Abandon

By Bert Almon

A review of Abandon by Oana Avasilichioaei

Published on March 1, 2006

Abandon
Oana Avasilichioaei

Wolsakk & Wynn
$15
paper
77pp
1-894987-05-5

In Abandon, Oana Avasilichioaei writes travel poems, but hers have a genuine emotional commitment. She was born in Romania, but has lived in Canada since she was ten. Her book approaches her Romanian background in three ways: travel poetry, myth, and legend. Perhaps the finest poems are the ones in the middle section that describe journeys in Romania with Tatiana, her mother’s sister. These poems are not picturesque: rather, they confront the situation in a country wrecked by the Ceausescu dictatorship and its aftermath. The poet’s anger over the recrudescence of Romania seems excessive, as in the last poem of the travel set, “Dear one,” which begins: “This is still a land of peasants. / I am a peasant for writing this,” and goes on to say, “The country a pimp, its citizens whores. / The country a whore, its citizens pimps.” Romanians did not ask for the Ceausescus. But the poems describe places with powerful images- they represent collisions with the imagination rather than simple observations, and the people are made vivid, especially Tatiana, whose hard life engenders pathos. There is no inky smell of the guidebook here, though the poet provides a glossary and notes.

Along with direct reportage, the poet also shows the country through myth-making. The opening section describes life under a dragon-obviously Nicolae Ceausescu-that, in traditional dragon fashion, terrorizes the country. But this dragon is capricious, self-congratulatory, and cultivates foreign support. Even more effective is the strategy in the final section, “The Diaries of the Dead Daughter,” narrated in the voice of a legendary figure, the illegitimate daughter of King Stephen the Great. Born, it is said, around 1490, she is believed to have learned her origins only when her father was dying. By imagining incidents from the life of such a legend, the poet interprets events in Romanian history, showing continuities of war and terror. It is clear from her travel poems that Avasilichioaei’s Romanian origins are an uneasy patrimony, and she has found an excellent persona for conveying her ambivalence. A migrant is, in a sense, an illegitimate child of the country, one who abandons it but may feel abandoned upon return. In one of the travel poems, the narrator “falls into the 15th century” and simultaneously feels like Stephen’s daughter and like a Columbus sailing for the New World. In another, “Market,” she is wearing her best dress, “and on my back, the weight / of the old world.” Probably there will be other works of the Romanian diaspora in Canadian literature; this encounter with the old world is a good start. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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