Fleeing Father | Cassandra Voices

Fleeing Father


If stylistically Francesca Banciu’s latest novel translated into English Fleeing Father (Vatherflucht) is a much simpler construct than her previous incarnation, Mother’s Day – Song of a Sad Mother, it is written in the same inimitable prose, rendered beautifully by Banciu’s publisher, Catharine Nicely with Elena Mancini as translator.

I was immediately reminded, on reading the first few pages, of Ernest Hemingway’s dictum ‘write just one true sentence’ multiplied by every passing line. A rule that is simple in its apparent ruling, but whose practical implications are wrought with sinister complexity.

You’re worthless, nothing will ever come of you. And
no one in this world will ever marry you. Father said
to motivate me.

The staccato punch of the lines hits the reader as ceaselessly as I imagine Carmen-Francesca Banciu punching the keys of her typewriter-computer. The fact that all quotation marks have been jettisoned is a wonderfully seamless way of incorporating the almost casually brutality of the father’s remarks into his ten-year-old daughter’s worldview.

It is matter of fact, a ‘this is how it is’ Hemingwayesque, simple complexity which renders the text, or rather the reality that is portrayed in the text, into a highly ambivalent and stylistic reading, which personally I find extremely refreshing.

A kind of brutal clarity emerges akin to the visual sumptuousness of Stanley Kubrick’s visual narrative. I suppose the reason for such taut precision is the uncluttered narrative technique of the writer; the absence of sub-clauses.

Banciu is a kind of Anti-Proust in this respect, which is curious as I happen to be a huge fan of the Parisian narrator and veritable King of complex sentence structure. But, surely this is where form fuses equally with content. Banciu is not describing the fin de siècle opulence of decadent Paris, but rather the almost spartan livelihoods of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Socialist Republic of Romania which she grew up in. So, the prose is just as spartan. Brutal.

Ironically, as a reader who happened to grow up during the 1980s, and so can remember quite clearly the revolution and eventual fall of the Dictator, his bloody corpse appearing to me in black and white splashed across the front page of Liberation in miniature while the hawklike head of Samuel Beckett took up the majority of the page (his death having been announced and deemed more important that day in his native Paris), I see parallels with the misery of my own upbringing in the cold and extremely repressive Republic of Ireland during that same period, and so can empathise enormously with Banciu.

The almost reflexive callousness is all too familiar. There is a sexual assault, for example, merely mentioned in passing already five pages into the novel. Domestic violence too, in the form of corporal punishment inflicted upon children, as was standard practice of the time. Spare the rod, and all that.

So, Banciu’s childhood world will be a very familiar one to anyone reading the novel in Ireland who grew up during the eighties, which is a savage indictment in itself of the collective misery which was inflicted on a whole generation here, not to mention people growing up in socialist Romania.

So, the Socialist Republic of Romania and Catholic Republic of Ireland, despite the superficial difference in ideologies, held a lot in common.

One of the central ideas that conjoin both regimes, I couldn’t help noticing while reading Fleeing Father, was the obsession with maintaining appearances on the parts of the protagonist’s parents, and how parents who bought into both regimes were willing to sacrifice the lives of their children in order to maintain the appearance of social order.

This is the most frightening thing about all of Banciu’s fiction, how mothers and fathers will put the happiness and well-being of their own children at the service of the status quo. I saw the very same subservience as a child growing up in the Irish Republic, and while the outward trappings of a police state, constantly surveying on the citizens, may have had a very different modus operandi – the Church filling in for the network of informers which supplied the state police in Romania with information on ‘undesirables’ – what were the mass confessionals which we grew up with as children but a very elaborate way of keeping us in line, even worse, when you think of it as we were programmed, and from a very young age, to inform on ourselves!

All the familiar trappings of patriarchy are here. The subservient mother, at the service of both state and husband. Banciu’s father, as in her novel, was high up in the party and an avid believer in the subservience of the individual for the betterment of the state.

As cognizant as Father wanted to be, he’d never
learned Russian. Nor any other foreign language for
that matter. It meant he was an anti-talent, unlike my mother.

How I found reading this all too familiar. The fundamental ignorance of the man, the belittling nature of his ways to anything that was foreign to him. Governed by paranoia and fear.

But mother wore high heels that emphasized her gorgeous
Legs. Whether it had been her will or not. Who knows.
Father loved it in any case. And that’s also how she was buried.

Again, the casual way of effacement, Banciu’s staccato sentences dispatch characters with the same casual and disdainful force as the state system and apparatus that kept the Romanian people in check. Like the callous Church that lied to so many here, who suffered all kinds of abuse at the hands of so many priests, and teachers, politicians, and other so- called pillars of society that tried to protect and hide them.

Of course, Carmen- Francesca Banciu rebelled against them all, and ran away to Berlin. Just as I went to Paris. Such a repressive upbringing fuels your creativity for life. Of course, the ideological systems change, just as the means of surveillance do, but the inherent nature to control the populace is still the same, and as long as there are people who rebel books like Fleeing Father will continue to be written. Would that they were all written as well and clearly, and well – thought out though!

Vaterflucht (Flight from Father), 1998 by Francesca Banciu (translated from the German by Elena Mancini) 309 pages.



About Author

Peter O’Neill is the author of five collections of poetry.  The Exquisite Cadaver is taken from The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015). His sixth collection of poetry, a bilingual collection translated into French by Yan Kouton, Henry Street Arcade, is to be published by Éditions du Pont de l’Europe and will be launched on the 8th April, 2021, as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Charles Baudelaire which will be hosted by the Alliance Francaise in Dublin.

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