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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I'm an Old Commie!

Dan Lungu

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To purchase I'm an Old Commie!

Title: I'm an Old Commie!
Author: Dan Lungu
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: I'm an Old Commie! - US
I'm an Old Commie! - UK
I'm an Old Commie! - Canada
Je suis une vieille coco ! - France
Die rote Babuschka - Deutschland
Sono una vecchia comunista - Italia
¡Soy un vejestorio comunista! - España
  • Romanian title: Sînt o babă comunistă!
  • Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
  • Sînt o babă comunistă! was made into a film in 2013, I'm an Old Communist Hag, directed by Stere Gulea

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Our Assessment:

B : genial take on some of what's been lost in post-communist turmoil

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 7/1/2010 Judith Leister

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die rote Babuschka ist ein sprachlich eher unaufgeregtes, dabei an Pointen reiches Buch, das Porträt eines Menschenschlags, der sich für die Gegenwart grundsätzlich nicht verantwortlich fühlt." - Judith Leister, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I'm an Old Commie! is narrated by Emilia (also called Mica), who feels left behind in the post-communist era, uncomfortable with the rapid changes that have taken place since then (and which have upended her life). As she tells her daughter, Alice, an engineer who emigrated to Canada and is marrying a Canadian:

As far as I'm concerned, things are very simple: before the Revolution, I had a much, much better life than I do now.
       Elections are coming up, and Alice is badgering her mother to vote the right way -- pretty much any way, except for for the ex-communists. But looking at her life, Emilia can't help but admit: "If it were up to me, I'd bring back communism tomorrow."
       It's not like she was a fervent supporter of Nicolae Ceaușescu's regime -- in fact, she too joined the protests against it when it began to crumble -- and though she had become a Party member, back in the day, it was basically because she was dragooned into it (they needed more women members) -- though she has to admit, membership did bring some benefits with it. But she can't help but think that, in a significant way, things were simply better: her nostalgia is for a time when the factories still ran and there was work for everyone, and there was a basic understanding of how to work within the system, with those locally in charge knowing how to navigate it. Material goods were limited, and there were lines for every- and anything, but everyone was more less in the same boat. What there was, from tickets for the tram or movies, to whatever food was available, was incredibly cheap; nowadays there might be plenty, but practically all of it is inaccessible to her.
       Most of all, Emilia appreciates the system for having allowed her to escape the village she was born in, and backward country life. She got a bit of an education, she got a position in a metalworking factory (now stripped of everything and just a ruin), and though she's hardly cosmopolitan, she at least managed to take the step up the ladder in life she wanted. The apartment she and her husband have might be a tiny box -- her daughter, now used to Canadian life, can easily ridicule it -- but it's sufficient, and represents the independence and advancement that the communist system allowed her.
       The chapters in I'm an Old Commie! more or less alternate between the present, the election slowly approaching, and the past, with Emilia describing her childhood and her efforts to escape -- her supportive Aunt Lucreția in town the toehold to a better life. Given the limited opportunities in the countryside, you can understand Emilia's desperation. And when her husband wants to move back to the countryside to "raise poultry and piglets" after the Revolution -- since there's no work to be found -- she balks: "If I'd gone back to the country, it would have been as if I'd lived in vain."
       Among her reminiscences are many of the sharp political jokes told by her factory's Mister Mitu -- often at the expense of the 'Most Beloved Son of the Nation' (i.e. Ceaușescu). "What a wag he is, that Mister Mitu !" she fondly recalls. As the present-day elections approach, however, she learns a few more things about the past -- including about Mister Micu -- that remind her that even what appeared relatively harmless at the time had an uglier side to it too.
       Lungu offers a convincing portrait of one of the many people to whom the Revolution, and the demise of communism, did not bring the positive changes such a transition would have seemed to promise. Democracy and economic freedom are all well and good, but for Emilia and many others it just meant the decline and decay of everything they knew, without new opportunities.
       While by the conclusion Lungu's protagonist does realize that the flaws of the communist system were more problematic than she understood at the time, she also can't really embrace any future-vision: she just doesn't see it. It's easy to see Emilia as a stand-in for a large swath of the population in Eastern Europe -- or indeed anywhere where people have found themselves left behind in times of rapid change.
       I'm an Old Commie! is a genial little novel, offering a good glimpse of life in communist Romania, as well as being a plausible case-study of the toll on a representative individual as the radical transition to would-be capitalist would-be democracy takes place.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 February 2017

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I'm an Old Commie!: Reviews: I'm an Old Communist Hag - the film: Dan Lungu: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Dan Lungu was born in 1969.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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