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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Angel Riding a Beast

Liliana Ursu

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To purchase Angel Riding a Beast

Title: Angel Riding a Beast
Author: Liliana Ursu
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1996 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 81 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Angel Riding a Beast - US
Angel Riding a Beast - UK
Angel Riding a Beast - Canada
  • Translated by the author and Bruce Weigl
  • With an introduction by Geta Dumitriu
  • Published by Northwestern University Press, as part of their Writings from an Unbound Europe series

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, often touching poems of exile and apartness

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Summer/1999 Sharon M. Bailey

  From the Reviews:
  • "(Ursu) seeks to make concrete such abstract concepts as home, exile, love, hope, and death through observation of herself, those around her, and her environment." - Sharon M. Bailey, World Literature Today

Please note that the illustrative quote chosen here is merely those the complete review subjectively believes represents the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that it may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual review by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Romanian poet Liliana Ursu spent two years at Penn State University (as a Fulbright Fellow) in the 1990s, and this collection is based on her experiences away from her homeland. The physical exile is compounded by the uprooting that has come within Romania itself in the post-Ceausescu era, making for a doubled disassociation that is felt throughout the collection. Religion, poetry, and people are the counterweights that help anchor Ursu -- though the hold, at a distance, is not firm.
       The book is divided into three sections: American Night, The Key to Mystery, and Memories from the Arc of the Mountains. The poems are all relatively short, a page or two in length. Ursu introduces herself -- and the mood of what follows -- in the first lines of the book:

I have the sad aura of those coming from Eastern Europe
as if from some kind of inferno.
       The simple, promising first line is diminished by the melodrama of the second, "inferno" being much too strong a word here. The East European experience -- and the Romanian one in particular, under the regime of the clownish thug Nicolae Ceausescu -- was in many respects a horrible one (as Ursu goes on to describe), but by the first years after the fall of the Soviet satellite regimes the sad aura of those coming from those places showed few traces of the infernal machinations and suffering endured under the misrule of their once glorified leaders. The horrors Ursu recounts of that past are, with a few notable exceptions, also surprisingly flat.
       Ursu wonders: "how much of me has survived", though it is striking how little is revealed about her identity, or any true self underneath. The poems speak of longings, memories, misery, homesickness, but these do not add up to a clear picture of the woman (or the voice) behind these poems. In part, Ursu does not seem to want to let go of this horrible past because it does, in part, define her. Perhaps appropriately it also seems to define only a shell of a person.
       Ursu is a stranger in a strange land when she is in America, looking always back (and forward) to distant Romania. Some of the alienation she feels and the contrasts she remarks upon are very effective:
Here, in America,
my mirror reflects only a stranger.
       Elsewhere she introduces a poem with the words: "The mask that's meant to hide my face exposes me instead." Identity is hidden behind masks, words, history, and nationality, layers of disguise that both mask and shield -- and, on occasion, reveal.
       Poetry is a solace, and the voices and words of Merwin, Berryman, and Randall Jarrell are invoked. There is also an homage to Marina Tsvetaeva. Religion is also frequently invoked.
       The poems are fairly accomplished, and they often read well. Individually, and as a collection, they are, however, not entirely satisfactory (or, generally, convincing). The American-Romanian juxtaposition is an interesting one, but seems incomplete.
       A decent but unexceptional collection.

       Ursu graduated from the University of Bucharest with a degree in English, and, with Bruce Weigl, she translated these poems that she had originally written in Romanian. Her relatively simple and straightforward style seems to translate quite well; certainly the collection reads well.

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Angel Riding a Beast: Reviews: Liliana Ursu: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian poet Liliana Ursu was born in 1949. She was a Fulbright fellow at Pennsylvania State University in 1992 and 1997.

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