Book Review: The Romanian: Story of an Obsession by Bruce Benderson

“What astonishes and intrigues is Benderson’s way of recounting, in the sweetest possible voice, things that are considered shocking,” wrote Le Monde. What’s so shocking? It’s not just Benderson’s job translating Céline Dion’s saccharine autobiography, which he admits is driving him mad; but his unrequited love for an impoverished Romanian in “cheap club-kid platforms with dollar signs in his squinting eyes,” whom he meets while on a journalism assignment in Eastern Europe.

Rather than retreat, Benderson absorbs everything he can about Romanian culture and discovers an uncanny similarity between his own obsession for the Romanian (named Romulus) and the disastrous love affair of King Carol II, the last king of Romania (1893-1953). Throughout, Benderson-“absolutely free of bitterness, nastiness, or any desire to protect himself,” wrote Le Monde-is sustained by little white codeine pills, a poetic self-awareness, a sense of humor, and an unwavering belief in the perfect romance, even as wild dogs chase him down Romanian streets.

Paperback: 401 Pages

Publisher: Tarcher

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The book is Benderson’s memoir, the story of how he met and developed an obsession for a young Romanian named Romulus.

I found the book in a library and after reading the short description on the back of the cover, I decided I had to read it. It’s always interesting to see how a foreigner sees and judges your culture, if you ask me.

However, after reading and re-reading, I gave up. I could not like this story if you payed me to.

Maybe because it’s such a depressing and dark story. Because Romulus is nothing more than a glorified thief and prostitute, the people Bruce meets through him are the same and the Bucharest he sees is gloomy and dejected – a twisted sort of Sin City-, which is not true now and wasn’t true back when Benderson wrote his book.

Maybe because I never once considered that Romulus might have real feelings for Benderson or vice versa. It’s an obsession and a wicked one too.

Maybe because the correlations and comparisons that Benderson makes, between his relationship with Romulus and that of Carol the second and Elena Lupescu, never felt right for me.

Maybe because I was never tempted of giving in and understanding his obsession with the young Romanian or the way he managed to put him on a pedestal.

Maybe I couldn’t even begin to understand the petulant and teenager like attitude that the author had towards his mother and that annoyed the crap out of me.

Maybe I was uncomfortable being the third person in a threesome, playing the role of voyeur, because of Benderson’s incredibly personal writing.

Maybe I just didn’t like his writing or understood this book but bottom line: I did not like or enjoy it.

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