The Phanariot Manuscript (Manuscrisul fanariot)

The Phanariot Manuscript (Manuscrisul fanariot) - Doina Ruști
Litera Publishing, 2022 (Romanian)
The Phanariot Manuscript (Manuscrisul fanariot) - Doina Ruști
Polirom Publishing, Top 10+, 2016 (Romanian)
The Phanariot Manuscript (Manuscrisul fanariot) - Doina Ruști
Polirom Publishing, Fiction, 2015 (Romanian)

The Phanariot Manuscript is a feast of historical prose. Constructed from rare period details and from the urge to salvage, by means of fiction, a fragment of a real story, which Doina Ruști unearthed in the archives, the novel brings to the surface an old world with peculiar customs and a sensuality that pervades every scene. The novel deserves a very high place among those fictions that turn worlds upside down and shake literature from its inertia.

It is a luxuriant novel, with countless characters, with an extremely dense plot, in interpenetrating layers. A social and period fresco, a love story reconstructed, it seems, from the traces of a real manuscript, this is one of Doina Ruști’s best novels, if not the best.

Coated in the honey of archaic words, softened by the silky caress of poetry, the world of Phanariot Bucharest is revived in Doina Ruști’s enchanted string of beads. An atmospheric historical, magic-realist novel, The Phanariot Manuscript is a seductive book, which draws you into its net like a streak of enticing perfume, like a hypnotic gaze.

Doina Ruști’s books also thrive on reminiscences in memory, more precisely from the words whose melodic sounds or stridencies determine the development of the story. She is another writer, but an author of literature, with interests avowed in the history of Bucharest in the 18th century. The archeology of the city’s symbols is pursued by recourse to the conventions of the form and style of literature, but beyond this, it is obvious that a series of documents from the historical archives are valued. The fiction registry allows the writer to have greater freedom in the act of re- writing the past. In the absence of sources, empty spaces are open to both the plausible and imagination tricks. The results show that, paradoxically, “literary fiction may be truer than the truth itself”, the simulated authenticity going to the confusion of reality with fiction.

First of all, these novels are provided with maps as pre-established framework for the fictional paths. Doina Rusti’s Bucharest is one of perception, not of certain knowledge, illusory and allusive at the same time. This does not mean that the scaffold is not made up of documentary material extracted from archive funds. On the contrary, we have a lot of places, people, conflicts, intrigues and descriptions that we can identify in the content of the existent 18th century manuscripts, because the purpose of the writer is to simulate the authentic historical appearance. The process is of intertextual nature, by the intermingling of ancient sources.

Going further, what is taken into account are the parameters that generate the fictional mechanism. In the Prologue of Manuscrisul fanariot (The Phanariot Manuscript), a narrative voice from the background tells the story of sultan Selim who discovers one day the score of a song about a terrestrial paradise, a city where there is no sadness, only happiness and joy: Bucharest. Spread all over the city of Istanbul, the rumor draws particular attention to the Greek community in the Fanar district, as an invitation to get easily the natural impossibility to own the reign, or important political and military functions. The young Vlach Ioanis Milikopu, son of a fisherman, the main character of the novel, comes to Bucharest conquered by the welfare stories in circulation, to follow his adventure of life. As the narrator describes, “a word is a small worm, meant to multiply beyond measure. It goes into the labyrinth of your ear with a map in the pocket, and makes no stop, no alliance [...]”. This kind of fake news transmitted by voice, on the basis of unverified stories, puts Ioanis in touch with a reality where he loses the identity becoming Leun, the French servant of the consul of Rusia in the Wallachian capital.

Maiorca, ravishing in her unique beauty, but also a little sorceress, the perfect disciple of her witch mother, Tranca, hipnotizes Leun with her Gypsy magic, while heraling him of his swollen nose, caused by bad berries, warning him of devilish side-effects. Finally, they are having a romantic night, in Bozăria, a place where impossible love and magic turn possible. After their night together, his supreme drive will be that of making her a dress so special that nobody can afford, a dress made of the finest silk, fromMalta. Maiorca is however promised to a Gypsy slave, the property of the boier Doicescu.

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