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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Coming from an Off-Key Time

Bogdan Suceavă

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To purchase Coming from an Off-Key Time

Title: Coming from an Off-Key Time
Author: Bogdan Suceavă
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 200 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Coming from an Off-Key Time - US
Coming from an Off-Key Time - UK
Coming from an Off-Key Time - Canada
  • Romanian title: Venea din timpul diez
  • Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting social/political take on post-Communist era Romania

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Coming from an Off-Key Time is set in post-Communist Romania, which here decidedly has not yet become a civil society comfortable with its institutions and remains vulnerable to the promises of the spiritual, be it political (especially in the form of nationalism) or religious. There are several overlapping storylines of what amount to competing cults, their vacuous and mystic promises appealing against the unsettled realities of the day. As the storyteller (a narrator who quickly fades from the forefront of the narrative) notes:

We were all expecting a miracle. Do you remember the 1990s, with all their mysteries and untold history ?
       One savior figure is Vespasian Moisa -- "bringing Life, Truth, and Freedom" in 1993, and gaining a large following for his 'Tidings of the Lord'. He was born with a birthmark looking like map of Bucharest on his chest, and already then a midwife prophesied:
It is a map of the second Jerusalem, a sign begotten, not made, a sign from the Lord and which demands worship.
       Seen as a second coming of the Son of the Lord, his Bucharest-map adds the nice (and necessary) nationalist touch, allowing his followers to believe that Romania is indeed a promised or chosen land. Among the other theories they espouse: that the Romanian language itself is "the combination to the safe of the universe", a coded key that, once deciphered, will reveal the purposes of the world.
       A competing group finds their own reincarnated mascot, a man claiming he was Stephen the Great (making them the 'Stephenists'). Soon enough there are pitched battles in one of Bucharest's large squares between the competing groups, and various attempts to undermine each other. Meanwhile, the Romanian intelligence agency that tries to track and control these new cults (more of which keep popping up) finds that (despite the services of a spying tomcat) things quickly get out of their hands:
We don't have the resources to keep this new religious outbreak under surveillance, let alone under control.
       With its earnest cultish nonsense -- from the language theories to one of vibrations ("everything is vibration"), as well as various supposed reincarnations --, religious and mystical traditions, and plain surreal touches (the spying tomcat), Coming from an Off-Key Time heaps the absurd on this portrait of the times. The novel is very much grounded in Romanian history and tradition (intellectual as well as religious and political) -- endnotes helpfully clarify some of the obscurer or entirely local references -- and much of the appeal of the novel comes from how much it is of a specific time and place. The surreal satire and invention, and the presentation in general, are also reminiscent of much communist-era subversive eastern European fiction.
       Coming from an Off-Key Time is an excellent example of what a foreign reader might hope for in a specifically 'contemporary Romanian novel': inward-looking (in contrast to so much of the current eastern European fiction that is fixated on comparisons to the west) and, though modern, strongly rooted in local tradition (literary as well as otherwise).

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 February 2011

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Coming from an Off-Key Time: Reviews: Bogdan Suceavă: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Bogdan Suceavă was born in 1969. He lives and teaches in the US.

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