Home » Moldova » Tatiana Țîbuleac » Vara în care mama a avut ochii verzi [The Summer When Mum Had Green Eyes]

Tatiana Țîbuleac: Vara în care mama a avut ochii verzi [The Summer When Mum Had Green Eyes]

The first sentence of this book sets the tone immediately: That morning, when I hated her more than ever, Mum had just turned thirty-nine. She was small and fat, stupid and ugly. She was the most useless mother of all those who ever existed. We are in no doubt that Aleksy, the narrator, hates, despises and is ashamed of his mother. He is in school and has just graduated. His mother, like other parents, has come to pick him up. Next to me, a sad gathering of fake pearls and cheap ties, the parents paraded, silent and frightened, to come and recover their failed offspring whom they were hiding from the world.

It is not just him. His best friend Jim was with his parents who, if they had not been afraid of what will be said, would have sold him for his organs in less time than it takes to say it. As for the teachers they were glad to get rid of their charges and, if they possibly could, would have found another job by next year. In our school, even infectious diseases would never have remained after closing time.

His mother, however is the focus. I’ve never met a more poorly dressed woman and I couldn’t stand her. I was caught up in the idea of sticking her in the washing machine and running the the sheets cycle. Locking her in the freezer and removing her in a thousand pieces.

As for Dad’s contribution, I didn’t even want to think about it. Thinking about him made me want to vomit. Dad had got rid of Mum, by swapping her for a Polish woman with a tongue pierced with a ring. He had got divorced, because if he had killed Mum, which he would have preferred and which would have been faster, he would have been thrown into prison.

Back home she celebrates her birthday and he unwillingly joins in for a while. When he got up the next morning she had her head on the table and six empty bottles next to her. She spent the day throwing up. Home, by the way, is Haringey, a North London suburb.

So what inspired this parental hate? The answer, at least in part, is Mika. Mika was his younger sister. She was adored by both parents and while the father regularly beat Aleksy, Mika was spoilt. Aleksy also adored his sister. And then she died. We do not know how, though Aleksy was not to blame. The death cast a gloom over the family so much so that the mother refused to speak to her son or even acknowledge his existence for seven months. The father drank even more than he had before Mika’s death. The only one who remained vaguely normal and looked after Aleksy was his grandmother. Eventually the mother snapped out of it but the damage had been done. Since then he has had psychiatric problems (he tells us his condition has a long name but does not tell us what it is) and he has continued to receive treatment, with only limited success. His grandmother will later say to his mother If you had given him a good spanking from time to time, he would not have become like that. In our family, no one is crazy and we raised unhappier ones than him!

The school holidays were already laid out. Aleksy and his friends Jim and Kalo, who also had their problems, were off to Amsterdam to do drugs and lose their virginity. So it is something of a surprise to see them – mother and son – heading off to a strange rural converted barn, somewhere in France. For the mother, France is the most beautiful country in the world. We will later learn that his mother has bribed him.

Once they are in France he notices that his mother’s behaviour has changed. Was she taking drugs? Was she pregnant? Had she killed someone? Mum was hiding something from me and it annoyed me. The first sign is when they walk into the local town where there is a weekly market to do some shopping. He gets bored and walks back. He realises he does not have a key. He hurts his hand trying (unsuccessfully) to break in and is then caught in a heavy downpour. Mother looks after him when he is ill as result. She had brought eight boxes of painkillers. He consumes all of them in three days. During all these years during which I tried to escape my madness – madness that first tortured me and covered me with all possible rot, then made me rich and desirable – I never found better pills than those of mum’s summer.

We gradually learn that he is looking back. In the future he is a successful painter and has had a girlfriend whom he met during this summer. We also learn that his mental health problems are still there in his later years and, indeed, seem to help his career as a painter.But now, he and his mother finally grow closer. It seemed strange to me not to want mum to be dead any more and That summer, we self-destructed more than all the other years but we have never been so full of life. In the end, we ended up being a family. She even apologises for her past behaviour.

They carry on that summer and a little beyond, growing closer together. He finds a girlfriend, Moira, the niece of their English landlord. Not only do they grow closer together, they are gradually accepted by the locals.

The focus of the book is on that summer – mother-son, fitting in with the locals, their various activities and coping with life. However we do get quite a few glimpses of the future. He is writing this book much later as a therapeutic exercise. We learn about his mental health problems, his artistic career and his relationship with Moira, all of which cause their own problems.

However it is the changing mother-son relationship that is the key to the book and what makes it interesting. I do not think I have ever read a book where the main male character is so critical of his mother, yet ends up being very close to her.

As you can see below, this book has been published in seven other languages but not in English.

Publishing history

First published in 2016 by Cartier, Chişinău
No English translation

First published in Catalan in 2022 as L’estiu que la mare va tenir els ulls verds by Editorial Amsterdam
Translated by Corina Oproae
First published in French in 2018 as L’été où maman a eu les yeux verts by Ed. des Syrtes
Translated by Philippe Loubière
First published in German in 2021 as Der Sommer, als Mutter grüne Augen hatte Schöffling
Translated by Ernest Wichner
First published in Italian in 2023 as L’estate in cui mia madre ha avuto gli occhi verdi byKeller, Rovereto
Translated by Ileana M. Pop
First published in Spanish in 2021 as El verano en que mi madre tuvo los ojos verdes Impedimenta
Translated by María Ángeles Ochoa de Eribe Urdinguio
Aloso published in Galician, Polish