Ionel Teodoreanu: La Medelini I Hotarul nestatornic (One Moldavian Summer)
The first volume of Teodoreanu’s novel trilogy about childhood is one of those lyrical novels about (relatively) happy times while out in the country for summer. (They are in Moldavia, which was a separate principality but whose territory is now divided between modern-day Romania and modern-day Moldova. To confuse matters, the Romanian for Moldavia is Moldova). The well-off Deleanu family (the father, Iorgu, is a lawyer) has a country estate to which they go during the summer. We see the arrival of the almost eleven-year old son, Dânuţ, who immediately starts playing with his kite. He will later go with his mother, Alice, to meet the train, which is arriving with his father, his sister, Olguţa, and Monica, the cousin of the children, who has been left an orphan and is now living with the Deleanus. There is no love lost between brother and sister, with Dânuţ immediately attacking his sister. She will get her revenge later by releasing his kite and attaching a note to the fence to explain that she has done it and why. Though criticised by her parents for her act, her punishment is relatively minor and, indeed, throughout the novel they seem to be very easy-going and only very reluctantly and very lightly administering punishment for bad behaviour.
Much of the book concerns the brother-sister rivalry and the role of Monica, and Olguţa’s annoyance at the unfair treatment of girls, not least because she is something of a tomboy. The siblings are continually fighting and, while Monica feels she has to take Olguţa’s part in female solidarity, she also seems to have a bit of an attachment towards Dânuţ. Dânuţ, as the solitary male, often lives in his own world, imagining life as a sultan or Robinson Crusoe or even a vampire, though happy to come out and fight his sister. Indeed, as the Russo-Japanese War is going on at the time, the two split on which side to support, with Dânuţ, with his sword supporting the Japanese and Olguţa the Russians. Olguţa seems the most ferocious, using Monica as an ally, and even using her parents to help, for example by speaking French to her mother which Dânuţ does not understand very well. Eventually Dânuţ calls for a truce, which the girls agree to, though it is soon broken.
Even the servants are convivial. Mos Gheorghe, the stableman, dotes on them and often drives them around and tells them tales, for example of the Russo-Turkish War, which led to Romanian independence and in which he fought. However, things are about to change. Grigore, Iorgu’s bachelor brother, comes to stay. He is known as Herr Direktor, as he was educated as an engineer in Germany though the children call him Uncle Puiu. He is very fond of his nephew and niece and brings lot of presents but is concerned about the education of Dânuţ. He feels that people in Moldavia are too lax and easy-going. He cites the story of the Moldavian man, the roof of whose house is falling in, who, instead of repairing it, gets drunk every day to forget the problem. He therefore encourages Iorgu and Alice to send Dânuţ away to school. The book more or less ends once that decision has been made.
There is no doubt that this is a relatively light book but it is still very enjoyable, the brother-sister fighting, the generally happy, easy-going family and their life in Moldavia, the role of Monica, Olguţa’s feeling that she is being badly done by and Dânuţ’s last year as a boy without any cares all add to the charm of the book. You can see why it is so loved in Romania.
First published in 1924 by Cartea Românească
First English translation in 1992 by the Romanian Cultural Foundation
Translated by Eugenia Farca