Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book 167, Moldova: "Bessarabian Nights" by Stella Brinzeanu

Happy New Year! And yes, I'm still chugging along slowly with my reading program. This one was tricky: there's not a lot of Moldovan literature translated into English. Most of what I found on offer at the library were books about the sex trafficking of Moldovans, which is of course an urgent issue to discuss but also seems kind of voyeuristic and creepy when explored from a foreigner's point of view...

Luckily, I managed to find a Kindle book about sex trafficking of Moldovans by an actual Moldovan...

And you know what? It's really not very well written. The English is hella awkward, and I don't know if there was even a proofreader involved. I'm kind of shocked to discover that the author describes herself as a writer, rather than just a well-meaning citizen who wanted to share the problems of her nation.

The flip side of the coin is that the book is a very compelling portrait of Moldova itself. It's got three young women as main characters: Doina, Larisa and the ill-fated Ksenia, who plans to be an artist but is trafficked abroad to Italy by her no-good-boyfriend Boris.

These girls are from country villages but educated enough to work in Western Europe, joining the huge migrant work force that emerged when Communism collapsed. And besides the horrors of sexual slavery, there's a detailed depiction of all that being Moldovan entails: growing up amidst rustic poverty, machismo and alcoholism, selling lice as folk medicine (inspired by Roma folk), a village witch who's really just a charlatan, the growing religious conservatism, a skilled diaspora reduced by their government's financial incompetence to manual labour in Italy and the UK...

Also the strange problems of identity—the main trio, like the population, are a mix of the different races that make up the nation, Roma and Romanian and Russian. The Moldovan national language is, in effect, Romanian, in spite of all their valiant desires to be known as a separate country.

And though these women are depicted as the talented tenth who can rise above the problems of their people, starting overseas companies and newsletters to unite the diaspora, the ending is hella depressing. Brinzeanu evidently doesn't feel it's honest—or in the character of a Moldovan—to project an optimistic future, where good triumphs over evil and maybe someone who's been rescued from sexual slavery can actually be a survivor.

I don't want to give away too many details, but suffice to say that there is actually a worthwhile story in these pages. This author just needs an editor and a few redrafts. As most of us do, you know.

Representative quote: "The tragedy is that we are a starved nation. We are starved for food and like you say, Ichim, we are starved for assets too, slaving away blindly without a vision whatsoever beyond the immediate betterment of our material situation."

"We work so hard and despite it all, we are still poor — the poorest people in Europe, according to some sources," the surgeon-labourer hastened to add.

Next book: Nicolai Lilin's Siberian Education, from Transnistria. (That's right, it's another unrecognised state!)