Gabriel Chifu

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Novel, “Fiction Ltd” series, Polirom, 2014, 368 pages

Copyright: Polirom

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Having finally found out that his parents were not his real parents, but had adopted him at birth, a respected psychiatrist tries to unravel the mystery of his coming into the world, asking a friend, writer and journalist Valentin Dumnea, to investigate the matter. Dumnea both reaches and fails to reach the truth, but he does come across a strange character, a centenarian professor, who might be said to be the master of the story: the story of the child’s mother and his potential father, who might be either one of the two schoolmates with whom the young woman had amorous relations, both of them brilliant, but diametrically opposed, the one an angel, the other a demon. The story of the son seeking his father is merely the pretext for the wider story, about the dramatic historical period from 1940 to 2012, with the traumas of the Second World War, the arrival of the Red Army, and above all the horrors of the communist prisons. Like a new Scheherazade, for ten days, the centenarian professor, who is eyewitness, character and storyteller, adds fragment after fragment to the tale, until it is complete, the way one might add bead after bead to a string. Moving in reverse chronological order, Full Stop and Anew is a moving book about pain, about the destruction wrought by man’s hand, about stained honour and the worthlessness engendered by limitless opportunism.

Awarded the Grand Prize of the Cluj National Festival of Literature, 2014.


Excerpt from

I think that I owe some explanations: who am I, ultimately, and how did I become a professor?
It all began about six or seven years ago. At the time I used frequently to visit Dr Deleanu, Mihai Deleanu, a highly respected psychiatrist. He accorded me especial attention. That was probably due above all to my occupation. I am a writer. Or rather I pass for a writer. But the fact that I am not a writer, but merely pass for one, is another subject, an important one, obviously, of which I shall speak later.

Deleanu flirted with the Muses, too. But competent as he was in his own profession, on the arduous terrain of literature he proved to be inept. His efforts, which he was not long in showing to me, were naïve, amateurish even. He was not the first in such a situation. We had met owing to a certain circumstance and then he had sought out my company. He sometimes invited me to expensive restaurants, where he always paid, placing me in a situation that was not exactly pleasant, and where we would chat about everything under the sun. Which is to say, he talked; I mostly listened, saying nothing. The truth is that I never grew bored of listening to him. He was what is known as an encyclopaedic mind, every field of knowledge seemed familiar to him, from history to mathematics, from medicine, evidently, to painting and music, and he was endowed with a memory that was out of the ordinary. Obviously, he did not have the phenomenal memory of that famous figure from Antiquity, Seneca, Marcus Annaeus, the father of the philosopher, who was said to be able to remember around two thousand names, after hearing each just once, and which he was then able to repeat in exactly the order in which they had been spoken. But even so, my friend’s memory was impressive.

I am amazed that Dr Deleanu felt drawn to one such as myself, given his brilliant mind. As I have said, I am barely able to string a few sentences together, I am taciturn, I am always getting mixed up, and I am not sure of anything. In my brain, all the items of information are enveloped in dense fog.
The explanation might be that from the area which, in his eyes, I represented, namely literary writing, what he expected was not a firm answer, but at least the hope of an answer to all the puzzling questions that exercised him. And what I, without directly admitting it to him, what I was pursuing was to have him “examine” me, what I wished to obtain from him, in a roundabout way, was a solution to my personal problem, which was more or less this: I was determined to discover what exactly was defective in me, in my brain, to cause my intellectual performance to be so low, and what I had to do finally to rectify matters now, if it was still possible to rectify anything...
In other words, our meetings were not disinterested. Each of us had a precise and undisclosed aim. I for one achieved my aim. I am not convinced that his conversations with me helped him in any way to unravel the mystery of the world, given that I lacked any ability other than a vague knack for composing metaphors, which, in any case, have long since ceased to be fashionable in literature. But I received from him a clearly expressed answer to the question that obsessed me. One evening, we were at a restaurant that had just opened behind the House of the Spark, when Dr Deleanu recounted to me among other things that we begin to die from the age of twenty or twenty-five, although other theories claim that it is from birth (probably a commonplace, an item of information I ought to have known since anatomy and biology lessons at lyceum, rather than having waited such a bitterly long time to meet my psychiatrist friend by lucky chance!). Every day we lose around three hundred thousand neurons, which never regenerate: adieu, and I am lost for words! Unlike neurons, the red blood cells age and die, but others are formed to replace them, as our bodies are able to renew them, rebuild them from the waste matter and introduce them into the blood... But not neurons or neurocytes: the nerve cells are destroyed, never to be regenerated. Our only hope is to be born with a sufficiently large endowment to have neurons to spare, so that when we lose them, we will still be left with a few more. Our only hope is that from the very start our personal wealth will number billions more neurons than our peers’. Otherwise, we will grow stupider and stupider, we will no longer matter, we will be dead whilst still alive. It is the neurons that measure our intelligence.

The neurons. They are the cells of the nervous system: made up of dendrites, nerve fibres that pick up stimuli and relay them to the interior, a somatic cell where information is accumulated and an axon, which retransmits the impulse to the outside. Stimuli, nerve impulses and highly fine apparatuses for receiving information, for processing it and redirecting it to the outside. Is that what we are, how we may be summed up? I don’t really understand. I was also obsessed with another term that the psychiatrist divulged to me: engrams, which, if I understood rightly, were the same as the traces that various stimuli, various nerve impulses, left in our cells. And the cells (what can it be called if not a miracle?) transformed them into memories, into emotions. When I write literature, I write about emotions and thus I ultimately describe engrams, I communicate them verbally and literarily, without any great skill. Dr Deleanu had the advantage of a different, specialised language: neurons, leucocytes, engrams, and the rest. Ultimately, in both of us existed the same need to understand and to express, he scientifically and methodically, I randomly, impulsively, according to my “inspiration.” But what does inspiration mean in literature? While waiting for inspiration, I am like a mole, I am a blindfolded man burrowing at random into arid ground, hoping one fine day to come across a gold nugget. In any event, weakness and incapacity of understanding and expression, which are obvious in me, nonetheless existed in both cases, that is, in the doctor too, not just in me. And so all of us, into whatever category we might fall, advance helpless, overwhelmed, humble, down a narrow path, probably the only one that can bring us salvation: we recognise an absolute authority that is of a subtle, invisible nature, we relate to God. Only He, once he has entered our minds and made His house there, can cure us. This was the conclusion we reached, after lengthy and repeated debates, the great psychiatrist and myself, and we were both satisfied: I had obtained a result; I had an answer. Anyway, we had the feeling that we had spied land after drifting for so long.
Later, our meetings dwindled in frequency and finally we ceased to see each other.

Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth


Critics about

“Reading this novel, it is clear to me that Gabriel Chifu is a born novelist; a mere prose writer would not have succeeded in completing such an ambitious project.”

(Mircea PRICAJAN , Familia)

Full Stop and Anew is a novel of psychological analysis, in which tribulations lend inner flesh to the characters. Written excellently, the novel is a model for the literary adaption of the horrors of the communist regime.” 

(Sorin LAVRIC, Romania literara)

“In Full Stop and Anew we have an exceptional novel thanks to the authenticity of its subject matter and its narrative intelligence and subtlety. It is a novel that places a full stop, in a certain sense, after a style of prose, the political novel, which the postmodern prose of the eighties generation had relegated to the background, but without exploding its premises (due to the complicated political context of the 1980’s and censorship). By the change in viewpoint that he brings, by broadening the historical horizon and turning the poetics of the genre upside down, Gabriel Chifu closes a chapter and at the same time opens a new one in the history of the contemporary Romanian novel.” 

(Razvan VONCU, Viata romaneasca)

Full Stop and Anew is a powerful novel, with a profound pedagogical and at the same time soteriological meaning.”

(Luminita CORNEANU, Tarmuri)


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