Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

‘Cheating Memory’ by Gabriel Lanyi

cover of book (photo by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson)

My friend, neighbour and colleague, the author of this intriguing book, has given it this ambiguous title in order to take the reader into the labyrinthine region wherein memory resides. And in this case it is particularly labyrinthine because most of the author’s childhood and youth was spent under the Communist regime that ruled his homeland of Romania. In the course of the book he unravels the skeins of events, emotions and relationships that have remained with him, sometimes leaving the reader wondering where memory ends and invention begins.

If I were to pen a heading for this review I would call it ‘Entertaining, Educational and Erudite.’ In the course of reading the book, I found myself at times laughing uncontrollably at the antics which the author and his friends got up to in contending with the strict school system and the rigours of the Communist regime, and at others shaking my head in wonderment at the ingenuity of the devices he and others produced in order to evade the harsh decrees which were enforced from time to time.

In many respects, wherever they might find themselves young people attending school will generally find some way to kick against the system, as this reader remembers doing in her own distant youth. However, if the penalty for disobedience involves being despatched to a gulag, or recrimination against one’s parents, this undoubtedly has a sobering effect. When all is said and done, however, Gabriel Lanyi seems to have been undeterred in his efforts to defeat the system, although the process whereby he and his parents were ultimately able to leave Romania, was long and arduous. Nonethless, it is with a light-hearted attitude and an encyclopaediac familiarity with language and literature that he takes us through the vagaries of his youth and childhood, conjuring up images of people and places he encountered, or who encountered him, and describing them with ironic detachment, humour and, occasionally, affection.

If the reader perseveres to the concluding chapters of the book he or she will gain unimagined insights into the intricate relations between Romania, Hungary and Transylvania, and their complicated foundation in history and geography. Much of this part is devoted to trashing Bram Stoker’s depiction of Dracula, and expatiating on the numerous movie adaptations of the story. The irony of the cult status now accorded to Dracula and his seminal significance in Romania’s contemporary tourism industry does not escape Gabriel Lanyi’s critical eye and scathing pen.

While reading the book I was often lost in admiration of the author’s command of English, which is not his first language, and his ability to cite obscure works of literature – both prose and poetry – on several languages as well as to translate passages which, he asserts, are essentially untranslatable. I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-written account of a life lived at a different time and place, the articulate depiction of which is rare indeed.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.
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