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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Liviu Rebreanu

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To purchase Ciuleandra

Title: Ciuleandra
Author: Liviu Rebreanu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1927 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Ciuleandra - US
Ciuleandra - UK
Ciuleandra - Canada
Madalina - France
  • Romanian title: Ciuleandra
  • Translated by Gabi Reigh
  • With an Introduction by George T. Sipos

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Our Assessment:

B : fine little tale of murder, madness, and obsessions

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       No question, Ciuleandra begins dramatically, its opening words young Puiu Faranga's raging to his wife: "QUIET ! QUIET ! QUIET !" Not a peep comes from her, but still he continues chanting the same word -- all the while his hands tight around her throat, only finally letting go when he realizes that she is dead.
       Puiu is the: "sole heir of the Faranga name and fortune, of that ancient boyar family" (boyar being Romanian nobility, as George T. Sipos explained in his introduction). His father, Policarp, is now an eminent and highly-respected judge -- though he enjoyed a life of debauchery until the death of Puiu's mother, when the boy was four, only then settling down (and entering politics). Puiu took after his father, and until now:

He had lived his whole life on the surface. His joys and disappointments had sprung from minor incidents in the world outside of himself. His only goal in life had been the seduction of beautiful women and then, floating somewhere ahead of him like a hazy distant target, the desire to follow in his father's footsteps by entering politics and even becoming a minister.
       Policarp had hoped to settle the boy down by marrying him off young, but the beautiful Madeleine clearly didn't completely tame him, as Puiu continued to seduce other women, even as he was widely envied for his stunning wife. Madeleine was in every respect a paragon -- accepting her husband's philandering, and still devoted to him. After four years of marriage, Puiu had no reason for complaint -- much less cause for murder. And yet .....
       Puiu immediately turns to his father after realizing what he did, and his father quickly decides how best to save his son. He calls the authorities and insists matters be done by the book -- even as, in light of the family name and position, the authorities seem more than willing to quickly brush things under some rug. Instead, Policarp suggests that the appropriate course of action is to deliver Puiu to an asylum, where his fitness to stand trial can be evaluated. Policarp means, of course, for Puiu's act to be deemed one of madness, allowing Puiu to avoid a prison term and instead be rehabilitated in an asylum (and then, perhaps after a few years abroad, eased back into society and his proper place in it).
       Among the novel's most amusing scenes are how this is all orchestrated, the authorities showing ridiculous deference to Policarp and treating Puiu with kid gloves; they even all drive to the asylum together -- and leave Puiu in the car while they see to matters inside. Even once institutionalized, Puiu is treated more like a hotel guest than a murderous patient -- and, while Madeleine's death is considered a tragedy, no one really seems to hold it against Puiu.
       Policarp's plan involved having Puiu be taken to the sanatorium of a doctor who Policarp knew would be amenable to his plan, Professor Demarat, but he turns out to have inconveniently gone abroad. This means Puiu's case -- and fate -- are in the hands of a Doctor Ursu -- and Policarp worries that Doctor Ursu might not go along with all this as readily .....
       Doctor Ursu doesn't show his cards early, and Puiu spends several weeks in the clinic, somewhat tortured by his deed. Eventually, we learn more about Madeleine and how she came to be Puiu's wife. Concerned that: "When blood was too blue, it started to degenerate", Policarp had been determined that Puiu should: "marry a girl who would regenerate their ancient blood and give it a new lease of life" -- a girl of hearty peasant stock. They found her in Mădălina Crainicu, a young teenager that Puiu was swept away by when he joined in a group of locals in a rural village dancing the intoxicating, wild Ciuleandra. Policarp approved of Puiu's choice, but the girl was still far too young and raw to marry, and he saw to it that she was given proper schooling -- abroad, no less -- and polished into a proper lady. Mădălina was transformed into Madeleine, an ideal of a woman, stunningly beautiful and then entirely devoted to her husband, never giving him cause to complain -- or demand that she be: "Quiet".
       As readers can guess from Doctor Ursu's reaction when he learns Madeleine's real name, there's a connection between the doctor who rose up from his peasant background to his present position and the village girl -- and, of course, there's the concern that this might impact his assessment of her murderer .....
       Increasingly, Puiu fixates on the Ciuleandra, the wild dance that first brought him together with his future bride. Rebreanu impressively conjures up the frenzy of the dance -- and Puiu's frustration at not quite remembering the tune and everything that goes with it, and his determination to latch onto it again.
       The course of the story then isn't too surprising. Perhaps the one disappointing bit is that Rebreanu's murder-scene would seem to suggest from the beginning that it clearly was an act of madness, an impulse in the moment; Puiu's time in the clinic would seem, in fact, to be the appropriate handling of the case, rather than just the ruse everyone accepts it as being. Greater ambiguity, in the form of a more coldly rational Puiu and the suggestion of some (other) plausible reason for why he might have committed this act might have made for a stronger story. But even as is, it's enjoyably gripping.
       Rebreanu is particularly good with the supporting elements: Policarp's reasoning in trying to improve the bloodline, as well as his trying to be in control of how Puiu's fate plays out, is a strong secondary storyline, while episodes such as Puiu's falling for Mădălina -- and then Policarp's arrangements to turn her into a proper wife -- are excellent. Puiu's tortured thoughts and actions, on the other hand, can be a bit wearing -- in part also because he repeatedly is so grating and annoying in character; a more controlled protagonist would likely have worked considerably better. (In this, specifically, Ciuleandra is very much a Central European novel of the 1920s; this sort of haunted protagonist was all the rage in that day.)
       Ciuleandra is an enjoyable tale, what with its mix of murder, guilt, and obsession -- and, above all else, the losing of the self in the moment, in something like the Ciuleandra (or murder ...). If Rebreanu does not fully exploit the potential of the story, including some of the elements such as issues of class difference, it is solidly built up and unfolds quite nicely, making for an enjoyable little novel with some powerful scenes (not least, the opening one).

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 March 2021

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Ciuleandra: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Liviu Rebreanu lived 1885 to 1944.

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© 2021 the complete review

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