Title: The Invention of Ana
Writer: Mikkel Rosengaard (translated by Caroline Waight)
Publishing House: Custom House
Date of Publication: February 13th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’They never went hungry, but there was no electricity, and she remembered the long, dark evenings in the apartment, the afternoons when there was so little to do that she was reduced to padding at the hours with daydreams.’’
In a beautiful evening in New York, an aspiring young writer from Denmark meets Ana. She is as enigmatic and fascinating as her homeland, Romania. An artist, offspring of two mathematicians, she claims that she can travel in time. Ana begins to narrate her story to our young Dane, a story of a life experienced in a country under the terrible dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a life in the shadows of her gifted but self-destructive parents. Rosengaard’s novel is a unique blend of Historical and Literary Fiction, Philosophy and Mystery, a fine mixture of the best elements of Scandinavian Literature with a Balkan touch. I can’t think of a better combination.
‘’For several minutes we stood in the platform and gazed across at the island, at the skyscrapers and the spaces between them, the sunlight transitioning slowly into the glare of many thousands of lamps. It never really got dark, but for a moment the two lights met, the natural and the artificial, and the city and sky dissolved together.’’
Going back and forth in time, focusing on Ana’s story, Rosengaard takes us on a journey to Romania under the rule of a monster. The absolute control of the regime has bound the nation with deadly chains. Education, culture, science, every human value has disappeared for anyone who isn’t a member of the Party. We witness the open wounds across Romania through the eyes of Maria and Ciprian, two characters whose talent and intelligence mean nothing. Their only worth is the way the regime can use them to its benefit. Rosengaard also takes us to Morocco during the early 80s, in a society so different than Romania’s and yet equally oppressed. And then we have New York, the city where everyone can find everything. A crucible of people, cultures, beliefs. A scenery where hopes and aspiration take flight. In the heart of the bright metropolis, two people try to reconcile the past with the present and find a way to move to the future.
Rosengaard’s writing is beautiful. The descriptions of historical Romanian cities such as Cluj and Constanța. Morocco’s capital, Rabat and, naturally, New York are poetic and vivid. The urban environment and the Romanian countryside, the lofts and the small apartments, the universities and the art galleries. The dialogue is well-written and realistic, the sense of time and place masterfully depicted. I could do without the occasional unnecessary focus on sex but that is a personal opinion. The characters are well-constructed, our narrator’s voice is sensitive and insecure in a very sympathetic manner but inevitably, the spotlight falls on Ana and her parents, Maria and Ciprian. All three are powerful, imposing personalities, serving their ideals, trying to fulfill their ambitions, surpassing the difficulties. However, this is so difficult when you are the Stranger, the one who doesn’t fit. Or the one who refuses to obey…
And what about time? The moments missed and the moments experienced once again? What about traveling in the past? Well, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions by reading the novel…
A marvelous book that will satisfy readers across genres. If you find it a little slow, don’t give up. Persist and you will be rewarded.
‘’But here one must remember that this was the People’s Republic of Romania. Ceauşescustan, a land where anyone could end up in a labor camp, where the president had just returned from a starving North Korea and announced that he felt inspired.’’
Many thanks to Custom House and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.