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The story of the fairy-exile: Domnica Radulescu's Train to Trieste.

Considered by many critics a fictional autobiography, Dominca Radulescu's first novel, Train to Trieste, relates the story of a young Romanian woman exile--Mona Manoliu--who has the courage to break up with her present and her past and to travel to a completely New World, very different from the absurd, brutal communist dictatorship where she spent the years of her childhood and adolescence. She moves through places (Romanian mountains, Brasov, Bucharest, Trieste, Rome, Chicago) and through absolute, sacred, historical, abstract, contradictory, differential spaces and reflects on her condition as an exile, as in Ovid to whom she alludes several times throughout the book ("The sight of the emerald--violet sea sparkling in the morning as I look at it through the perfect white columns at the edge of the beach always transports me to the times of Ovid, once exiled on these shores" (7, my translation) or "I move in clouds of eccentric words and scarlet gestures that smell like the Romanian cornmeal mush, mamaliga, like the Black Sea the Roman poet Ovid described, like the Puerto Rican oregano I grew in my yard" (224, my translation). Beneath the surfaces of exile, the narrator (who speaks in the present tense throughout the book) questions the universal issues of power (especially its abuses), of love, of knowledge, and shows how the native land, family, culture, language, smells, people, family mark the exile in an existential and ontological way. My proposed paper will focus on gender in relation to the cultural practice of exile, on re-writing history and geography of two different places--Romania and the USA--and spaces that the main character crosses in order to find her place as an emigre in the New World."

It is a story of Mona Manoliu, a young woman from Bucharest, who falls in love with Mihai, a boy from another town. They meet during holidays and at one point Mihai even moves to Bucharest, allegedly to be closer to Mona. But in Romania in the 70s and 80s it is difficult to know who to trust, who is for Ceausescu's dictatorship and who is against it, who works for the resistant and who is an informer. Mona begins to doubt Mihai. Maybe he is a member of the secret police after all? When Mona's father gets repeatedly harassed by the secret police and some people close to her die in suspect circumstances, Mona's parents think it better that she leaves the country. The next twenty years Mona tries to build a new life as an exile in a new country, but in the end the loose ends of her past make her return to her native Romania.

The main character, although profound and complex, lacks that furious emotion, however. Tragic things happen all around her, and while she acts crazy at times and is tormented by nightmares, all is reported in a sort of detached, almost journalistic style. She is detached from everything and everyone, thus allowing us not to feel too close or too attached to the character. It is as if feeling sorry for Mona would spoil the clean inner side of a true, yet unfulfilled love.

Mona, an impulsive Bucharest teen, falls in love with Mihai, a boy from the mountains. He's just lost his longtime girlfriend to a violent accident, and Mona's drawn to the rawness of his grieving. Her youth in Romania is a flurry of sensual pleasures, despite the fear and want endemic to life under a Stalinist regime ... Though Mona grapples with secret police and with scarcity, her evocations of the pleasures of youth and love are indomitably joyous, almost synesthetic in their sensuality ... Mona's story spins out over years, as she builds an American life that's forever overshadowed by the one she left behind. Fittingly, the novel ends in Romania, on her first trip back. Domnica Radulescu wonderfully evokes the timelessness of spaces, as Mona's middle-aged self-attempts to fit into landscapes she moved in as a young woman. The book's final pages raise as many questions as they answer, but Radulescu is happy to leave something to the reader's imagination.

Domnica Radulescu writes with intensity and urgency and pulls readers along with her first-person account of escape, survival and love ... Mona Manoliu is a 17 years old student of a blossoming beauty when she first meets Mihai during a summer holiday in the foothills of the Carpathians. Radulescu's descriptions of this region speak volumes about her intimate knowledge of her home country. Innocent love risks discovery back home in Bucharest as Mona's father pursues hidden agendas, and even best friends are suspected enemies. Savagery and starvation prevail as Ceausescu and cohorts bleed the country of food and money. Mona's family urges her to flee ... [After living in America for years,] Mona makes the return to her homeland and her first love. What she finds is a revelation that is both unsettling and satisfying. Mona Manoliu lives her life in rapid, staccato bursts of action and emotion. Readers will page through her adventures with precisely the same feelings.

One central focus of interest is the question of how migrants deal with this transition and how they cope with the past and their memories. They may actively suppress their recollections or passively allow them to be submerged; some enshrine visions of the past while others keep up to date with reality by means of numerous and extended return visits to their country of origin. With regard to all these aspects the historical novel is a vehicle that permits exploring various avenues into the past of migrants--sometimes as a personal story, sometimes as a more general vision of past occurrences. Mona's story spans over the years, as she builds an American life, which is always overshadowed by the lives she had left behind.

True love is hard to find, but it's priceless-a lesson it takes feisty and vivacious Mona Manoliu decades to learn. A 17-year-old student in late 1970s Romania, Mona has fallen hard for the charismatic Mihai, whom she meets when summering with her family in the foothills of the Carpathians. Back home in Bucharest, her father pursues clandestine activities, and the family barely eats, but Mona is starry-eyed about Mihai-until she sees him in a black leather jacket, the favored outfit of the secret police, and encounters a crazed woman who asks her whether she really knows who he is. Then her family persuades her to flee to the West, and she's off to America via Italy via Bucharest. Years later, Mona returns to Romania and discovers the truth about Mihai--a revelation that, against all expectations, is both startling and satisfying ... Engaging, evocative, intensely sensual, and sharply perceptive, conveying both the horrors of the Ceausescu regime and the ironies of Mona's experiences in America (Jay Strafford).

Train to Trieste manages to seduce, due to a shimmering style embroidered with linguistic brilliance and beautiful images. The novel's protagonist is the sort of character to whom most of us, I daresay, can identify. Who has not been torn by doubt about the direction in which our world, our countries, our own lives are headed?

Domnica Radulescu's semi-autobiographical debut novel, Train to Trieste, is a fascinating page turner, full of contrasts. She describes, with nostalgia and much love, her homeland, Romania, with its physical beauty, its mountains, plains, rivers, forests, and extraordinary seaside resorts and homes on the Black Sea. She writes of "one beautiful summer," with its "linden trees and vodka made from fermented plums and stars and mountains and raspberries ..." The scenery is "gorgeous," the Carpathian Mountains are dark and mysterious--a perfect place for our protagonist, seventeen year-old Mona Manoliu, to fall in love. And the time belonged to the summer of 1977.

Contrasting with this beauty and romance is the brutal government of Nicolae Ceausescu, President of Romania from 1974 to 1989. Against the exquisite backdrop of his country, Ceausescu, with his narcissistic cult of personality, actually carries a scepter in public. Opposition is ruthlessly suppressed by the hated secret police, the Securitate. Intellectuals and artists are cautioned not to overstep the mark of "permissible" free expression. But freedom of speech is severely limited and the media is controlled. It is even illegal to own a typewriter without an official license. Mona lives in fear that her intellectual father's typewriter will be discovered. He is a poetry professor, a dissident, and is watched by the Securitate, as is she.

How do you make a life when your home is now in one country but your heart is still in another?

It is summer 1977 and Mona Maria Manoliu is visiting relatives in the pine-scented coolness of the Carpathians when she falls in love: "This moment-now-this Romanian summer in a small town in the Carpathian Mountains, I want it to last forever ..." (24) she thinks. Such a life with Mihai, however, is not to be. Young love is never easy, but in the totalitarian nightmare of Ceausescu's Romania nothing is private or safe, and even the simplest actions have widening consequences, especially when the one you love may or may not be a member of the secret police.

For generations, Mona's family has lived through war, and destruction, and repression, and a never-ending struggle with whatever surreal government is currently in charge. Mona, an intellectual like her father, wants only the freedom to be in love and study literature. It is the darkness before the 1989 dawn, however, and the promise of such a life is dimming. As her already-constricted world begins to collapse around her, Mona's parents arrange for her to escape via train through Yugoslavia to Trieste and thence to the United States.

Friendless, yet determined to succeed in the frozen immensity of Chicago, Mona throws herself into a grinding routine of schooling and work and, after several years, is able to bring her parents over to join her in Chicago. Marriage, a teaching career, and children cannot extinguish her longing for her native land and her first love-even though she has been told that Mihai died in the frenzied days of revolution in 1989.

One feels that there is a lot of the author in this book. She brings out both the beauty and the ugliness of Romania. During the years leading up to the 1989 revolution, there was a justifiable culture of distrust amongst friends combined with a strengthening of family bonds. This is brought out so well by the writing of Domnica Radulescu. Eventually, the contrasts with American society, and its very different values, are brought to the fore, and you'll come to truly understand the meaning of the Romanian word, "dor." Train to Trieste shows a turbulent time in Romanian history, filtered through the author's feelings and concepts. Mona Maria Manoliu describes a time when love, happiness and solidarity were banned and hatred, paranoia and fear were present everywhere
   and I see through the open window the portraits of Marx, Engels,
   Lenin and Ceausescu--the father of the nation--hanging on the
   building across the street. They are all ugly, and they all scare
   me (16).

17 year-old Mona Maria Manoliu begins to understand everything that's going on around her. She starts realizing what communism really means and how everything can become dangerous. The young woman is permanently divided between love and politics. She hates communism, but understands that actions are back against whom she loves. Things are getting worse, and Mona is forced to leave the country.
   When I get on the train to Trieste from Bucharest in an afternoon
   of September--my last train, my last pass through the
   Carpathians--the only picture of Michael that I can remember is him
   unshaven, surly, taking me to the station before leaving for
   Bucharest, at the end of the holiday (117).

After having crossed a thrilling but painful journey of exile, she is finally established in America, in Chicago, where she settles down a life and has 2 children. But this does not mean that Mona's story has a happy ending. After 20 years with 2 children she is back home in Romania, returning to the places where she spent her childhood, her adolescence and the early part of her youth. However, the only person missing from this picture is Mihai, her boyfriend.
   Time is shrinking and I am again the seventeen year-old girl (...)
   my heart is almost out of my chest, I run towards Mihai on the
   cobblestone street (239).

Train to Trieste is an exciting novel telling a fascinating story, difficult to forget. Dominica Radulescu in her book blends humor with suspense with passion and veracity of age. Much discussed during the communist period goes beyond history into a true confession that the author is writing from the heart. Domnica Radulescu's novel captures an agitated moment in Romanian history, filtered through the lens of individual experience and personal dramas.

The main character, Mona Maria Manoliu, the girl named after an actress, is living the trauma of a time hostile to love, repugnant to happiness and life itself, which turns everything into panic, fear and paranoia.

Love and politics find themselves into a stressing battle, turning the characters' lives into a game of life and death, still shaped with delicacy and humor on a background of political oppression covered by an absurd and inhuman political system.

The whole net created by weaving personal crisis with the threatening political situation, leads Mona to a radical decision to leave her great Romanian love, family and beloved places of childhood, in order to take the mysterious "Train to Trieste" to the painful, but also adventurous journey of exile.

Despite these outrageous numbers and the host of negative experiences suffered by refugees(need to change), "migration" is frequently perceived as a dynamic force that might be instrumental in overcoming static notions of the 'self' and of 'fitting in' that characterize the discourse of the nation state. (Michael C. Prusse)

Making a new life in the exciting and legendary city Chicago, a city that she calls "worthy of my hunger," passing through shocking, yet eyecatching adventure of a new life on the American continent, Mona Manoliu continues to be haunted by her Romanian past for her great love. The decision to return after twenty years in her homeland is, for this full of contradictions, yet full of fresh breath character, an occasion to reconsider her ties with the past and to run through the enigma of her love of youth.

Domnica Radulescu's Train to Trieste is a reeling journey to a far, wonderful, yet frightening country and, also, an odyssey inside the heart of a young girl, as well as of a remarkable woman she becomes, eventually (Arthur Golden).

When reading this captivating story, one could easily become too dark and yet it did not-it stays fresh and quite energetic to the end, which is rather perfect. It is a beautiful and very honest book and in the end that is all that matters.

Trieste in the book is not only a real town, but also a symbol. The train to Trieste is a symbol of freedom, and a concrete way to freedom for some in Ceausescu's Romania. And that is what the novel is really about. A train to Trieste, that actually never goes to Trieste.


Jolies, Andre (1930) Einfache Formen. Legende, Sage, Mythe, Ratsel, Spruch, Kasus, Memorabile, Marchen, Witz. Halle (Saale). Niemeyer.

Prusse, Michael C. (2009), 'Imaginary Pasts: Colonisation, Migration and Loss in J.G. Farrell's The Singapore Grip and Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace.' Transnational Literature, Volume 2 No 1 November. http://fhrc. flinders. html

Radulescu, Domnica (2008), Train to Trieste. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Radulescu, Domnica (2008), Trenul de Trieste. Bucharest: Tritonic Grup.

Strafford, Jay (2008), "Critical Praise on Train to Trieste," Richmond Times-Dispatch (August 31)

Young, Robert J. C. (1995), Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London and New York: Routledge.


Spiru Haret University

Carmen Ghinea received her B.A. in English and German Language from Dimitrie Cantemir Christian University in Bucharest--Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures (2004), and an M.A. degree in Specialized Translation and the Technique of Terminology Documentation from Spiru Haret University--Faculty of Letters (2006). She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Bucharest, dealing with representations of the immigrant in contemporary Romanian-American prose writing. She is working at present as a lecturer at Spiru Haret University, Specialized Languages Department, teaching English Specialized Courses in several faculties of the university, such as the Faculty of Law and Public Administration, Faculty of International Relationships and European Studies, Faculty of Sport and Kinetotherapy. So far she has published two books, as author and co-author, and translated a Romanian-English Practical Guide & Minimal Dictionary, in collaboration with Pons Publishing House.
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Author:Ghinea, Carmen
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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