Doina Ruști

The Ghost in the Mill (Fantoma din moară)

The Ghost in the Mill (Fantoma din moară) - Doina Ruști
Polirom Publishing, 2008 (Romanian)
The Ghost in the Mill (Fantoma din moară) - Doina Ruști
Klak Publishing, 2017 (Berlin)
The Ghost in the Mill (Fantoma din moară) - Doina Ruști
Polirom Publishing, 2017 (Romanian)

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.

The Ghost in the Mill is an imaginative novel, in line with autobiographical fiction, in which magic realism and daily realism intertwine. [...] 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

Doina Ruști 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 Neicușoru, the unctuos physicist from the Phenomena Institute, or the terrifying scene where the mill is demolished."

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.

Doina Ruști 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 Romania has undergone in the isolated space of a village.

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Doina Ruști 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.

The Ghost in the Mill is, from my point of view, the best novel published last year.

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.

The protagonist [The Ghost in the mill ] is indeed a scepter, hidden in a ruined mill, a topos of horror, but an obsessive attraction for people of Comosteni-village. In several hundred pages, the novel exposes the story of a family and many individual micro-narrations. The characters are transformed in kafkian style under the influence of totalitarian system, so that the final section, entitled Two days, is a delta for all wild rivers of life with the flavor of burnt rubber.

Writing The Ghost in the Mill in order to exorcise the haunting spectre of communist times, Doina Ruști marks an interesting break with the Romanian literary tradition. In tune with international trends, she follows the pattern of ghost stories to reactivate a dreadful past that would not be stifled or silenced. Through the intrusion of unexplainable spectres in the life of a rural community under dictatorial rule and through the central image of a threatening and luring old mill, Ruști manages to create a Gothic novel born out of a history of fear, secrets, betrayal, guilt and broken ties. In so doing, she moves beyond the magic realism to which many writers resorted in the late communist and early post-communist period in an attempt to escape the levelling pressure of socialist realism and the censorship that came along with it. Although her use of Gothic themes and motifs represents a deviation from both old and new Romanian literary norms, which have never really accommodated the genre, the negotiation of the collective past with the tools provided by the Gothic ultimately proved successful, bringing the author high critical acclaim and international recognition. Ruști capitalizes on the genre's interest in individual trauma and unrest, in the shattered autonomy of the individual, in the loss of coherence, wholeness and in fragmented consciousnesses, in failed relationships, oppression and suffocating anxiety. She deftly adapts the seemingly unlikely Gothic toolbox to Romanian social realities before December 1989, making the most of the genre's tried and tested disquieting, disruptive potential.