Absinthe 13, “Spotlight on Romania,” opens with an essay by Carmen Musat, editor-in-chief of the Romanian cultural weekly Observator Cultural, as translated by Jean Harris. Musat offers a brief overview of Romanian literature in recent decades, reminding us that until fairly recently Romanian writers had little freedom to write what they needed or wanted and expressing optimism about the future of Romanian literature.
The special feature includes the work of eleven Romanian fiction writers (nine men and two women) whose work is translated with uncanny authenticity and fluidity. Just listen to the opening lines of “Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum” by Bogdan Suceava, as translated by Jean Harris: “This may weird you out. Events like this don’t happen every day, but there were odd characters running around Bucharest back then.” If I did not know otherwise, I would never suspect this is a translation. I don’t know what the Romanian phrase for “weirding out” is, but the translation reads so effortlessly, I am not tempted to worry that I am missing nuances and or the story’s true tone. Overall the work is typically Eastern European, which is to say, sarcastic, cautious, tongue in cheek, and politically charged on multiple levels.
The issue also includes eerie and astounding paintings by Romanian artist Mircea Suciu, especially exciting for the range of styles and moods they depict, from neo-Renaissance-looking scenes to insistently modern imagery, work that is painterly on one end of the spectrum of style and photographic on the other.
Absinthe is also worthwhile for its reviews of international writing – how else would we even know what there is to read these days from Italy or Denmark or Greece? Reviews and the Copenhagen “Shout Out” are clever, smartly written, and informative. Nothing here is meant simply to please or entertain. Like the Romanian literature featured in this issue, the writing in Absinthe appears intended for readers who think literature should have something of substance to say about our lives and should matter.