Sun Alley reviewed in the TLS

Costica Bradatan reviews Cecilia Stefanescu's magical novel

Times Literary Supplement, Costica Bradatan,
February 28th, 20-14

Cecilia Stefanescu grew up under an order-obsessed Communist dictatorship and mature din a rather chaotic post-Communist society. For a writer such tumults can be a blessing, and Stefanescu makes the most of them in Sun Alley, her second novel. The narrative moves back and forth between the two eras undermining the deadly seriousness of the former and attempting to instil some sense in the latter.

Sorin and Emilia are adolescents experiencing their first love in the Romania of the 1980s: their budding relationship is projected against an apolitical, yet vaguely oppressive background. The author pulls them abruptly apart only to reunite them twenty years later. Both married adults by now, they quickly rekindle their love, jumping into a doomed adulterous affair. Emilia eventually kills herself, but this death has been foretold. Indeed, Sorin has been obscurely haunted by a vision of Emilia’s dead body every since he was a boy.

One of the most completing aspects of Stefanescu’s novel is its systematic undermining of temporal linearity. This makes noticeably takes place through the character of the adolescent Sorin, a narrative interloper who shows up in places where he shouldn’t be. When he is twelve, for example, Sorin encounters in a hospital room a beautiful lady whose presence unsettles him. He doesn’t know it, but it is Emilia, twenty years older, she is recovering from a first suicide attempt, which she made in the adult Sorin’s bathroom.

Sun Alley is an ambitious, at times remarkable book, but the author’s inexperience sometimes shows. A more mature writer might have found better solutions to the challenges she sets up for herself. The abrupt transitions between different temporal planes or narrative points of view often cause confusion, and despite Stefanescu’s undoubted girt for drama, it can sometimes be a struggle to decipher the inner workings of the story.