Overview

A splendid, violent spring suddenly grips Bucharest in the 1980s after a brutal winter. Tolea, an eccentric middle-aged intellectual who has been dismissed from his job as a high school teacher on "moral grounds," is investigating his father's death forty years after the fact, and is drawn into a web of suspicion and black humor.

"Reading 'The Black Envelope,' one might think of the poisonous 'black milk' of Celan's 'Death Fugue' or the claustrophobic air of mounting terror in Mr. Appelfeld's 'Badenheim 1939.' . ...

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The Black Envelope

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Overview

A splendid, violent spring suddenly grips Bucharest in the 1980s after a brutal winter. Tolea, an eccentric middle-aged intellectual who has been dismissed from his job as a high school teacher on "moral grounds," is investigating his father's death forty years after the fact, and is drawn into a web of suspicion and black humor.

"Reading 'The Black Envelope,' one might think of the poisonous 'black milk' of Celan's 'Death Fugue' or the claustrophobic air of mounting terror in Mr. Appelfeld's 'Badenheim 1939.' . . . Mr. Manea offers striking images and insights into the recent experience of Eastern Europe."—New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Romanian novelist Manea's fifth book after Compulsory Happiness is a dark, enigmatic tale in which a man's investigation of his father's death, 40 years before, is set against the repressions and deceptions of the Ceausescu regime in the 1980s. Having been fired from his teaching post at a provincial high school for vaguely defined trespasses against young boys, Anatol Dominic Vancea Voinov, called Tolea, works as a receptionist at a tourist hotel in Bucharest, where he makes a career out of mocking his less educated colleagues. When the ever-difficult Tolea learns he may lose even this job, he pointedly embraces folly and takes a vacation. The majority of the tale concerns Tolea's searches: for the head of a nefarious association of deaf and mute people, whose physical disabilities mirror the moral ailments of Communist Romania; for a photographer, whose work documents the unofficial, but real, life of the country; for coffee; and even for a scratch over an eyebrow. Writing carefully, Manea generates fresh, artful sentences easily, but he is also gnomic, as if reluctant to make things too easily understood. However, frequently beautiful language even in translation and the distinctive melancholy humor of Manea's voice amply reward a diligent reader's concentration. June
Molly McQuade
omanian-born Manea's novel is set in Bucharest during the 1980s, but its nervous, sultry ebb and flow renders details of time and place as surreal, mythical, and oddly universal. His small cast of characters includes wounded survivors, beset after a long season of hardships by the challenge of spring--and uncertain what to do with it. For example, Professor Anatol Dominci Vancea Voinov, aka Tolea, is a "loony" receptionist at Bucharest's Hotel Tranzit trying to live down the series of personal and national misfortunes that have led the former teacher to be disgraced and ousted, then reassigned to the hotel's "cage" and surrounded by "the petty malice of people." Tolea, investigating the baffling circumstances of his father's death decades earlier, is also linked with other characters by habitual deprivations, inveterate snooping, black marketeering, corruption, and the abiding ghosts and terrors of a postwar inheritance that never seems to lead to a better future. Manea circles the terrors without unduly clarifying them. Instead, with a poetic precision, he evokes the dismay and complication they can foster. His imagery and irony flit surely through the book as a malaise gathers. Manea is especially acute in observing the points where desire and paranoia meet and cross: "You begin to totter, and somewhere you hear suspicious pings of unseen lizards." He gives a confident portrait of communal anxiety.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300188622
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,101,100
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Norman Manea (born July 19, 1936) is a Jewish Romanian writer and author of short fiction, novels, and essays about the Holocaust, daily life in a communist state, and exile. He is a Francis Flournoy Professor of European Culture and writer in residence at Bard College. He currently lives with his wife in New York City.

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