Novel, Fiction LTD series, Polirom, 2014, 512 pages
Iordache, a geography graduate assigned to teach in a village school in Oltenia, is dissatisfied with the life he leads and becomes a monk. After a one-night stand with a strange woman he leaves the monastery, however, because the memory of his sin gives him no rest. He finds the peace he has long been searching for with Oana, a beautiful and rich young widow, but after a time he starts reading all kinds of esoteric and pseudo-religious theories on the Internet. Iordache soon begins to believe that he is being visited now by an angel, now by the devil. Moreover, he is convinced that he is being telepathically controlled by a mysterious figure from Bucharest, Ivan, a journalist whose sense of failure has pushed him towards the esoteric. And so Iordache abandons his pregnant lover and for a short time takes refuge in the monastery whence he left, after which all trace of him is lost. Setting out in search of Iordache, Oana comes to share his disquietude, and in her mind takes root the suspicion that the son she is going to bear might be an incarnation of the devil...
Iordache, the former monk (in his soul he has remained a monk, the oath cannot be forgotten), surfs the Internet when Oana is not at home (Oana has commuted to town by car since he arrived, she wanted to share the house in the country with him – a house with central heating, running water pumped from a well, a septic tank for drainage; for two years, the length of time she grieved for her husband, she lived in her flat in town, ill at ease, depressed and frightened of loneliness; in the country she has animals to look after, she doesn’t have any obligations towards anybody else, she has no children, after her husband died she was left with enough money not to have any complaints, she has money in the bank, a superb two-storey house, a foreign car, a job at a bank; she no longer cries stupidly at the thought of her deceased husband, she has gone to the cemetery and asked his forgiveness for bringing another man into their house; her husband died of cancer of the colon, God have mercy on him; she didn’t get pregnant by her husband, maybe that was why her husband was so eaten up inside; now, she will have to decide whether she wants to have children, she met Iordache, she got pregnant, but the pregnancy did not take; she does not even know whether she wants a child by Iordache, who hasn’t opened up his soul to her; strangely, she miscarried just before Epiphany, after the priest and the cantor came to her house in the country and blessed it, sprinkling it with holy water, and she remembers they sang: In the Jordan wert Thou baptised, Lord, and the Trinity was revealed; for the voice of the Father spoke to Thee, naming Thee Beloved Son; and the Holy Ghost did strengthen the truth of the word; glory be to Thee, Christ God, Who showed Thyself and brought light unto the World; she kissed the icon showing the baptism of Christ, she stole a stalk of basil from the bunch which the priest wielded to sprinkle the holy water and that night she put it under her pillow, like a young maid wishing to dream the lover or husband fated to her; on the morning of the feast of the Epiphany, she dreamed Iordache was dead and it frightened her so much that she fell out of bed, ran to the toilet and miscarried, and Iordache called an ambulance; she didn’t say anything to Iordache, it was an evil omen, and to this day she does not know whether she should take the step of asking him to marry her). It has been a year and three months since they met. Oana does not allow him to work, although he wants to, “because he is a decent man,” he has a Degree in Geography, in the autumn he is thinking of taking a job as a lyceum teacher, he will take an exam, Oana is afraid he will leave her, he is two years older than her. Iordache is revising, he has forgotten what he learned at university, he is reading up like mad on the Internet, he doesn’t visit porn or erotic sites, they leave him cold, he is interested in religious and news sites, he is obsessed with the spiritual evolution of mankind, which he sees for what it is: ugly, immoral, poor in spirit, he does not have any pretensions towards perfection or holiness. Oana taught him to use the Internet, at the hermitage nobody had any idea what a laptop was, there wasn’t even a television... Iordache became a monk after the Revolution, he was a teacher in a village in Oltenia, where he had been assigned for a year, he wanted to commit suicide, realising that he had totally failed in life, but on the night before the day on which he planned to commit suicide (he wanted to throw himself in front of a train) an angel appeared to him and assured him his life would change for the better, that he should have patience, that his secret wish had been heeded. A “fallen angel”? He asked the angel what his secret wish was and the angel answered that his unconscious had been heeded and that he would find out what it was after he climbed to the top of the Holy Mountain. He was constantly uneasy, dissatisfied with himself, he regarded himself a failure at everything (including in love). The next morning, he left everything behind, he thought he was going to commit suicide and nothing else mattered any more, he left word only that he would not be coming back and he gave away his few possessions (clothes, books, shoes). What could the Holy Mountain be if not Ceahlau? Or maybe it was Mount Athos in Greece. A long time ago he had had a vision that he would die on Mount Athos... A keen hiker, now he could hardly wait to board the train in front of whose locomotive he had intended to throw himself. He slept in the station at Bacau, whence he took another train to Piatra Neamt and thence another journey. He impatiently climbed Ceahlau, he reached the hermitage (of whose existence he had had no idea; he found it in his path) and he remained there, firstly in one of the abandoned huts (the abbot had died recently): he moved through all the stages of becoming a hermit and found tranquility.
* * *
He was surprised that nobody in Oana’s village bothered him, although there were plenty who could have taken him to task, especially since he did not have any occupation. He hoped that he was being left alone because he was a stranger to the village and because he didn’t visit the tavern. Leave him be, he minds his own business, he rarely leaves the house, he would rather go to church, the cantor took note of him, finding out that he had a fine voice and knew the Orthodox hymns. He did not let on that he had been a monk, he said that there were priests in his family and that he sang in church as a child. The folk in the village know he is a geography teacher... When he gets bored, he goes to the village graveyard; ever since he can remember he has visited graveyards, where some kind of third eye is activated in him, putting him into a strange meditative state, which vanishes as soon as he leaves the graveyard. To be honest, nowadays he mostly avoids going to the graveyard; he doesn’t want to draw attention. It may be that he developed the habit by himself, making himself go into deep meditation as soon as he entered a graveyard. He has the feeling that he connects with the dead. Maybe he has a faculty whereby the dead talk to him. The unfortunate thing is that he can’t remember anything after he leaves the cemetery, but it is enough that he feels at peace with himself there. More than once he has tried to write down in the graveyard what he discovers from the “spirits,” but all he manages is to scrawl meaningless words, and so he has given it up. He is convinced that he is being drawn into a dangerous game and that is why he doesn’t push it. He would rather refrain and carry on as before. He doesn’t like to mix up the Orthodox and the esoteric. That is also why he doesn’t tell anybody what is going on. He tries to study himself, often accusing himself that he is on the verge of losing his mind... Today, in the village graveyard, he has met the tabby cat again, the one that comes to her master’s grave, he died the year before, the cat constantly comes to his grave, where it leaves him little gifts, a flower, a leaf, a scrap of paper. He is convinced that the dead man communicates telepathically or “spiritually” with his cat and he is afraid of barring its path, although the cat looks at him sympathetically, he would like to stroke it, but he keeps his distance. They have even written about the cat in the local paper: The relatives of the deceased say that the cat accompanied the funeral cortege to the graveside. It remained at its master’s grave after the relatives went home. The next day, the cat was found still next to its master’s grave. The cat has been going to the grave with various gifts ever since: plastic cups, pieces of paper and other discarded items. “Sometimes it comes with me, sometimes it goes alone. It brings him little gifts, sprigs, leaves, toothpicks, plastic cups, bits and pieces. It loved my husband more than the other members of the family, although it is very affectionate with us, the others,” says the widow. Iordache is convinced he would be able to enter into contact with the cat’s master if he put his mind to it, but he is not interested in doing so. He walked down the main path of the graveyard and sat down on a bench, in front of the grave of the husband of the woman he is now shacked up with, Oana. He would have needed more courage to try to enter into a dialogue with him, to explain his powerlessness to wrest himself from the snares of an amorous liaison that is beyond him, he has no explanation as to why she loves him, as she fervently tells him after every session of “lovemaking.” He does not love her, but he does not tell her, he loves God...
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“A book about failure, scepticism, expectation, hope in a miracle that will reveal the transcendent, a book with a predominantly defeatist vision that draws on the postmodernist spirit. The self-referentiality, plentiful quotations connected with the paranormal or esoteric, and samples of inter-textuality and intra-textuality maintain the tension of strong emotions, foster confession and create stylistic excellence.”
(Ana DOBRE, Luceafarul)
“Foe is a memorable novel, because it unfolds in the margins of obsessions which, although not mine or others’, nonetheless belong to our age much more than we are prepared to admit. It is quite simply a mirror, which does not at all distort.”
(Cosmin CIOTLOS, bookia.ro)