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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hotel Europa

Dumitru Tsepeneag

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Title: Hotel Europa
Author: Dumitru Tsepeneag
Genre: Novel
Written: (1995) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 394 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Hotel Europa - US
Hotel Europa - UK
Hotel Europa - Canada
Hôtel Europa - France
Hotel Europa - Deutschland
  • Romanian title: Hotel Europa
  • Translated by Patrick Camiller
  • First published in Romania in 1996
  • Published in France, as Hôtel Europa, translated by Alain Paruit, in 1996. Published in German, as Hotel Europa, translated by Ernest Wichner, in 1998. This review is based on the French and German translations and not the Romanian original.

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Our Assessment:

B : a quite entertaining journey through the Europe of the 1990s, as seen from Romanian perspectives

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today B Fall/1999 Marianna D. Birnbaum

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hotel Europa has a clever plot, but it is often cheapened by trite jokes (.....) To mix detailed naturalism successfully with a surreal vision takes a Garcia Marquez. Tsepeneag has not yet reached those heights. He is closer to Rezzori or Voinovich, which means that here and there he provides us with a hilarious reading of the near past; but there is no perennial message in the text, mostly because the sharpest irony is often sacrificed for the sake of a pun." - Marianna D. Birnbaum, World Literature Today

Note that Marianna Birnbaum's review refers to the German translation of this work.

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:

       The unnamed narrator of Hotel Europa is also its author, and much of the novel deals with the writing of the actual novel. The author is strikingly similar to Tsepeneag, a Romanian exile who has long lived in France.
       The book only slowly takes shape, as the author narrates his own story before allowing the fiction to take up more of the space and ultimately to dominate. Inspiration comes from the events around 1989 and 1990, as the Eastern bloc crumbles. The author recounts a trip to Romania with the organization Doctors without Borders when the country is making the transition from Ceausescu's dictatorship to a nominally more democratic system following the collapse of the communist states. He meets a number of people there, including the student Ion Valea, and it is Ion who eventually becomes the central character of the book.
       The author struggles with the writing of his book, getting away from Paris (and his Marianne, the sober woman who is concerned with his health and thinks he is wasting his time with his Romanian preoccupations which she can't quite take seriously). He even reverts to writing in Romanian, after struggling for so long to learn French and having written his most recent books in French. He finally comes up with a plot: Ion travelling across Europe in search of his friend Maria -- and, ultimately, in search of the author in Paris.
       Both parts of the novel -- the author's travels and travails and Ion's travels and travails -- are handled quite well. The author's struggles are only in part literary, as his interest in his old homeland and the current turmoil there leads him to wonder what he can do and how he should act. He is also keenly aware of the changing state of Europe itself. There is a Hotel Europa nearly everywhere that Ion goes in the large Hotel Europa that is the continent, but the author is also aware that there are differences in all these places. In particular, his own comfortable and predictable lifestyle in France contrasts with the unsettled and chaotic lifestyles of those whose countries (and expectations) have recently been thrown into turmoil.
       Ion's quixotic voyage takes him through much of Europe -- Budapest, Vienna, Munich are among the stations -- and he drifts across the continent towards France in his vague quest.
       Tsepeneag describes the situation in Romania itself very well -- the desire to leave the country, to see the world (or at least something different from the narrow, constrained homeland). There is a rush for passports when these are finally made available: anywhere but here, the young people who apply for them seem to say -- though they are without clear plans for out there either.
       Maria remains elusive (as does the author, whose name Ion has forgotten by the time he reaches France). Along the way there are a variety of adventures, though Ion seems largely unaffected as things tend to happen around him rather than to him (and he simply pushes on when they actually do happen to him). Ion has luck gambling, but never manages to hold onto the money. There are prostitutes, Romanians abroad, pieces of advice (foremost among them: Ion should make clear he is Romanian, not a gypsy).
       Europe is presented much like one large hotel, with the usual variety of guests from all over, not really at home. There are people in search of business (many of the shadier variety), there is sex -- casual as well as for sale. It is a functioning place, but it is also shifting and changing, the actors merely passing through, not really at home.
       Tsepeneag paints a good picture of Europe in the 1990s, especially from the point of view of the exile (old and new). Existing on the fringes of Europe for so long, Romania still likes to consider itself a Central European country -- and, with its romance tongue (closer to French than any of the Slavic languages, for example) it has some claim to being truly European. As Tsepeneag shows, it is not quite that simple to fully convince. Much of the feel of the novel is of a very similar time -- Europe in the 1920s, when many of these nations (Romania and France, especially) were in similar situations.
       Quite well done, the book makes a good and fairly entertaining read. It is not too ponderous, but there is a fair amount of substance behind it.

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Hotel Europa: Reviews: Other books by Dumitru Tsepeneag under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag (Țepeneag) was born in 1937. He emigrated to France in 1971, and now divides his time between Paris and Bucharest.

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