Novel, Prose series, Cartea Romaneasca, 2015, 328 pages
A novel about those who made a fortune after 1989 and how they did it, about the all-pervasive corruption of Romania’s political class and its hidden connections with the former Securitate, which now goes by various different names. A testament about subterranean power plays and the struggle to gain dominant positions in the new hierarchies, phenomena that have eroded an entire country and reached the highest levels of the state. Into this hallucinatory world, as delirious as it is immoral, have been drawn honest but naïve people, who have realised only when it was too late that they have become mere pawns manipulated by those who have mapped out their fate without even asking them, despising them, but cynically using them. Like the main character in Cristian Teodorescu’s novel, they have let themselves be carried along on an enticing wave, they have made compromises and sometimes sacrificed everything they held dear – family, profession, ideals, even their own consciences – for the sake of illusions that were to prove ephemeral. The new idols show themselves to be worse than those of the past, their countenances cast in bronze, they wink at us, perfidiously or with complicity, from up on their plinths. And Avenue of Virtue, viewed from the grey housing blocks that flank it, is for many the road of those without hope, a road that leads nowhere.
Even he had begun to call himself Dog, ever since he invented a new use for himself, in which even he did not have very much faith. But if there was no longer any need for people like him, who were good at alimentary chemistry, then all that remained was for him to find something else to do. He had started out by ordering a hundred business cards, on which, beneath his name, was printed “gastronomist” in calligraphic script. It was not an imposture, but merely an exaggeration of his expertise as an engineer specialising in alimentary chemistry, who had read up on the history of gastronomy off his own back. In the good years, he had patented dozens of foodstuffs intended for mass production in the canneries. During the period of the crisis he had unenthusiastically taken part in the reinvention of the recipe for salami, which contained less and less meat, and the introduction of Prague ham from which the ham was lacking. To this end he had drawn on the German bibliography from the Second World War and the Soviet experience during the first five-year plans to industrialise food production. Even if in parallel he had written reports in which he argued that it was not sufficient that the practical results of the new recipes should have a given number of calories, but that they should also taste good, the Dog felt guilty for having taken part in the concoction of soya salami, rather than thinking of himself as an expert who had tried to prevent it being sold. He had taken to the streets when the revolt began in Bucharest, but he did not feel revolted enough to join the people who stood in a line across the boulevard, next to the Hotel Intercontinental. He stood at the margin, looking, and he would have liked to step off the pavement and be able to chant like them: “Come with us!”
He would have had the courage, but in the middle of the road there was nobody that he knew. When he found himself shoved into a small van, along with another few people who had been grabbed from off the pavement, he felt relief. But all the same, he would have felt greater relief if he had been shoved into a van along with the people in the middle of the road, rather than with the bystanders. He could not remember very well what happened after that. On a long corridor, a policeman had punched him in the mouth, and then punched him again, making his glasses fly off his nose. He bent down to pick them up, and the next thing he knew, he came round in a room where somebody kept saying: “It smells of shit!” He could not smell anything. He ran his hands over his whole body: his head was pulsing painfully, his back was burning, and his arms and shins were causing him an increasingly sharp pain, so too his bladder. What revolted him the next day, when they released him, were not the pains, but how the police tried to get rid of him and the others. How was he supposed to leave Jilava Prison with shit on his trousers? And without his glasses all he could see was a mist, from which loomed hurried, bluish shadows. He heard the shouts of the prisoners desperate to be released. He asked to take a shower, he pulled on a pair of prisoner’s long johns, and he told a policeman that he ought to be taken home in a van. He washed his trousers and underpants and crammed them inside a one-leu plastic bag that he received from a policeman, who assured him that he had not used it. Outside it was warm and if all his bones had not been aching, he would have felt happy. The policeman dropped him off at the edge of town, after hearing over the radio that the populace was committing atrocities against the forces of law and order and that he had better turn back. The Dog did not have long to wait: some people from Bragadiru picked him up in their Dacia, on their way to Bucharest to see the Revolution. When he told them that he had been held in Jilava, they offered to take him home. The man driving the car had a hoarse voice and when he turned his face towards him, he gave off a stench of homemade wine. In the passenger seat sat a woman, who seemed disappointed that he could not remember much about what had happened to him: “Say, did they torture you like Christ?” That was what the woman wanted to find out. In the car were also two men, the younger brothers of the man at the wheel. They were both of the opinion that if Ceausescu had not fled, the cops from Jilava would have shot the Dog without a second thought. The Dog had not thought of such an eventuality. He wanted to get back home, to have a shower, and to put his other pair of glasses on his nose. When he could not see very well, it was as if he could not hear very well. They dropped him off in front of his block. The four of them promised to bring him some homemade wine from the countryside, to help him get his strength back. “And some pork!” added the woman. From the streets leading into the centre of the city could be heard car horns blaring continuously. Upstairs, in the flat, Mari had left the front door unlocked. When she saw him, she was so happy that she slapped him. And then her eyes filled with tears, while he slipped into the bathroom. For the first time in many years, hot water came from the tap during the daytime, the surest proof that Ceausescu really had fled. After that, he took his sons to see the Revolution. The Dog was barely able to drive his car. But he was determined. The boys were curious, although it seemed like they would rather have gone to play on the swings in the park. From the back seat, Mari tried to get them to sing, “Ole, ole, ole, Ceausescu’s gone away!” but Petre refused. He liked a different song: “The Party, Ceausescu, Romania!”
The Dog was not even able to laugh. Instead, he felt like vomiting, although he had nothing to throw up. With difficulty he turned the car around and stopped. He poked his head out of the window and spewed the coffee-coloured liquid that had risen in his throat. Even if he was wearing his glasses on his nose, he felt like his vision was even dimmer. For a few seconds he could not see anything. He had slid into a warm darkness that was gradually lightening into a dazzling whiteness. Then he heard the noise of the car horns once more. Behind him Mari was screaming in fright: “What’s happened to you?” He groggily drove back home. He climbed the stairs with his wife pushing him from behind. When he found himself inside the flat, he made his own way to bed. The noise of the gunfire that had begun on the streets after nightfall did not wake him. He was not woken by the cannon salvo at midnight, which affrighted the whole neighbourhood. The ambulance Mari had called arrived the next day. The doctor who woke him looked like he himself needed a doctor. His face was ashen. Rather than ask him what his symptoms were, he started telling him what had happened to him since he came on duty two days ago. Mari had managed to tell the doctor that her husband had been in Jilava and what he had done after that. “Eight bullet holes in the ambulance!” boasted the doctor. He had rescued two dying people from the street and taken them to the emergency hospital, but he did not know what had become of them. He had left one human head where he had found it, because he had not known what else he could do for it. And there was one human head here, across the boulevard, next to Army Headquarters, placed on a truck tyre. Somebody had stopped to photograph it, while he was wondering what he could do for it.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“An extremely well-written novel, with memorable characters, about what happened to Romanians after 1989.”
(Stelian TURLEA, Ziarul Financiar)
“Cristian Teodorescu’s new novel describes a world familiar to the contemporary Romanian reader, featuring events and types from our everyday life. But the miracle is that the novelist’s artistry makes this world function beyond conjunctures, makes it preserve its coherence even after the realities that inspired it will have become superannuated. The world of the novel is that of Bucharest, traced since 1990, via a character who, willy-nilly, adapts to the twists and turns of the concrete, shaped from the shadows by the people of the old regime.”
(Adriana BITTEL, Formula As)
“Avenue of Virtue. The Book of the Dog is a modern novel, with a deep, postmodern structure, stylistically clothed in realist garb. Which is no small achievement, no matter how much literature might resemble an onion.”
(Bogdan-Alexandru STANESCU, Observator cultural)