Bucharest: Blood and Dust

Małgorzata Rejmer
Bucharest: Blood and Dust
  • Czarne
    272 pp
    ISBN 978-83-7536-539-9
    Translation rights: POLISHRIGHTS.COM

The journey to Romania’s capital that led to Bucharest: Blood and Dust was not just a stopover, a brief stay. Małgorzata Rejmer spent two years there (off and on), and she’s already saying she’ll be back.  It’s clear from the book that its author conducted some serious fieldwork, renting a shabby little apartment in order to be able to experience the place in the most intense way possible, going around, talking to people, reading.  But Bucharest is not just a collection of travel vignettes.  Rejmer has put together a historical and cultural collection that makes it possible to answer questions that may not be possible to answer, or that may not even be permissible to answer.  She bravely diagnoses the Romanian nation here: the Romanians meekly accept their fate, often death, never lifting up their heads, making do, not fighting, not arguing.  The ballad “Mioriţa,” or “The Little Ewe” (which Nichita Stănescu calls the Romanian Iliad and Odyssey, and which Herta Müller calls a Nibelungenlied), as well as the saying “Asta e, ce să faci?”, meaning “That’s the way it is, what are you going to do about it?”, enable the author to understand how Ceauşescu’s regime was ever even possible.

In Bucharest, Rejmer is a researcher of a foreign culture—an eastern culture, fascinating above all for its cruelty, its savagery, the appeal of its ugliness.  She writes, “I don’t much care for the new.  I like the old layers underneath.”  And she continues, “I feel the pull of this city, so laced with madness.”  She gets to the very bottom of everything, for the bottom is what most interests her.  Extreme conditions (chaos, magnitude) are of the greatest use to her.  Rejmer peers into the very heart of what’s strange, what stands out, what is particular and what is total—she’s simply stunned by this country without qualities, which has been shaped as though it were putty, passed from hand to hand, burned down and rebuilt, bathed in blood, while always managing to keep its head above water.  In trying to explain, understand, and narrate that eastern savage quality, Rejman takes a position vis-à-vis her subject.  Her choice of format, the essay, “justifies” that strategic positioning, but it might also be asked whether that human element in the text is a strength or a weakness.  It seems significant, too, that Rejmer has entitled her book Bucharest, instead of—for instance—My Bucharest.  It’s a bold attempt at stating a “whole,” not to mention stating a single, only “truth”…

Bucharest has undeniable educational value.  It is an important book that reminds us of recent nightmares.  Rejmer writes about things we can’t be permitted to forget—about reeducation through torture, about the totalitarian system, about the ban on birth control and the tragedies it brought about.  Rejmer locates the essence of Ceauşescu’s totalitarian Romania in the bodies of those women forced to give birth or bleeding to death after illegal abortions (when she writes about Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, she stresses the necessity of bearing witness to that suffering, that misery, and that oppression that so tormented the film’s director).  

Małgorzata Rejmer’s Bucharest definitely favors remembering, actually bracketing whole areas of the region’s most recent history, which we might not want to know about, because it’s better that way, more comfortable, easier.  Toxaemia, Rejmer’s first book, published in 2010, caused a big stir and raised people’s hopes that we might have a new and interesting writer on our hands.  The test of the second book is not an easy one to pass, but Rejmer confirms with Bucharest that the buzz around Toxaemia was justified, in its way.  Although she has now changed publishers and genres, she is still dealing with the same thing: the exotic, subtle appeal of the savage world.

Anna Marchewka