The Fifth Impossibility: Essays on Exile and Language

By Lakhtikova, Anastasia | World Literature Today, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

The Fifth Impossibility: Essays on Exile and Language


Lakhtikova, Anastasia, World Literature Today


Norman Manea. The Fifth Impossibility: Essays on Exile and Language. New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press. 2012. isbn 9780300179958

The Fifth Impossibility is a collection of essays by Norman Manea previously published in major United States journals and abroad in the aftermath of the Soviet bloc's collapse, to help us, he explains, understand the past for the sake of the future. Written in Romanian, Italian, German, and English, it is translated by a group of distinguished literary translators, writers, and scholars. The fact that some of the essays have been reprinted from an earlier anthology published less than ten years ago indicates the author's and publisher's sense of the continued relevance of this commentary.

Written for non-Romanian audiences, the essays address nationalism and Nazism in Romania, the reverberations of the communist disaster in Europe, and the journey of a number of prominent Romanian-born intellectuals through these layers of violent history. In a few succinct essays, Manea offers an explanation for what Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) leftas an open question- how such horrors came to be afflicted on neighbors by neighbors and, regarding another historical period, why in the postcommunist decade it is "preposterous to expect democratic manners from those who are deprived of their daily bread." The essays also present Manea's perspective on American capitalism, democracy, and academia as well as on its writers and cities.

The volume's subtitle, "Essays on Exile and Language," might remind the reader of similar essays written by bilingual writers, such as Lives in Translation: Bilingual Writers on Identity and Creativity (2003). …

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