Marin Preda: Moromeții (The Morometes)
This novel is clearly semi-autobiographical, with Niculaie Moromete being based on Preda himself and other family members of his own family. It is set in the 1930s, with memories of World War I still fresh and the crisis of World War II starting to loom. It tells the story of a small village in Romania, relatively remote from world events. The Moromete family, the main focus of the story, consists of Ilie and Catrina. As with Preda’s parents, both had been married before and both had children from a previous marriage. Ilie’s three sons from his first marriage are Paraschiv, Nila and Achim. Tita is Catrina’s daughter from her previous marriage. The couple have children jointly – Ilinca and Niculae. They have acquired some land, both as a result of the post-World War I land reform and also because Catrina received some as compensation for being a war widow. The three oldest boys have to work in the fields with their father and are bitterly resentful, particularly Paraschiv. Niculae has to stay at home and look after the sheep. He is bitterly resentful about this, as he wants to go to school but cannot. Ilie has a sister called Maria. She has never married and now, aged fifty, lives on her own in a small cottage that Ilie got her to get rid of her. She claims some of the land he owns as her inheritance and, as she cannot seem to get it, she is very bitter towards him and sides with his oldest children against him and the children of his second marriage. No-one in the family is happy with their lot. Ilie himself is not as hard-working as he might be and likes nothing better to chat with his friends, particularly Cocoşilă, drinking and smoking.
Much of the story about the Morometes concerns their financial woes. Ilie owes back land taxes, which he has avoided paying but which are now coming due and which he can no longer avoid. He has borrowed from the bank to buy sheep but the bank loan is coming due and he cannot pay that. He has various other expenses. He tries to raise money in various ways. He chops down an acacia tree to sell to his neighbour but it is a well loved tree and this causes resentment, particularly from his sister who claims that it is on her share of the land. He tries to sell his maize at a high price but drives round the country trying to get a slightly higher price, without much success. He borrows money from the mayor (who wants him on his side in the forthcoming elections) but the mayor wants to be paid back. He reluctantly agrees to allow Niculae to go to school but there are fees to be paid. Finally, he agrees to allow Achim to go to Bucharest to sell the sheep and send back the money. Achim and the sheep go but no money comes back. Paraschiv and Nila continually threaten to leave, urged on by their aunt.
Things are difficult in other families. His neighbour Tudor Bălosu (Tudor was Preda’s father’s first name) is well-off. However, he wants his daughter, Polina, to marry Stan Cotelici, as he has plenty of land and might be prepared to forego the dowry Tudor would otherwise have to pay. However, Polina prefers Birică but his family is not very well-off so Tudor won’t accept him. The couple eventually elope and then settle in with Birică’s family, which the family are not very enthusiastic about. Tudor will continue to be bitter about this throughout the book, particularly towards his daughter who is far more aggressive than her husband. There are others in the book unhappy with their fate. Tugurlan, unlike Tudor and the Morometes, has no land and is very bitter about it. He has had seven children but all but one died when still young. Botoghina has land but is very ill and cannot work so he is forced to sell land to get hospital treatment. In short, everyone in the village seems miserable and unhappy, with the result that everyone is squabbling, everyone seems to be nasty to everyone else, with frequent vicious and violent attacks resulting in serious injury. The only person that seems to be vaguely decent is the local police officer who, though not averse to hitting suspects, shows considerable leniency in the face of much provocation.
There is a political background to the novel. We learn something about Romanian politics, particularly the martial law that has been introduced. We hear about events elsewhere, such as the bombing of Guernica. Ilie and others read newspapers, often different ones, representing different political views and they give their views on the various political parties. Ilie had been an alderman and had stepped down because there was so much corruption but Mayor Aristide tries to persuade him to stand as Deputy Mayor in the forthcoming elections. However, the main thrust of the novel is the portrait of the Moromete family and their village, a village where no-one is happy, where everyone seems to dislike everyone else, where people are eager to leave and where stabbing in the back is the norm. It makes for great reading.
First published in 1955 by Editura de Stat pentru Literatură și Artă
First English translation in 11957 by the Foreign Languages Publishing House
Translated by N. Mişu