Book Review: 'The Bulgarian Truck'

Unique story structure questions traditional form

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While most authors are interested in story, Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag is drawn to structure: how to create, and dismantle, literary form. In the late 1960s, when Romania was under communism, Tsepeneag became one of the founders of the oneirism literary movement, which, as described in the introduction of his latest work, “The Bulgarian Truck,” means the writer “structures his texts according to the logic of his dreams.” This literary movement flew in the face of socialist realism and, as a result, was oppressed under Ceausescu’s rule.

Tsepeneag, who now lives in France, continues to write in this passionate and curious style. Diving into his latest work is like reading someone else’s dream: it’s a completely entrancing, moving balance between whimsy and reality.

The form, as to be expected, is fantastic: the work is structured so the reader is fully engulfed in the mind of the narrator, a writer named Dumitru Tsepeneag who is working a piece of writing called “The Bulgarian Truck.”

Written in sections, we move from conversations between the narrator and his wife about his writing style, encounters between the narrator and Milena, a young Slovak writer with whom he is having an affair; to pieces of the work on progress, where we follow the adventures of Tsvetan, a handsome but cold Bulgarian truck driver, and Beatrice, an exotic dancer.

But there is a fantastical element to all this as well: the narrator’s wife “suffers alterations in height; she keeps growing or shrinking;” the exotic dancer has a penchant for hedgehogs; the narrator’s affair with the Slovak writer diminishes into a correspondence, but instead of exchanging emails the narrator begins writing as Milena.

These stories blend and build off one another in surprising and often moving ways, as the narrator struggles to write authentically, knowing his work will be translated and therefore changed for a readership outside of Eastern Europe. Here we contemplate larger questions of ownership, nationality and culture.

“The Bulgarian Truck” is a wonderful wake-up call to readers in the United States to new ways of considering literature: What is a novel, what is plot, and why do we think it so? And what happens when we shed our firmly held notions and begin exploring new truths? The result: Revolution.

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