Femme Fatale

Eileen Battersby reviews La Belle Roumaine. Dumitru Tsepeneag, trans. Alistair Ian Blyth. Dalkey Archive Press


A tempestuous and rather pointless life

Ana, or is her name Hannah? Does it matter? No, not really. Whatever her name, whatever her story, whatever the truth, this doomed, unhappy if ever sexually resourceful individual is both central character and star attraction of another intriguing work from veteran Romanian master Dumitru Tsepeneag.

Ideas and realities, however surreal they may prove to be, are the life-blood of this fragmented, conversational narrative of ideas. First published in Romanian in 2004, La Belle Roumaine, dominated by its haunting theme of displacement, follows a beautiful, resilient femme fatale making her way through central Europe, its history as much as its geography, and onto France, courtesy of her wits and flair for attracting men.

The first of these smitten males remains the most sympathetic. Jean-Jacques is a battered romantic, owner of the modest Parisian bistro into which she wanders and then quickly establishes a routine. ‘She always sat down at the same table. Hard to say how she found it vacant every time. Especially in the beginning or, to be more exact, on the first three days: nobody else occupied the table before she arrived.’ The poor man takes to guarding the table and his interest aroused, decides on a version of her past which immediately draws the reader in:

‘You would have thought that she was unhappy or that she was brooding on thoughts not exactly rosy. Who knows what unbearable memories afflicted her, who knows what cruel past held her captive, even now … This was why she didn’t look as young as she was beautiful.’[…]

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March/April2018 (issue no.378)

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