with a nose that was crooked and ground down like wood by a lathe. The little man was illumined all round, he had a glowing aura as though he were standing in a powerful spotlight.
“Perhaps I am not exactly as you imagined,” he told her, in the stammering, strained voice of someone making a great effort to speak. His words emerged from his mouth as though from a burrow guarded by squirming molluscs. “Perhaps I am not exactly as you imagined,” he repeated, as though mockingly, “but I assure you that it’s me. You wanted to see me. Here I am.”
Del understood every word and thenceforward, throughout her life, she was to relive in moments of calm solitude the details of the fear, the warmth of the revelation and the immense disgust at the thought that all her hopes could be reduced to the image of a monstrous midget, that is, to the complex situation she was now experiencing, one which thwarted any initiative to speak or move. The dwarf had smiled and the flesh of his face had quivered slightly. On his crown he had two swellings, or two ears, as big as the tips of Del’s little fingers. This discovery made her laugh. Not for a moment had she thought she was conversing with the devil. She even knew for sure that the dwarf was the other one, the good one.
“I am God. Do not forget me,” he had confirmed, rising towards the high ceiling, becoming ever longer and thinner, turning into a transparent thread, into a shadow that began to dissolve into the room as the sun set.
Del found her grandmother after a while and she took her into another room, where she had just moved the child’s bed. It was a small room, in which up to then she had kept the washstand and the cupboard for the sheets.
“I’ve made up a room here just for you, you’re a big girl now, you can’t keep getting in their way, you have to learn to sleep by yourself, well, never mind, no harm will come to you, there’s a door here which leads to their bedroom and this one leads into ours, through this window you can watch the folk passing on the road and if you’ve got good eyesight you can see as far as Julia’s garden, it’s best to have a room of your own, to learn how to make your bed from an early age, to arrange your things nicely, to look after yourself during the night, to cover yourself up, to tuck in your blanket, it won’t be long before you go to school, you’ll be doing your homework in here, you’ll keep your exercise books here, and your books will sit all in a row on those shelves, then you’ll see how good it is to have a room of your own, with no one to bother you, there are a lot of people who would like to have a room of their own, but they’re forced to live higgledy-piggledy all in one room, with a bare earth floor, or with cement covered in linoleum, because not many houses nowadays have floorboards, how many people do you think live like us, oh, what a wretched life they lead.”
“I don’t want to go to school.”
“When? Did anyone tell you to go? It’s the holidays now. Until Easter.”
“You. You said earlier. You ought to know that I don’t want to go to school.”
“Ah! Next year, you mean, when you’re six? It doesn’t matter, we’ll send you when you’re seven, when you’re more grown up.”
“I don’t want to when I’m seven. I don’t want to. Ever.”
“Who taught you not to want to go to school? Our family have never adverse to learning, since the year 1700 all our folk have been bookish, and teachers in the main, like me and like Sile and like that old teacher, God rest his soul!”
“You know, I met God.”
“Oh, come on, we’ve got a whole load of chores to do and I’m counting on you to pick the walnuts so I can make the boiled-wheat and honey offerings for the dead. Tomorrow we’re commemorating my father-in-law, we’re going to the cemetery at daybreak, the two of us, because Auntie Lena’s got a cold, she’s getting old, close the door tightly and hold on to my skirt until we go down to the room in the barn to crack the nuts.”
In midsummer, Cristina was born and for Del the appearance of the world began to take on new, unsuspected and undesired details. The whole household was in a fever the day Ica gave birth to her second child. A great banquet was held, with tables in the courtyard, lots of people, and choice dishes. They all forgot about the other child. Del wandered around among the people, put up with all their questions, and sat down at a table next to Predeasca, a puckered old lady, who never spoke except about how things should be done: that’s how to hold your fork, that’s where to put your handkerchief, that’s how to smooth out your frock.
As evening fell, she slipped off towards the large oven in the courtyard, where bread had been baking all day. It was warm. She went inside, sat on the swept hearth, and leant her back against the wall at the back, heedless of her white silk dress, and began to stare at the sky, against which had risen the moon, as round as an eye. Then her God descended for the second time.
It was not quite like that, and I started calling myself Del much later, shortening my long, antiquated first name: Adela. But this is not essential. What struck me in the first chapter was a certain familiarity with intense experiences. Plus my grandmother, whom I hadn’t thought about for a long time. She was a short woman, I think she was about four feet nine, her face like a lizard’s, brown, wrinkled and seemingly riveted with two huge black eyeballs, which she used to roll like Bette Davis, her favourite actress. I recall how we used to sit on the edge of our seats in the 60s watching films with Bette Davis cast in the role of devil-woman, and my grandmother would read the subtitles out loud for us, stressing every nuance, moving her face like the character, sometimes even getting to her feet. She used to wear all kinds of odd frocks with tight waists, with busts adorned with enough flounces, lace and stitching to make your eyes pop out. In almost every room we had a large wardrobe and almost all of them were full of her clothes. Many of them had been made in the inter-war period, but from time to time she used to have things made by Dobreasca, who lived two houses further down, in the same neighbourhood.
My memory is of her being in constant motion, dashing about in large, flowery dressing gowns, in slippers that were usually a size too big, or wearing hellishly high heels, trussed up in her sophisticated dresses, with yellow and green stripes, in checked and above all mustard-coloured jackets, bossing everyone about. Our house was always full of visitors, people who came regularly or occasionally, relatives, friends and the ever-present Lache Ogaru, a thin old man with a long nose, who would always be telling stories in a voice that would beckon me from whichever room I happened to be in, and who used to come regularly at five o’clock in the afternoon to drink his coffee with my grandmother, whom he imperially referred to as Josephine. I recall his straw hat with its black band and his white walking stick, how with excessive protocol he would bow to all his listeners, and even to me. Whenever he told his stories it would seem as though he was bound to his listener by a silken thread. It used to be the time of day with the greatest circulation of people: all kinds of folk would come to greet my grandmother or, more rarely, to seek out my grandfather, who used to sit on the balcony most of the time or on the steps of the house, during the broad expanse of five o’clock in the afternoon.
The rest of the day, there would be even greater bustle, but in the yard and in the kitchen. Both of them would wake up at the crack of dawn to feed the animals. We had a large yard and a few hundred birds, especially turkeys, hens and geese. Besides the poultry, there was a pen with five or six goats, which were so mean that not even the shepherd would take them, but which we had to keep for milk and especially kefir, which they used to make every three days.
And then there were the sheep, which came home only to winter, at most a dozen animals cast into the stable that had once been for horses and which still preserved their polished, yellow wooden manger. In addition, we had two pigs and some dogs, in another yard. It was hard work in our house, especially in the morning, when I used to hear my grandmother’s voice even in my sleep. Sometimes I would wake up and run into the living room to peep through the window at what they were doing in the yard, and I would be overcome with horror at how much toil was expended in that square space surrounded on all sides by buildings: the barn with the chicken coops, the storeroom with the hayloft, the house, the summerhouse and, at the bottom, the summer kitchen, under whose window the oven rose like a little red house, with its mouth gaping towards the storeroom. Between these buildings there was a space as smooth as the palm of your hand, around which my grandmother would be bustling, small, wearing a skirt or large, flowery dress, holding and huge wooden spoon and speaking incessantly: Ica, come and take these geese and scald them and then fetch some water for Vitina, and what are you looking at? Have you finished chopping the wood? Then go with Sile to the garden and after you’re finished there bring back some vegetables for the salad. She had all kinds of people to help her, like Vitina, who used to come to wash the laundry for a twenty-lei piece, or Ilie, who used to chop wood and help around the garden for a bottle of plum brandy. But it was mother whom she worked the hardest. She used to get her to cook, iron and do all kinds of finicky tasks, which she didn’t like one little bit, but which she used to do sulkily, with downcast eyes, ready to burst into tears at any moment. Everybody had something to do in that house, including Cristina, who, when she was old enough, was in charge of watering the garden. Everybody apart from me. I never used to do anything, absolutely anything if I didn’t like it. Most of the time, I would descend the steps at the back of the house, which led into that bustling yard, and climb up one of the posts that flanked them. I would sit there looking, leaning my chin on my hand, absolutely immune to the orders or pleas of my grandmother. I used to like looking at Vitrina scrubbing the clothes on a wooden frame, over a blue tub shaped like a whale. I used to like looking at Ilie chopping the geese on a tree stump by the gate, with a rounded, thin axe head. But above all, I was fascinated by the way in which my grandfather used to light the fire in the stove, casting into the flames thin branches one by one, like walking sticks, from a stack to the left of the oven. They used to work hard, they would prepare a number of meals a day, they would make all kinds of conserves, filling the cellar with jars of pickles, jam, salted fish, barrels of cabbage, wine, waxed watermelons, potatoes buried in sand, because otherwise we won’t be able to cope with life, my grandmother used to explain, opening her eyes as wide as could be, and much later I realised that all their toil came from a way of life that they had inherited and which consisted of a duty towards life itself. They had two salaries as teachers, and then two pensions, with which they bought wheat and maize for the poultry, sugar for the jam, and lamp oil. These were the essential purchases. Everything else was produced there, in the yard or in the garden, in a daily and heroic struggle.
As for my encounter with God… In reality it was a question of a terrible dream, which troubled me for a long time afterwards. It was a meeting that took place in the cellars of my brain. It was one summer afternoon – I must have been about five years old. I had been playing in the yard, it is true, and the sun had been beating down on my head. At a given moment, not towards evening, but in the middle of the day, I went into the house. I wanted to catch my breath, to cool down, but also to discover something new, because there was always something to be discovered in that house. Again, it is striking that I found the house almost empty, exactly the same as in the novel, because they were getting ready to do the cleaning and had taken the furniture out into the yard. The portrait of my great-grandfather was probably on the wall, it was always there, I can almost see him now, standing in his black overcoat, holding his walking stick, a hat crushed down on his head, as though a cat had just been sleeping on it. He had a gaze that stapled itself to my brain. On the opposite wall, above the door, there was an icon of the Mother of God, also with a piercing gaze, and I often had the impression that the two were looking at each other.
Passing from one room to another, I reached the chamber at the back, which I used to call the ghosts’ room, because it was darker, uninhabited, and the only room that had remained unlit even after electricity had been installed. I never used go in except in search of adventure, especially when the chest was open for airing. The chest! It was a metallic blue and bound with iron bands, splayed at the ends like claws. In it they kept all the old embroidery, the Austrian lacework, the stitched blouses that won prizes at the royal exhibition, the jewellery, the deeds to the land, strange old-fashioned toys, and a whole host of things you could never grow tired of looking at. The chest was hard to open, and so most of the time I would pass it with bated breath and just stroke the tiny, gleaming scales in which it was upholstered.
That day, I stretched out on the bed and fell asleep facing the windows, large windows which pierced the whole wall overlooking the road, but which were partly covered by the crown of the linden tree. I knew that beyond the heavy linden leaves lay the East, which is to say the highway and the abandoned mill. I fell asleep and had a terrifying dream:
It was the end of the world. Gouts of flame fell from the sky, people were running in every direction, and I was looking out of the window, from the ghosts’ room. All of a sudden there was a white light, from the stars, and a giant appeared, whose steps made the earth shake. When he drew level with me, he bent down; he placed one foot on the mill and bent down towards me. He was old, wrinkled; he had a huge nose and eyes of flame. He took me by the chin and said: I am God. For many years after that, if I dreamt something bad, if so much as a single frightening image appeared, I would wake up as a reflex action.
As for the party at the birth of my sister, who is, of course, called Cristina, that’s exactly how it was: I went inside the oven, but it was because it had grown late, I was sleepy and since no one had any intention of going to bed it would have meant staying in the house alone. Auntie Lena found me there in the morning, when she wanted to kindle a fire for the second party.
It wasn’t quite like it was in reality in that novel, but it was about me. From the very first, I was convinced that the man who had written it somehow knew me, although his name didn’t mean anything to me: Florian Pavel. It might have been a nom-de-plume. I turned on the computer right then, as soon as I finished reading the first chapter, and looked up the author’s name on the Internet. I found two texts, one at the LiterNet web site and another in the Today newspaper. In both, there were eulogistic things about the writer Florian Pavel, born on 8 August 1980 in Bucharest. The novel about me was his first. A novel of assured maturity, it said in one review. Indeed, it also seemed to me to have been written by a person much older, in any case I hadn’t imagined it would be someone aged twenty-five. In Today it said that he was a musician, that he composed electronic music to be more exact. At the time I thought that he might be the son of someone from our family, someone with whom we had broken off relations or the son of some acquaintance, as so often happens, on whom I had made an impression at a certain point in my life, either directly or through the descriptions of a third person. I had told so many stories so many times, as one does during fleeting encounters, sometimes even to strangers, dwelling on certain details, on certain feelings, which I didn’t view in the same way a second or third time, because I have not narrated them to just one person or on just one occasion. Who can remember all the stories he has ever told!
Apart from that, there was also the unusual language of the ghost. How could Pavel have known about that, when I swear that the only ones who knew about were me and her?
Copyright © Doina Ruşti