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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

La Belle Roumaine

Dumitru Tsepeneag

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To purchase La Belle Roumaine

Title: La Belle Roumaine
Author: Dumitru Tsepeneag
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 187 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: La Belle Roumaine - US
La Belle Roumaine - UK
La Belle Roumaine - Canada
La Belle Roumaine - France
La belle roumaine - Deutschland
La belle roumaine - Italia
  • Romanian title: La belle Roumaine
  • Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

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Our Assessment:

B : playful novel of contemporary European displacement

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Wall St. Journal . 22/9/2017 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Tsepeneag shuffles his story into disorderly fragments and makes fantasies indistinguishable from real events, conjuring the bewilderment of the stateless émigré. A people who began the calamitous 20th century possessed by a fervor for nationalism ended it, the novel suggests, without any knowable identity at all, blank slates whose histories are reinvented with every telling." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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:

       'La belle Roumaine' of the title is the central figure in this novel, a bewitching woman who is hard to peg down. Identity is a central issue, and, repeatedly, others have difficulty placing her, her Romanian background, for example, not obvious to them. Even her name is fluid:

     She'd told him that her name was Annette. From Anne, obviously. Ana, in Romanian. Or Aneta ...
       Elsewhere, it's 'Ann', or 'Hannah' -- "Yes, with an H and two N's, but you can write it without an H too".
       Her appearance, too, isn't fixed -- she has black hair sometimes, dyed blonde at others. And her identity, her background, her experiences, her profession -- her whole story, in other words -- remains elusive, too. She reveals some to some of the men she becomes involved with, but is cautious in her connections, secretive -- like hiding her caged eagle in a closet whenever one lover comes over --, vague, and flighty.
       The novel opens in Paris, where she becomes a regular at a: "small bistro that Jean-Jacques grandly called a café", the owner smitten by her and holding her favored table free for her, unasked. Here, as elsewhere, she is welcomed and easily falls into a pattern -- yet manages to keep a certain distance and remain unpredictable. And it's not Jean-Jacques that becomes involved with her but rather another of his regulars, Yegor.
       The three-act novel does not proceed chronologically, moving back in time -- and from Paris to Berlin -- for the middle section, revealing earlier relationships -- balancing affairs with two men who are friends, for example -- as well as the origins of her pet eagle ..... In Berlin she is Hannah, mostly. Here, also, her story is more immediately shaped by her emigrant experience, after growing up under Ceaușescu, and now progressing through the shifts of post-Communist Europe.
       The novel opens with an epigraph from Novalis -- "Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but a novel that is made by us" -- and late in the novel (if not the action) one of her lovers quotes it to her, observing: "You turn your life into a novel". La belle Roumaine certainly shifts the ground beneath those she is close to: she does tell parts of her story (and we do get (firmer) parts of some of theirs), but the full picture remains elusive. So too Tsepeneag plays with the story around her. One character complains: "Everything about detective films is artificial, the same as novels in the same genre"; La Belle Roumaine is, in part, a mystery -- the first section closing with a dramatic event, before then jumping back in time and only slowly getting to how it might have come to this -- and Tsepeneag plays with the artificial: it's certainly not your usual kind of mystery.
       While la belle Roumaine is the central, dominant figure, much of the focus is also on the men around her, and their relationships with her -- as much in their heads, in many cases, as in any way real, and even where it is real, she remains a figure they have a hard time in any way fully grasping.
       So too La Belle Roumaine remains an elusive story, even as its outlines -- what 'happens' -- can seem almost simple. It ultimately isn't straightforward -- but for the reader willing to go along with its dissimulations, uncertainty, and (re)turns, as well as its deliberate, playful vagueness, it offers decent rewards.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 October 2017

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La Belle Roumaine: 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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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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