Thursday, 22 August 2013

Book review: 'Mes departs' by Panait Istrati

Whilst I was in Bucharest a few weeks back and perusing through one of the best international bookshops 'Carturesti', I found this gem of a book. Since I am Romanian and looking to apply for modern languages (French and Italian) at uni, this book ticked all the right boxes:
  • by a Romanian author
  • written in French
  • about travelling
  • set at the end of the 19th century
It's a short 150 page extract from travel diaries of Istrati, who was born in Braila, a fishing town in Romania, into a poor family. He was of Greek descent from his father's side but he was killed for smuggling so he was mainly raised by his mother. 

The book starts with his somewhat blurred school days which are described both as inspirational and as horrendous, with him being beaten and all these other myths about what the education system used to be like. Personally, I thought they were just legends that get passed down by generations but apparently, it happened. Moving on, he describes loving literature and being even more enamoured with languages and words. Having dropped out of elementary school he gets a really bad job at a local bar/restaurant that we'd call 'bodega' in Romanian. Look it up if you're a linguist yourself . :)

It's there that he learns his first life lessons and then embarks on a sea voyage to Naples in Italy, France being his ultimate destination. He's very much the spontaneous character and finds his way in difficult situations but I thoroughly enjoyed the 'adventure' aspect of the book once he leaves Romania in search of...well, I don't think he knew very well either what that something was, but perhaps the desire itself for new and fresh and exciting is enough.

He also seems to have quite the obsession for the Danube, the river that springs in the Black Forrest in Germany and flows in Romania's Black Sea. I really think water characterises this book very well in a weird way. It's has it's moments of calm and those of rapid change. It can be 'shallow' in the sense of simple narrative but also very deep when thinking about God and destiny.

Off course the fact that the story is set in Romania and the writer and characters share a love of France and languages made this an enjoyable read, but there are definitely aspects that make it a universal book. I'd also recommend reading 'Kira Khiralina' by the same author since it's his best known piece. I might purchase it after I'm done with the stack I'm currently going through!

No comments:

Post a Comment

blogger template by lovebird