on February 8, 2003
It was about 2.25 am in the morning when I finished Codresacu's riveting memoir The Hole in the Flag which I found poignant, fey, hopeful and insightful. Sometimes I read a book which demands that it be devoured voraciously and this book falls into that category.
For me, the Romanian revolution is still a cause of some mystification, but it is clear that it was more orchestration than spontaneous uprising. The current controversy with Mircea Dinescu and the debate over the availability of Securitate files, many of which have been pilfered and doctored no doubt. I found my discussions with locals in 2001interesting but wondered whether the divisiveness was a smoke screen yet again. Codrescu's is a reflective and analytical look at Romania just after the Revolution, and his own struggle to comprehend and make sense of the maelstrom that followed is one of the strengths of the work. At turns, banal, burlesque, and brilliant the book is skilfully written and will appeal as much to the general reader as it does to the Romanianists. I heartily recommend this book.
When I visited Romania for a month in 1979, I saw a beautiful green land of geese and flowering apple trees, ghostly old Transylvanian hill towns where each charmingly-warped house had eyes. Ham, cheese, mamaliga (polenta) and tsuica marked my days and the warm reception by Romanian friends gave me memories forever. But even then, before the Dracula-Leader went totally bonkers, Romania bore Orwellian overtones. Charades ruled the roost. Bookstores sold stuff that nobody wanted to read. Shoe stores sold footwear that nobody wanted to buy. The news wasn't new. "Friendship with all countries" meant that everyone was suspect. The gypsies lived in junkyards on real desolation rows. Pollution covered the territory of a `people's republic'. How glad I was that I had not been born Romanian. When, over ten years later, the "Romanian Revolution" occurred, I was both glad (Dracula had met his silver bullet) and horrified, when I heard that perhaps 60,000 people had been killed.
Andrei Codrescu, a Romanian exile in the USA, felt a great burst of hope. His country would get out from under at last. He rushed, full of memories and dreams, back to Romania with an National Public Radio team. THE HOLE IN THE FLAG is the poetic, humorous, well-paced memoir of what he found, how he'd left it, with bits on adjusting in America, his old classmates, and his family. At first the reader shares all the stories, the rumors, the excitement, the sounds of battle. Later, in cooler times, Codrescu, like the rest of the world (or those who paid attention), realized that he'd been had. The charades had not stopped. Romania had gone through yet another one. Was it a revolution ? How many had actually died and who had killed them ? Who were the new leaders ? How did the leader die ? What was Russia's role in all this ? When I returned to Romania in 1996, my friends, now deeply disillusioned, raised all these questions and supplied a few depressing answers. With both eyes open and equipped by Romanian life with a large supply of cynicism, Codrescu re-writes the story of the "Revolution" in the latter half of his book. This is top reporting, top writing. Only a poet could write about Ceausescu's Romania and the state of mind it created, because words might fail anyone else. I could easily give the book five stars for writing, but have given it four because, sadly, it is dated now. Perhaps readers will not find the events so relevant, but as a look at human nature, it will never go out of style. I doubt if Bob Dylan had ever seen or thought about Romania, but to quote him is to sum up the feeling you'll get from THE HOLE IN THE FLAG.
"Now at midnight, all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do.
They they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene,
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping from Desolation Row."
*with one minor change
on January 7, 2006
A most entertaining, witty, colorful, yet intelligent, articulate, and realistic account of the 1989 Romanian Anti-Communist Revolution. I highly recommend this book to anyone with the sligthest interest in the topic.