The Columns

W&L Professor Earns Rave Reviews for Debut Novel

— by on October 16th, 2008

Saturday, Oct. 25, Domnica Radulescu, a professor of Romance languages at Washington and Lee University, will read passages from her debut novel Train to Trieste (Knopf, 2008), which is receiving great reviews nationwide.

“Suspend all cynicism and believe in the possibility of this love story,” writes the Los Angeles Times. “Radulescu’s novel, sprung from an autobiographical impulse, powerfully combines the intensity of first love, the confusion of politics, and the melancholy of exile,” writes the Boston Sunday Globe. “Richly poetic,” is the verdict from Time Out Chicago.

Famous authors are also praising the novel. “I was swept away by Domnica Radulescu’s debut novel,” says Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha. “It’s at once a haunting journey to a faraway country, beautiful and terrifying, and an odyssey straight to the heart of a young girl and the remarkable woman she becomes. Deeply moving and deeply felt, Train to Trieste is an unforgettable story that introduces a new and astonishingly fresh voice.”

The reading from Train to Trieste will be from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Outing Club Room (room 114) of the Elrod Commons at Washington and Lee University, followed by a book signing in the living room of the Elrod Commons until 1:00 pm. Even before the novel was published, translation rights were purchased in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Israel, Serbia, Hungary and Greece, an indication of its expected success.

Train to Trieste tells the story of 17-year-old Mona Manoliu, who falls in love in the summer of 1977 with Mihai, a mysterious, green-eyed boy who lives in Brasov, the romantic mountain city where Mona spends her summers. But life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu is difficult. Hunger and paranoia infect everyone; fear, too. And one day, Mona sees Mihai wearing the black leather jacket that the secret police favor. Could he be one of them?

As food shortages worsen, as more and more of her loved ones disappear in “accidents,” Mona comes to understand that she must leave Romania. She escapes in secret—narrowly avoiding the police—through Yugoslavia to Italy, and then to Chicago, a city she calls “fit for my hunger.” But she leaves without saying a final good-bye to Mihai and, though she struggles to bury her longing for the past—she becomes a doctoral student, marries, has children—she finds herself compelled to return to her country, determined to learn the truth about her one great love.

Radulescu herself escaped from Romania as a young student in 1983. “I was at a point where I felt things were not going to work out for me,” she says. “Censorship, oppression and lack of freedom, all the aspects of living under a dictatorship were getting too much for me, and I felt that I didn’t have much of a future there. So I devised a plan and applied for a tourist visa to Italy.

“People always ask me how much of my novel is autobiographical, but almost everybody writes autobiographically, it’s just a matter of degree. To me, ultimately, that doesn’t matter,” says Radulescu. “Yes, it emerged from some lived experiences, but a lot of it didn’t. In the end it is all fiction and, once invented, my characters take on a life of their own and devise their own experiences and choices. For instance, it’s called Train to Trieste, and I had never been to Trieste until after I wrote the novel.”