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Irina Teodorescu: La Malédiction du bandit moustachu [The Curse of the Moustached Bandit]

Sometime at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gheorghe Marinescu goes to the barber to have his fine moustache trimmed. While he is there, a man with a very large moustache comes in. He demands the barber’s best blade. He is going to use it to cut the throats of the local bourgeoisie, as he is the local Robin Hood. He steals from the rich to give to the poor. Gheorghe offers to sell him two pistols which he does, for ten gold pieces. He complains to Gheorghe that his life is hard, feeling the forces of law chasing him and order always on the run, always tired. He would love to sleep in a comfy bed. Gheorghe offers him the chance the following week as his father will be away.

The following week the bandit turns up and Gheorghe takes him to a hide-out that, he tells him, will be perfectly safe. However, he has locked the bandit in. He persuades him, in return for a bowl of water, to tell him where he has hidden his money and then leaves him to die. Before he does, the bandit curses not only Gheorghe but all his family till the year 2000.

Gheorghe laughs at this. His father soon dies and Gheorghe is now rich. He marries Lila and has two children and dies in a hunting accident aged twenty-seven. Lila has the priest say two masses – one for Gheorghe’s soul and the other to remove the curse. It does not work. His son dies in a traffic accident aged twenty-two. The daughter, Maria, marries a cousin. Their first-born also dies in a traffic accident aged nineteen. The second goes off to Siberia to raise reindeer. The third, also called Maria, marries a man thirty-five years older than her.

She is known as Dirty Maria as she is both slovenly and licentious, spending her time with the young village lads. She has three sons, looked after by a wet nurse, while she is out with the young lads. However, she is aware of the curse and asks the priests what she should do to remove it. The answer is that she must go to Jerusalem – on foot – and pray at the Wailing Wall. This does not appeal to her but she decides to go. It takes her two years. On arrival, she spends three days and three nights praying and then collapses. She is taken to the house of a dying monk and sort of looks after him, though when she screams he dies. She notices an area of the garden recently dug up and digs down. There is a box of gold coins buried there. She helps herself, feeling it is God’s reward to her. It is not.

The curse continues when she returns. One son is killed in one of the first car crashes in Romania. Another will live a long time but will die dead in a ditch, drunk. Maria realises she made a mismake and locks herself in the cellar, where she dies like the bandit. But the curse continues. The heirs try spending time in prayer at a convent and Agripina,while there even takes charge of a six year old girl whose father has been called up to fight in World War I and has no-one to leave his daughter with. He never returns.

The effects of the curse seem to be wearing off, if only because there are fewer random premature deaths. However, the curse has a way of getting its revenge in other ways. There is the family member who is sent off to a convent. There she first becomes a lesbian and then, as she is both full-blooded and full-figured, decides she wants a man and seduces a priest and marries him but feeling she should be punished for her sins by her husband. Her parents only learn about this two years later.

Ion-Also, son of Ion, is the oldest of five children whose parents are killed early on in a car crash. When he reaches his majority, he exercises his legal rights and is ruthless towards both his siblings and adoptive parents. This theme – a nasty person in each generation – will continue. He takes his sister, Gina, on a European trip. There is a hint of incest here as he is happy for her to be thought to be his wife. However, he meets a woman on the train, has mad passionate sex with her and proposes. He then decides to abandon the trip to get married. Gina refuses to come with him and she disappears for four years, having a miserable life and a fairly miserable one when she returns.

The curse mainly seems to affect eldest sons but, as there are fewer and fewer eldest sons, it becomes less of problem. Another issue is that while the first fifty years take up most of the book, we hurry through the second fifty years, i.e. up to2000. Communism does come and the Marinescus lose their expensive houses but this era sees far fewer deaths, not least because there are far fewer of them. There have been attempts to expiate the curse, calling in priests, soothsayers fortune-tellers and the like but to no avail.

While this was quite an interesting idea, the problems are twofold. Firstly, there are just so many ways the family can be punished, particularly if they are to be killed off. Secondly ,there are not many ways they can try and remove the curse, i.e. good works – something the family is not very good at – or recourse to holy people, which seems ineffective. Given the way she rushes through the second half of the twentieth century, you get the feeling that Teodorescu had run out of steam somewhat. Perhaps she should have had more curses and more bandits.

Publishing history

First published in 2014 by Gaïa Éditions
No English translation
First published in German in 2015 as Der Fluch des schnauzbärtigen Banditen by Wagenbach
Translated by Birgit Leib