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Cecilia Stefanescu: Intrarea soarelui (Sun Alley)
When I first started reading this novel and saw that it was about pubescent cildren, I must admit that I hesitated as, on the whole – Lord of the Flies excepted, of course, I tend not to enjoy books about children. I turned out to be very wrong as this is a superb and complex book. It is certainly not Lord of the Flies, perhaps more Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, if we need to make a comparison.
Our hero is a twelve year old boy, an only child, called Sorin Alexandru Lemnaru but known to all as Sal. He is a typical twelve year old boy. He likes hanging out with his male friends and he likes playing football. They talk about girls, though Harry is the only one who seems to know anything about them. He then meets Emilia, known as Emi. She is also an only child but not very approved of by Sal’s parents, as her father had left and her mother is bringing her up. We learn more about the father and why Sal’s parents disapprove later on.
We follow them as they gradually get closer. Emi’s mother calls him a special boy. She used ‘special’ like some people do when trying to be condescendingly polite, referring to some kind of handicap or simply to a death-row convict whose case, in their opinions, is totally hopeless, but to whom they magnanimously lie one last time. Emi was a girl on the move. She was merciless, especially on herself; she had enforced a draconian schedule that she followed unfalteringly and mysteriously.
Inevitably the two grow closer, so much so that he seems to put her – in some cases, at least – ahead of his male friends, to their annoyance. Stefanescu’s technique is to tell their basic story in this first part but key events (e.g Emi’s father) are either glossed over or not mentioned till much later in the book. We see one example of how Sal goes against his parents. The tradition has been to have a grandiose birthday party for him, involving all the family. Emi was not invited. After about an hour, Sal disappears (with some birthday cake) and goes To Emi. He knows he will be punished but he does it nevertheless.
One day he goes to Harry’s building but Harry seems to be out. It is raining so he seeks shelter and finds a basement room. It is dark and the light does not seem to be working. He feels around and finds a table. There seem to be something on the table and it seems to be a body, specifically a dead adult female body. He feels around and instead of being frightened, he is mesmerised. He finds some matches and then an oil lamp and lights up the room. He sees the corpse and notices she has a ring on, He tries to take the ring but cannot, so cuts off the finger. He will later give the ring to Emi. When she wants to see the body and they return, it has gone. Did it really happen? Was the body really there? If not,where did the ring and finger come from?
This episode is key, firstly because of Sal’s – to us – outrageous behaviour but also with Emi going along with it. (She will wear the ring as an adult.) However, while what I have recounted may seem key, an even more important is also taking place about which we only learn about towards the end of the book. We have not questioned Sal’s account – at least I did not – but, again towards the end of the book, the seed of doubt is sown in our mind when we are told that everybody knew, even his childhood pals, that Sal could see things others couldn’t, said things no child would say, did things few grown-ups would do.
Sal and Emi grow very close though, like all romantic couples they have their ups and downs, which they tend to weather. However, while they may be happy, his parents are not. His mother is pregnant and the parents decide, partially to have a bigger property but also but also to get Sal away from Emi, that they should move well away. Sal is devastated and he proposes to Emi that they should run away together. He will steal some money from his father to help them. Emi, who is somewhat more pragmatic, is opposed but bullied into agreeing. Once again, we do not learn what happened till very late in the book.
About a third of the way into the book, a key event happens which I am going to have to reveal. If you do not like spoilers, skip the rest of the review and take my word for it that this is a superb book, well worth reading.
When they walk in the park, Emi has noticed a couple who seem vaguely familiar. They seem either to be pointedly ignoring one another or arguing.They soon realise that it is them as adults. We learn that both had gone their separate ways – though, inevitably the whys and wherefores are not revealed till later – and have married other partners. Sal has two daughters with Matilda and Emi has no children but is apparently happily married to Matei. They bump into each other by chance in a post office. Just as their first romance was forbidden love, as they were under age, they are now back in a forbidden – this time adulterous – relationship. As we have seen, it is not happy, even if they clearly love one another.
As mentioned above, various parts of the story are gradually revealed, which colour our views and, in one or two cases, colour theirs, as the other one did not know what had happened. Above all this is a first-class story, as we get a portrait of a relationship in two stages, both under less than ideal conditions, i.e. essentially a forbidden relationship. This forbidden nature as well as the the key issues we only learn about later make both of these relationships ultimately destructive, even if both parties love each other very much, indeed passionately. Stefanescu gives us a wonderful psychological analysis of the two protagonists and their relationship, but also their interactions with other characters. Like many couples, they make a lot of mistakes but, in their case, these mistakes can have profound implications. Are they doomed from the start? Difficult to say but there is no doubt that it is only going to get worse.
First published 2008 by Polirom
First published in English in 2013 by Istros Books
Translated by Alexandra Coliban and Andrea Höfer