Five Romanian youths under the Ceausescu regime are the focus of this movingdepiction of the struggle to become adults who keep “eyes wide open and tightly shut at the same time.” Through the suicide of a mutual friend, the unnamed narrator?a young woman studying to become a translator?meets a trio of young men with whom she shares a subjugated political and philosophic rebelliousness. The jobs the state assigns them after graduation pull each to a different quadrant of the country, and this, as well as the narrator’s new friendship with the daughter of a prominent Party member, strains their relations. The group manages to maintain its closeness anyway, through coded letters bearing strands of the sender’s hair as a tamper-warning. As the friends begin to lose their jobs and grow weary of being followed, threatened and pulled in for semi-regular interrogations, each one thinks increasingly about escape. Terrifyingly, the narrator finds herself changing into a stranger: “someone who keeps company with misery, to make sure it stays put.” Making her American debut, Muller is well-served by the workmanlike translation; though her lyrical writing falters badly at times (such as the baffling, repeated metaphor that gives the book its title), it also soars to rarefied heights. Most importantly, few books have conveyed with such clarity the convergence of terror and boredom under totalitarianism.
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