My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Available from Phoneme Media
Upon delving into Bessarabian Stamps, I immediately experienced what translator Boris Dralyuk had communicated in his preface that, "So much is born of so little." Immediately– I confirmed both the shortness and depth found in the book. Consequently it made for a challenging read while I struggled to maintain a coherent and linear reading of the 16 mini narratives due to characters with interchangeable names and seemingly ambiguous daily occurrences. However, I managed to advance in the reading and began to feel Oleg Woolf's mundane rhythm and the harmonious predicament of a community in limbo with no desire and no energy to be emancipated.
Woolf's descriptions of the town sustain each story and healthily compliment the interpersonal treatment between the characters and their town. They embellish each individual’s temperament and simultaneously, these temperaments become the crux of the book and its flow. In many instances Woolf intertwines Sănduleni into the DNA of each character, while each character weaves their own self reciprocally back into the town, thus showing that a place refuses to exist without those who inhabit it. Sănduleni has been precariously governed and manipulated by numerous regimes of rule throughout its history. It has seen it's borders morphed and moved numerous times deeming lines on a map as superfluous to its denizens that were either included or omitted by the busy boundaries. In Woolf's Sănduleni the trains sigh and the lakes need no inspiration. The town's profile is ostentatiously ordinary. Its people are mysterious and their language creates a tone and mood that is so unique that at times it seems unbearable to the reader. Yes, their language and dialogues are unconventional and may dizzy the reader, but they are the cogent themes of a people and region that have been dizzied by their own history. This consequently tends to lead the reader to believe that neither the region nor its people seem to fret over the ambiguity of their nationality or borders. But as the characters interact throughout each stamp, their ho-hum and somber tone latently screams, “that is not so!”
To be repetitive, the characters' discourse is a reflection of their setting– and Woolf pinpoints that with his wit and pithy narrative. Many stories can help a reader visualize another world. Bessarabian Stamps unleashes years and depths of a town in only a few pages. The setting and its dwellers effortlessly compete for the role of protagonist. The reader does not see another world, rather experiences and becomes familiar with the idiosyncrasies of an unusual normalcy found in the interaction of the habitants in their town. The people and the place will leave any curious reader profoundly satisfied and enlightened in a shadow of repetitive uncertainty. Does the post physically arrive to Sănduleni? Are these Stamps of any veracity? This book is a door to a plethora of other doors, each providing a glimpse into a community and its people where both refuse to reveal anything definitive about their shared predicament, leaving the reader's imagination to excavate its own depths. It must not go without mention that Boris Dralyuk has provided a vigorous translation that is certain to quench the curiosity of the English-speaking reader.
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