The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir

The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir

by Norman Manea

View All Available Formats & Editions

At the center of The Hooligan’s Return is the author himself, always an outcast, on a bleak lifelong journey through Nazism and communism to exile in America. But while Norman Manea’s book is in many ways a memoir, it is also a deeply imaginative work, traversing time and place, life and literature, dream and reality, past and present.


At the center of The Hooligan’s Return is the author himself, always an outcast, on a bleak lifelong journey through Nazism and communism to exile in America. But while Norman Manea’s book is in many ways a memoir, it is also a deeply imaginative work, traversing time and place, life and literature, dream and reality, past and present. Autobiographical events merge with historic elements, always connecting the individual with the collective destiny. Manea speaks of the bloodiest time of the twentieth century and of the emergence afterward of a global, competitive, and sometimes cynical modern society.
Both a harrowing memoir and an ambitious epic project, The Hooligan’s Return achieves a subtle internal harmony as anxiety evolves into a delicate irony and a burlesque fantasy. Beautifully written and brilliantly conceived, this is the work of a writer with an acute understanding of the vast human potential for both evil and kindness, obedience and integrity.

Editorial Reviews

Cynthia Ozick

"I am profoundly grateful for this living, flesh-and-blood, yet unearthly memoir."—Cynthia Ozick
The New Yorker - Larissa MacFarquhar

"An extraordinary book”—Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker
The New Republic - Robert Boyers

"A genuinely great book, an entire teeming life seized and made permanent."—Robert Boyers, The New Republic
Times Literary Supplement - Paul Bailey

“The 'sad country, full of humour' that was, and still is, Romania has had no finer and percipient chronicler of its sorrows and absurdities. . . . He is one of an immensely humane and intelligent stature.”—Paul Bailey, Times Literary Supplement

The San Francisco Chronicle - Mark Slouka

"Mature, difficult, and rich in irony and paradox . . . The Hooligan's Return peels back the facile like a pelt. It is a performance both excruciating and ferociously controlled. The result may well rank among the finest memoirs in a generation."—Mark Slouka, The San Francisco Chronicle
The New York Times Book Review - Ariel Dorfman

“It is that kaleidoscopic excursion into recent  and remote yesterdays that forms the bulk of The Hooligan's Return, peopled with many touching moments and characters. All is recounted with the caustic dexterity and lyrical power we would expect from the accomplished novelist who gave us Compulsory Happiness and The Black Envelope."—Ariel Dorfman, The New York Times Book Review
Francine Prose

"A fascinating, beguiling record of the almost incredible events that can transpire in one life, especially if that life is lived in twentieth-century Eastern Europe. The Hooligan's Return operates on so many levels that finally it eludes all classifications and reveals itself as art."—Francine Prose

The New York Times - Richard Eder

 “A distinguished writer whose vision of totalitarianism is closer to Kafka’s cloudy menace, universal, and yet internalized, than to Orwell's brass tacks . . . the artistry of the implication, the intensity of what can seem a dream state, draws us imperceptibly through a half-lighted window for lack of the door."—Richard Eder, The New York Times
The New York Review of Books - Charles Simic
“This world of ours, in his view, is a place where the ridiculous reigns supreme over all human life and tortures everyone without respite, and therefore it cannot be ignored because it's not about to ignore any of us. . . . He has in mind all those, including himself, who were left to pay the fool in one of history's many traveling circuses.”—Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books
The New Statesman - John Banville

“Norman Manea’s The Hooligan’s Return, translated by Angela Jianu, is the first British edition of this superb memoir by one of Romania’s greatest writers, now living in the US. Manea manages to be down-to-earth and at the same time magical in summoning up the surreal realities of life under the fascists, first, and then the unspeakable Ceausesucs.”—John Banville, The New Statesman
Prix M�dicis

Awarded Prix Médicis Etranger 2006
Prix Médicis

Awarded Prix Médicis Etranger 2006
The New York Times
Mr. Manea is short on doors and steps; his interest lies in evoking the feel and implication of his life more than in recounting its details. Yet the artistry of the implication, the intensity of what can seem a dream state, draws us imperceptibly through a half-lighted window for lack of the door. A chronology does manage to emerge. So do a series of haunting and ironic scenes. — Richard Eder
NY Times Sunday Book Review
Combined with Manea's reluctance to provide us with even a semblance of chronological order for the life he is reconstructing, these tender and corrosive philosophical debates give the memoir a haphazard, skip-and-jump quality that some readers may find confusing but that made the book all the more fascinating. It is this stubbornness of vision, this determination not to placate any demand for simplicity, this resolve to cling to his own searing imagination, which finally led Norman Manea into banishment and now allows him to offer us unsparingly all the jumble and messiness of his odyssey.

His ultimate home, he seems to be whispering to us and perhaps to himself, is not Romania and not the United States, but the very literature where he struggles for meaning, the luminous book itself that he is writing and we are reading in a world where he has just buried his mother and now faces the final fatherless exile of death. — Ariel Dorfman
Publishers Weekly
Manea's life is simple synoptically, though his memoir is not. During WWII, when Manea is five, his Jewish family is deported to a concentration camp; he survives the "Initiation of Transnistria" to return to Romania, "an old man of nine," in 1945. With a semblance of the ordinary, Manea goes to school and becomes a hydroelectric engineer. But as "external adversity seemed to disappear... the internal one... remained as its residue." Having survived the Holocaust, Manea must next survive the repressions of the Ceaucescu regime, and after arriving in the U.S. in 1988, he must survive exile. Survival in all these cases calls for remembering and memorializing the lives of his parents and extended family, as well as his fellow writers and artists, and for testifying against the evildoers, active and passive. Manea's account comes in several voices: a first-person intimacy where all seems true (i.e., factual) alternates with the voice of fiction, a third-person tale, which sounds like truth, and the distancing voice of an objective narrator ("the mother"; "the son") that moves toward the abstract. The author applies the fluidity of prose fiction to his autobiography, juxtaposing the aphoristic and oblique with the fanciful and direct. On the barely visible backdrop, the ghostly, ghastly figures of 20th-century historical Romania hover like "Securitate eavesdroppers." This is a dense, absorbing and internally complex work in which a stroll on Manhattan's Upper West Side is a prologue to a time shifting (as the pages move forward, time slips back and forth) and place shifting. Readers are often in Transnistria when they thought they were comfortably in Bukovina or Itcani. Manea's memoir, which so often speaks metaphorically, is surely intended to provoke a sense of that displacement. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As Manea (Black Envelope) is a Romanian-born Jewish writer who has lived in exile in New York since 1988, this is the memoir of a refugee artist. The evocative narrative thus wrestles with issues of nationalism, infantilism, and cultural identification, setting the individual artist against the monopolies of nations, dictators, and other brutalities of history. In a manner at once serious and artful, Manea tries to balance the notion of daily measures of heroism with the happy guilt of narcissistic suspicions and pathetic masochisms. For example, he connects the quotidian routine of phone calls, lunches, and trying to set up a life in New York with the continuity of memories and historical explanations of his ongoing relationships with artists, scholars, exiles, and homeless cosmopolitans. The result is an exploration of the "hooligan" as rootless, exiled, dissident, and conspicuous, with much of the text written in the spirit of Tolstoy, Bruno Schultz, and Paul Celan. Recommended for libraries interested in European thought, the legacy of Ceausescu, and Jewish identification, particularly in the last decade of the 20th century.-Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A political exile returns to his homeland behind the former Iron Curtain. And finds things as strange as ever. Essayist/novelist Manea (The Black Envelope, 1995, etc.) doesn't really qualify as a hooligan: mild-mannered and essentially apolitical, he exhibits in these pages an aesthete's sense of the world and of literature-and an ironic sense at that. Yet "hooligan" is what he and fellow apostates from the Romanian workers' paradise were branded by the apparatchiks, a term of abuse made a little more pointed by the 1991 murder in Chicago of his compatriot and fellow intellectual Ioan Petru Culianu, a strange case that opened long-closed dossiers on such matters as mythology scholar Mircea Eliade's involvement in fascist politics during WWII. A veteran of the Transnistrian camps to which Romanian Jews were deported in those days, Manea opens this memoir with an account of his reluctance to return to his homeland and look some of those matters straight in the eye. "I came out relatively clean from the dictatorship," he writes. "I didn't get my hands dirty." On the streets of Bucharest and in the villages of Bukovina, however, he encounters plenty of people with dirty hands and examines them with the same scholarly detachment (which is not to say disengagement) that he casts upon his own memories of Red Pioneers' summer camps, furtive affairs, open secrets, quotidian betrayals, and other aspects of life under totalitarianism. He may have escaped from all that, Manea writes, but the new, ostensibly democratic Romanian government keeps tabs on him and his fellow exiles all the same. Arch, literary, and self-effacing, Manea revisits the scenes of his youth, encounters "miraculous apparitions"from the past, and contents himself with the knowledge that his true home now lies elsewhere: "Yes, the Upper West Side, in Manhattan." Milder than fellow exile Andrei Codrescu's The Hole in the Flag (1991), but an affecting exploration of past and present all the same.

Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
Margellos World Republic of Letters Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Hooligan's Return

By Norman Manea

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2003 Norman Manea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374282560

Chapter One

The bright spring light, like an emanation from Paradise, streams through the large picture window wide as the room itself. There is a man in the room, looking down from his tenth-floor apartment at the hubbub below, at the buildings, the shop signs, the pedestrians. In Paradise, he must remind himself again this morning, one is better off than anywhere else.

Across the street is a massive red-brick building. His eye catches groups of children going through their paces in dance and gym classes. Yellow lines of taxicabs, stuck in traffic at the juncture of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, are screaming, driven mad by the morning's hysterical metronome. The observer, however, is now oblivious to the tumult below, as he scrutinizes the sky, a broad expanse of desert across which drift, like desert beasts, slow-moving clouds.

Half an hour later, he stands on the street corner in front of the forty-two-story building where he lives, a stark structure, no ornamentation, a simple shelter, nothing less, or more, than an assemblage of boxes for human habitation. A Stalin-era apartment block, he thinks. But no Stalinist building ever reached such heights. Stalinist nonetheless, he repeats to himself, defying the stage set of his afterlife. Will he become, this morning, the man he was nine years ago, when he first arrived here, bewildered now, as he was then, by the novelty of life after death? Nine years, like nine months brimming with novel life in the womb of the adventure giving birth to this brand-new morning, like the beginning before all beginnings.

On the left, the drugstore where he regularly buys his medicines. He is idly looking at the store's sign-RITE AID PHARMACY, spelled out in white letters on a blue background-where suddenly five fire engines, like metallic fortresses, advance on the street in a screech of sirens and horns. Hell's fires can rage in Paradise, too.

But it is nothing serious, and in an instant everything is back in place-the photo shop where he is having the photo for his new ID processed; the neighborhood diner; the local Starbucks; and, of course, a McDonald's, its entrance graced by a pair of panhandlers. Next come the Pakistani newsstand, the Indian tobacconist, the Mexican restaurant, the ladies' dress shop, and the Korean grocery, with its large bunches of flowers and displays of yellow and green watermelons, black and red and green plums, mangoes from Mexico and Haiti, white and pink grapefruit, grapes, carrots, cherries, bananas, Fuji and Granny Smith apples, roses, tulips, carnations, lilies, chrysanthemums. He walks past small buildings and tall buildings, a mixture of styles and proportions and destinies, the Babylon of the New World, and of the Old World, too. There is a population to match-the tiny Japanese man in a red shirt and cap, swaying between two heavy loads of packages; the fair-haired, bearded, pipe-smoking man in shorts, walking between two big blond female companions in pink shorts and dark sunglasses; the tall, slim barefoot girl, with cropped red hair, skimpy T-shirt, and shorts the size of a fig leaf; the heavy, bald man with two children in his arms; the short fat man with a black mustache and a gold chain dangling down his chest; beggars and policemen and tourists as well, and none seem irreplaceable.

He crosses to Amsterdam Avenue at Seventy-second Street and is now in front of a small park, Verdi Square, a triangle of grass bordered on three sides by metal railings and presided over by a statue of Giuseppe Verdi, dressed in a tailcoat, necktie, and hat, surrounded by a bevy of characters from his operas on which the placid pigeons of Paradise have come to rest. A scattering of neighborhood denizens sit on the nearby benches, the pensioners, the disabled, the bums swapping stories and picking at their bags of potato chips and slices of pizza.

There is nothing lacking in Paradise-food and clothing and newspapers, mattresses, umbrellas, computers, footwear, furniture, wine, jewelry, flowers, sunglasses, CDs, lamps, candles, padlocks, dogs, cars, prostheses, exotic birds, and tropical fish. And wave after wave of salesmen, policemen, hairdressers, shoeshine boys, accountants, whores, beggars. All the varieties of human faces and languages and ages and heights and weights people that unlikely morning, on which the survivor is celebrating the nine years of his new life. In this new Afterlife world, all the distances and interdictions have been abolished, the fruit of the tree of knowledge is available on computer screens, the Tree of Eternal Life offers its pickings in all the pharmacies, while life rushes at breakneck speed and what really matters is the present moment.

Suddenly hell's alarm bells break out again. No fire this time, but a white, roaring juggernaut leaving behind the blur of a blood-red circle with a red cross and red letters reading AMBULANCE.

No, nothing is missing in this life-after-death, nothing at all. He raises his eyes toward the heavens that allowed this miracle to happen. An amputated firmament it is, for the concrete rectangles of the buildings narrow the prospect to a chink of blue sky The facade on the right, blocking the view, is formed by a brownish wall flanked by a waste pipe; on the left, a yellow wall. Against this golden background, spelled out in iridescent blue, is the message DEPRESSION IS A FLAW IN CHEMISTRY NOT IN CHARACTER. Warning, or mere information-hard to tell. DEPRESSION IS A FLAW IN CHEMISTRY NOT IN CHARACTER, displayed on five separate lines, one after the other.

He stares at the lines of sacred text, his head tilted backward. Jolted out of his reverie, he steps back and finds himself walking along Amsterdam Avenue again. There is an advantage to his new life-immunity. You are no longer chained to all the trivia, as in the previous life, you can walk on in indifference. He heads toward the restaurant/delicatessen Barney Greengrass, famous for its smoked fish. "The place will remind you of your previous life," his friend has promised.

The buildings along Amsterdam Avenue have been reclaimed from the past, old houses, reddish, brown, smoke-gray, four-five-six stories, iron balconies, fire escapes blackened by time. These streets of the Upper West Side, when he first encountered them, reminded him of the Old World. However, over the nine-or is it ninety?-years since he moved into the neighborhood, the tall buildings have multiplied, dwarfing even the forty-two stories of his apartment building to the proportions of a paltry Stalinist construction-there is that insidious adjective again.

On the ground floor of the building, the old shops, as before-Full Service Jewelers, Utopia Restaurant, Amaryllis Florist, Shoe Store, Adult Video, Chinese Dry Cleaning, Nail Salon, Roma Frame Art, and, at the corner of Seventy-sixth Street, Riverside Memorial Chapel. A young girl with thick legs and long dark hair, wearing a black short-sleeved dress, black stockings, and thick, dark sunglasses, comes out of the building. Three long black cars with darkened windows, like huge coffins, are parked at the curb. Out of them step smartly dressed gentlemen in black suits and black hats, elegant ladies in black dresses and black hats, teenagers in sober dress. Once more the metronome has struck the hour of eternity for some poor soul. Life is movement, he has not forgotten, and he hurries away. One step, two, and he is out of danger.

On the sidewalk in front of the venerable Ottomanelli Bros. meat market (SINCE 1900, a sign proclaims) are two wooden benches. An old woman sits on the one on the right. He collapses onto the other, keeping an eye on her. She stares vacantly into space, but he feels she is observing him. They seem to recognize each other. Her presence is familiar, as if he has felt it before on certain evenings, in certain rooms suddenly charged with a protective silence that would envelop him. Never has he felt this way in broad daylight amid the hubbub of the workaday world.

The old lady gets up from the bench. He waits for her to take a few steps, then follows her. He walks behind her in the slow rhythm of the past. He observes her thin legs, fine ankles, sensible shoes, cropped white hair, bony shoulders bent forward, her sleeveless, waistless dress, made of a light material in red and orange checks on a blue background. In her left hand, as in time before, she carries a shopping bag. In her right hand, as in time before, she holds a folded gray sweater. He overtakes her and makes a sudden turn. She gives a start. She probably recognizes the unknown man who had collapsed, exhausted, on the other bench at Ottomanelli's. They look at each other, startled. A ghost, out of the blue, on a bench, on a city sidewalk.

All is familiar-the gait, the dress, the sweater, the cropped white hair, the face half-seen in a fraction of a second. The forehead and the eyebrows and the eyes and the ears and the chin are all as before, only the mouth has lost its full contour and is now just a line, the lips too long, lacking shape; and the nose has widened. The neck sags, with wrinkled skin.

Enough, enough ... He turns around and follows her from a distance. Her silhouette, the way she walks, her whole demeanor. You do not need any distinguishing marks, you always carry everything with you, well-known, immutable; you have no reason to follow a shadow down the street. He slows down, lost in thought, and the vision, as he had wished, vanishes.

Finally, at Eighty-sixth Street, he reaches his destination: Barney Greengrass. Next to the window, the owner sits sprawled in a chair, his hunched back and big belly enveloped in a loose white shirt with long sleeves and gold buttons. The neck is missing; the head, topped by a rich mane of white hair, is ample, the nose, mouth, forehead, and ears firmly drawn. On the left, behind the salami-halvah counter, stands a worker in a white coat. Another counterman tends the bread-bagels-buns-cakes section.

He greets the owner and the young man standing next to him, who has a telephone glued to each ear. Then he walks into the room on the left, the restaurant area. At the table next to the wall a tall, thin man with gold-rimmed spectacles raises his eyes from his newspaper and calls out the customary greeting: "How're you doing, kid?" A familiar face, a familiar voice. Exiles are always grateful for such moments. "What's up?"

"Not much. 'The social system is stable and the rulers are wise,'" as our colleague Zbigniew Herbert says. "'In Paradise one is better off than anywhere else.'" The novelist, to whom these quotations are directed, is not keen on poetry, but luckily, it sounds more like prose.

"How are you? Tell me the latest. News from here, not from Warsaw."

"Well, I'm celebrating nine years of life in Paradise. On March 9, 1988, I was shipwrecked on the shore of the New World."

"Children love anniversaries, and Barney Greengrass's is the ideal place for such things. It has all the memories of the ghetto, pure cholesterol, Oy mein Tiddishe mame. The old world and the old life."

He hands me the plastic-covered menu. Yes, the temptations of the ghetto are all here: pickled herring in cream sauce, fillet of schmaltz herring (very salty), corned beef and eggs, tongue and eggs, pastrami and eggs, salami and eggs, homemade chopped chicken liver, gefilte fish with horseradish. The chicken liver is no pâté de foie gras, nor are incubator-bred American chickens East European chickens. The fish isn't like the fish of the Old World, the eggs aren't like the eggs we used to know. But people keep trying, and so here are the substitutes for the past. Russian dressing with everything, with roast beef, turkey ... Yes, the myth of identity, the surrogates of memories translated into the language of survival.

A handsome young waiter approaches. He recognizes the famous novelist and says to him, "I've read your latest book, sir." Philip seems neither flattered nor upset by this greeting. "Indeed? And did you enjoy it?" He had, the waiter avowed, but not as much as the previous book, much sexier.

"Good, good," the novelist says, without raising his eyes from the menu. "I'll have the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and orange juice. Only the whites, no yolks." The waiter turns to the customer's unknown companion. "What about you, sir?"

"I'll have the same," I hear myself mumbling.

Barney Greengrass offers acceptable surrogates of East European Jewish cuisine, but it is not enough to add fried onions or to affix bagels and knishes to the menu to produce a taste of the past.

"So, how did you like Barney's cuisine?"

No reply

"Okay, you don't have to answer that. Are you going to go back to Romania or not, what have you decided?"

"I haven't decided anything yet."

"Are you afraid? Are you thinking of that murder in Chicago? That professor ... what was his name? The professor from Chicago."

"Culianu, Ioan Petru Culianu. No, I'm not in the least like Culianu. I am not a student of the occult like Culianu, nor, like him, have I betrayed the master, nor, like him, am I a Christian in love with a Jewish woman and about to convert to Judaism. I'm just a humble nomad, not a renegade. The renegade has to be punished, while I ... I am just an old nuisance. I cannot surprise anybody."

"I don't know about surprises, but you've been quite a nuisance occasionally. A suspect, becoming more suspicious. This is not to your advantage."

Professor Ioan Petru Culianu had been assassinated on the twenty-first of May 1991, in broad daylight, in one of the buildings of the University of Chicago. A perfect murder, apparently-a single bullet, shot from an adjacent stall, straight into the professor's head, as he sat on the plastic seat in the staff toilets of the Divinity School. The unsolved mystery of the assassination had, naturally, encouraged speculation-the relations between the young Culianu and his mentor, the noted Romanian scholar of religion Mircea Eliade, with whose help he had been brought to America; his relations with the Romanian community of Chicago, with Romania's exiled King, his interest in parapsychology. There was, in addition, the Iron Guard connection, that movement of extreme-right-wing nationalists whose members were known as legionari, the Legionnaires. The Iron Guard, which Mircea Eliade had supported in the 1930s, still had adherents among the Romanian expatriates of Chicago. It was said that Culianu was on the verge of a major reassessment of his mentor's political past.

The Chicago murder, it was true, coincided with the publication of my own article about Eliade's Legionnaire past, in The New Republic, in 1991. I had been warned by the FBI to be cautious in my dealings with my compatriots, and not only with them.


Excerpted from The Hooligan's Return by Norman Manea Copyright © 2003 by Norman Manea. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Norman Manea is Francis Flournoy Professor of European Culture and writer-in-residence at Bard College. Deported from his native Romania to a Ukrainian concentration camp during World War Two, he was again forced to leave Romania in 1986, no longer safe under an intolerant Communist dictatorship. Since arriving in the West he has received many important awards, including, in 2016, Romania’s highest distinction, the the Presidential Order "The Romanian Star" in the highest level, of Great Officer. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in New York City.
Angela Jianu is a translator and historian. She teaches at University of Warwick, UK.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >