lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

La petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais

La petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais (Actes Sud, 2014)
by Lola Lafon
France, 2014

If you have any doubts at all about whether dreaming up a fictitious biography of all-world Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci really could have been the smartest career move to make for someone with aspirations of writing a great, thought-provoking novel in the year 2014, then imagine my pleasure and surprise at discovering that new to me French novelist Lola Lafon not only pulled off the high degree of difficulty feat of genre acrobatics but nailed the landing as well...explaining why I was so taken by La petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais [The Little Communist Who Never Smiled], a seemingly very personal book which Lafon (b. 1975), a Frenchwoman who herself grew up in Romania, has dedicated to the "petites filles de l'été 1976" ["little girls of the summer of 1976"] (318), is easy enough b/c in addition to the vitality of the prose grabbing you from the get-go with its punchy no-nonsense style, this part factual/part fictional faux-reportorial profile dedicated to the "adorable," "insupportablement mignonne" ["unbearably tiny"] (81) but supposedly über-taciturn teen Comăneci's celebrity rise and fall audaciously profits from imagined interviews between the narrator and the former child star in which reflections on the nature of girlhood/womanhood and relations between Ceaușescu's Romania and the '70s and '80s West are all dealt with insightfully and sans the usual simplifying clichés...for those maybe a little taken aback by the torrent of ironic scorn with which Lafon rains down on the idealization of adolescent gymnasts and models at the expense of their future grown-up and grown-out selves as something attributable to "le malheureux destin biologique féminin" ["the unfortunate biological destiny of the female sex"] (278), rest assured that the romancière's sardonic sense of humor also includes slightly more gender-neutral nuggets such as the description of the gold medal winning Romanian Olympic girls gymnastics team--whom coach Béla Károlyi, at least in the novel, proudly refers to as his "fillettes missiles" ["little girl missiles"] (115) at the height of the Cold War!--as "un amas d'araignées exsangues, des mini-vampires des Carpates, une armée d'enfants livides et affamées" ["a mass of anemic spiders, of mini-vampires from the Carpathians, an army of livid and starving children"] (171) in homage to the sacrifices that the perfect 10 Comăneci and her wan cohorts accepted as the price of success in exchange for giving up any semblance of a normal teen life.  Fascinating.

Lola Lafon

6 comentarios:

  1. Bravo on the typeset accomplishment, mixing German, Romanian, and French diacritics! If only I knew how to insert an emoji here....

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    1. Jill, I couldn't figure out what you meant about German diacritics until I remembered I'd slipped in an über in the post Californian-slang style. For a minute, though, you had me totally baffled. Totally! By the way, although I used common Windows alt-number key combinations for most of those, I did cheat with the Romanian: the copy & paste maneuver is sometimes a guy's best friend.

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  2. I can remember Nadia Comăneci's triumphs at the 1976 Olympics (and Olga Korbut in '72). Between the two of them they inspired a massive surge of interest in gymnastics, and virtually every girl in my class wanted to emulate Olga or Nadia. This does sound like a really interesting book, especially the insights into life as a young girl/woman in Ceaușescu's Romania...it's a powerful period of history. I don't know if you've seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a film set in the final years of Ceaușescu's leadership? If not, it might be of interest to you. It's a truly excellent film, not an easy watch though...

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    1. Jacqui, I thought Lafon was particularly good at tapping into the worldwide "Nadiamania" that you touch on here and really provocative about exploring the "feminist" and cultural and political dimensions of her story (i.e. the Ceaușescu regime's introduction of "menstruation police" to try to pressure women into becoming fertile for their country) and integrating them into the larger framework of her novel. It's a really arresting piece of work, and I'm happy to note that I just heard this morning that the novel will be translated into English sometime soon. Glad you mentioned 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which I actually reviewed on the blog once upon a time. I agree that it's an excellent although not easy to watch film, but thanks for reminding me of it because it'd probably hold up to a second viewing pretty well (director Cristian Mungiu's 2012 follow-up Beyond the Hills is also excellent and extremely well-told and -acted). Cheers!

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    2. Oh, how interesting! I'll take a look at your review. Beyond the Hills is very affecting, isn't it? I caught it at the London Film Festival (and it's on my re-watch list). I'm a Mungui fan.

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    3. Sorry, I probably shouldn't have assumed that you hadn't seen Beyond the Hills but I don't think I know anyone else who has IRL. Great film--wish I owned a copy! Have you seen Mungiu's 2009 Tales from the Golden Age? I missed that one when it came out, but I'm going to try and track down a viewing copy. Cheers!

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