Novel, Cartea Romaneasca, 2012, 240 pages
Catalin Mihuleac, “the most humorous author in Romanian literature today,” as literary critic Alex Stefanescu has called him, manages to raise his first smile even with the oxymoronic title of his novel The Adventures of a Bolshevik Gentleman. Written in the manner of a political satire, the novel veers ingeniously in the direction of the grotesque, pure fantasy, and lyrical burlesque, in a whirlwind of black humour. Ion Scutelnicu, a Bolshevik gentleman and steadfast comrade, an orphan with a sadistic past record, is assigned the mission of re educating, in the spirit of committed communist art, a rebellious young painter of licentious nudes, Emil Faure, who has had the temerity to stand up to the son of the dictator. The first step is to move him into an anthropophagous housing block Moloch, loyal to the system. The method applied brims with subtlety and cruelty, with results to match. With the coming of new times, the activist/torturer and his “generously sized” wife, comrade Ella (the artist’s obese former muse), become the protagonists, the living exhibits, of the horribly life like dioramas in a post revolution “Museum of Communism,” a perennial institution that is a huge success with the public.
Comrade Ion Scutelnicu, a bigwig in the propaganda apparatus of the Romanian Communist Party, had the greatest respect for the lady comrades who deigned to embark upon amorous affairs with him. Marxist Leninist gentleman that he was, he brought them gifts of romantic bouquets of flowers, as well as more pragmatic products: a jar of instant coffee, two or three tins of Chinese ham, and sometimes a wee length of silk for a dress or a pair of fur lined boots that had been rejected for export, since there is no joking with the winters in our country. When he left their abodes, being a Marxist Leninist gentleman he would invariably forget to take with him the freshly opened packet of Kent cigarettes he had placed on the bedside table. When it came to smoking, he was like the unquenched furnace of a steelworks. He smoked as much as a chimney at the Hunedoara plant.
Comrade Ion Scutelnicu, the big cheese who stuck terror in you even if you so much as caught a glimpse of his socks, which were by far the greyest in Romania and the whole communist bloc, would not for the life of him ever have done the slightest harm to the lady comrades who deigned to embark upon amorous affairs with him. Quite the contrary: he used to help them, because he was also a big cheese in the other R.C.P., which nestled like a marsupial in the pouch of the one party state, and stood for “Relations. Connections. Perks.” When he could, and he always could, he would give the lady comrades a leg up in their professional careers, he would put a word in with the right person so that they could obtain a small flat from the state housing stock or an endorsement for a trip to the other friendly communist nations… A fine chap, very fine.
Once, he had intersected with a young lady curvaceous in every respect, starting with her wavy chestnut red hair, which evoked the beauties of our nation’s fruit laden autumns. She had deigned to embark upon an amorous affair with him, inasmuch as she was obliged to commute, being an English teacher in a village school with no great prospects, and desired, through his benevolent intercession, a position closer to the asphalt of the city, since she was after all a city girl. She had her aspirations and her plans…
In an instant, comrade Scutelnicu was on his feet, with an erection so impressive that you could have easily hung from it the red flag of the Party and still have had room for the tricolour. His gastric growl electrified his abundant body hair:
Although his erection gave him to understand that it would have liked to linger in that poky flat, Ion Scutelnicu went straight to the sink, where he rinsed his face in an abundance of cold water. Then, he lit a Kent cigarette, left the opened packet on the bedside table and stormed out of the front door. He was hungry for fresh, outdoor air, for the bracing ozone of communism.
In the morning, when she had to pay her former colleague the night’s rent, she discovered that the hen had grown wings and emigrated from the refrigerator. Or else it too had dissolved in shame at the failure of the amorous escapade. Or else comrade Scultenicu, who was acquisitive by nature, had taken it with him.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth