Novel, "Ego Prose" series, Polirom, 2006, 272 pages
Translation rights sold to: Balkani (Bulgaria), Bonanno Editore (Italy)
Zogru is a being that spurts from the centre of the earth, one day during the Easter Week of 1460. Initially, he manifests himself as a long, fine thread, and it is in this form that he penetrates into the blood of a man named Pampu, leaving two small pricks on his throat. Zogru learns how to live within and adapt to his new reality, while the possessed man acquires unusual powers. In the mediaeval Romanian milieu of the reign of Vlad Dracul, the apparition of Zogru does not pass unobserved, and the man in whom he dwells is suspected of having fallen under the influence of a vampire. After he abandons Pampu’s body, Zogru’s existence is transformed into one mad chase. His life is fraught with perils. For, he gradually discovers that there are humans who can hold him captive in their blood, that he cannot endure for more than forty days inside a human body, that there are humans who do not receive him or who can force him to act against his will. Caught between the world of humans and the world of subtle beings (gloles, ghosts, gnomes, morgons), he experiences numerous adventures before ending up in the year 2005, which is when the main action of the novel takes place. Enamoured, but at the same time tortured by the thought that he has no identity, he recollects his life as he waits for Andrei Ionescu, the man beloved by Giulia, a student to whom Zogru feels irresistibly attracted. The novel is fascinating both for its fantastic aspects and for its romantic dimension – since Zogru, although he is an entity from another world, experiences wholly human joys and dramas, against the backdrop of a love that could not be more earthly.
1. It remained only for him to wait for Andrei Ionescu. He was satisfied and dissatisfied, impatient and at the same time eager to prepare for the meeting. He wanted it to be something memorable and also to give him the satisfaction he needed. He had never imagined that it would come to this, that he would, to such an extent, lose the poise and optimism that had kept him on the surface for so many centuries.
Since the moment he had first emerged, so many things had passed over him that he was almost unable to recall his initial state of detachment, of curiosity. He had lost the genuine pulse of his former desires.
He had emerged from the warm cradle of the earth one spring day, in the Easter Week of 1460. He did not really know what was happening and nor did he know into what world he had emerged. He had felt an impetuous impulse to abandon the warm place in which he had slumbered for so long, caressed by a moist and fragrant vapour. He had spurted up without any idea ; he had hurled himself forward without any thought, until he reached the enchanted surface of the world. At first, everything had appeared violet to him. He had emerged in the middle of a field, but he saw everything – the grass, the distant woods, the tree in front of him and even the man beneath it – as intensely violet. This colour amazed him so much that he had remained transfixed in fascination for quite some time.
The man underneath the tree amazed him exceedingly. He could hear the beating of his heart, he could see his face moving, almost glinting at many points, and he could feel how rippling waves flowed towards him, to the rhythm of a melody that filled his soul with sadness. This was his first contact with Pampu, to whom he then remained bound physically and spiritually and whom, as he now waits for Andrei Ionescu, he still recalls as the being closest to him, as his dear brother.
For Pampu, however, the apparition had not aroused much interest. He was having a rest beneath a mulberry tree at the edge of the road. He had just been to Branişte, beyond the woods, to take a kid to some poor relatives of the Spatharius. He was now on his way back to the court, where he had other business to attend to. He had propped himself against the hard, dry bark of the tree and was enchanting his heart with a small whistle. He was thinking about Ghighina, the daughter of Gongea the Spatharius. He did not think of her as his beloved, but merely as a beautiful being to whom he had dared to raise his eyes. Pampu was a servant at the court, given away to his masters as a child. He was a handsome swain, at bit like George Clooney, lively and open, respectful, and canny at everything. He was twenty-five years old.
As he sat with his back leaning against the tree trunk, he saw a slender bundle of green light spurt up as if from the heart of the earth and then stand before him, as straight as a candle. It was as if the sun was casting its light onto the sparse grass and the colour was reflected back along a ray. Pampu had looked at it for a while and then continued pondering his own affairs, not paying any more attention to the glittering green thread of light, as slender as a cherry stalk. Then he saw the lace undulate towards him. It advanced slowly, like a fine cord, perhaps five metres in length.
It came to a sudden halt in front of him, and then it hurled itself at him with lightning speed.
He entered by the vein that pulsed on Pampu’s tensed throat and joyously penetrated into his hot blood. He was overwhelmed by boundless enthusiasm. He sped through veins and arteries, gaining dominion of a hospitable and stimulative territory. He flowed through the heart, let himself be clenched and twirled by its beats, then continued the same mad odyssey by other channels, until he got back to where he had started. Once again, he pierced the vein and emerged next to his point of entry, just in time to catch his narrow, fluttering extremity as it slipped inwards. Contact with his own body was exhilarating. He had never imagined that through circular movement he could attain such a high degree of happiness. He was now like a crumpled circle, a continuum moving dizzyingly through the recesses of Pampu’s being. Meanwhile, the latter sat propped against the trunk of the mulberry, his gaze lost in the horizon, his throat red, contracted and stained by a barely visible green droplet. He was now master of this man and he floated, his mind numb and without desire.
Finally, he wearied and collapsed inwards, dissolving, knowing in an instant all Pampu’s life and thoughts. With his mind’s eye, he saw events and gestures, he understood the meaning of life and its joys ; he even felt the horror that had overwhelmed Pampu at the moment he had pierced his throat. He was still himself, but at the same time he was also the man who had paused to rest beneath a mulberry tree. He had entered his blood, he had filled him from within, and now he saw with Pampu’s eyes.
And this was a moment he was to remember.
He opened his eyes and the miracle struck him. Nothing he had seen before had been like this. The world had opened in a thousand colours. Each particle of it now became plain to him : the sparse grass, trampled upon the earth, the narrow path that led to the village, the woods on the horizon, the sky and the little whistle in Pampu’s hands, which were now his hands. On his throat had appeared two small, painful points – the orifices through which he had slipped inside and then emerged in order to find the part of him left behind.
After a while, he stood up, impelled by the thought that he had lingered too long, and that at the mansion his worldly business was waiting for him, as usual. It was strange how quickly he had adopted Pampu’s impulses and how conscientious he was to fulfil them. He went down the whitish path, towards Comoşteni, which back then was called Coteni, to the mansion of Gongea the Spatharius. He knew every detail of the way but at the same time marvelled at all he saw.
Nevertheless, during the first weeks, he never thought of Pampu as a victim. He knew that he had taken control of him, but he never put himself in his shoes. He felt like a spoiled guest or a tourist on holiday.
The first days passed in trivialities : he wanted to see and to know everything. But his curiosity aroused the suspicion of those around. Moreover, the pricks on his neck became inflamed and looked like two ruddy peppercorns.
As soon as he opened the back door of the mansion, he went into action. In front of the stables, there were a few servants who had just finished grooming the horses. Among them was Ioniţă, an annoying young lad, who, whenever he used to see Pampu would shout out, Pampu the ox, what are you up to, mumsy ? Pampu would be highly irritated by this mode of address, in fact, he disliked the spotty, loudmouthed lad and, whenever he saw him, he would feel like wringing his neck, to prevent him from speaking. All the same, he had never paid him any mind. He would smile, nod disapprovingly and go on his way. Now, however, passing through the gate towards the stables, no sooner had the new Pampu laid eyes on Ioniţă than he suddenly felt the need to shut him up before he could finish the sentence. It all happened quickly and astonishingly. Pampu came in, set eyes on Ioniţă and in two strides was next to him. He caught him by the throat with one hand, just as he was finishing the first part of the gibe, raised him in a trice and threw him onto the stable roof like a ball of rags. He immediately realised that he had done something he shouldn’t have. He felt a vague sense of regret, but equally he was satisfied. The lads from the stables stood in silent amazement, while Ioniţă lay sprawled on one side, red, his upper lip split.
From that moment, Pampu’s status at the court of the Spatharius was different. Within a few days, he became the prime subject of servant gossip. He seemed changed to them, possessed, because nothing of the well-meaning person of previously was visible any longer. The new Pampu smirked insolently, he could not be bothered with work and there was no question of him taking orders from anyone. He was like a master on his estate, and if anybody got in his way, he would have felled him with a single swipe. Moreover, there were two ugly wounds on his throat, like two vampire fang-marks.
2. The next day, when the court had already begun to talk about him, the new Pampu had his first face to face encounter with Ghighina and spoke to her for the first time. It was like a rebirth and he still recalls the joy that pulsed in each word flung into the world. The lass called him one day from the watchtower on the road. He was looking at the boys who were running with armfuls of twigs to the big furnace in the courtyard. He knew that he too used to light the fire, but since no one, not even the overseer had told him to do anything, Pampu was gazing at the sky in sincere wonderment, standing transfixed in the middle of the bustling courtyard. The apparition of Ghighina immediately aroused his interest. He knew who she was, he knew what she meant for the old Pampu, and that is why he swiftly made his way towards the lass who had called him from the watchtower perched high on its four posts.
The daughter of the Spatharius would turn seventeen that spring, on Saint George’s day. Her main preoccupation was her Easter dress, on which she had been working for more than a month and had finished on Maundy Thursday. The soft, fine, dark blue cloth, from which she had made a cambered gown, garnished with white lace, had been sent all the way from Sighişoara. She was delighted with it and thought she looked like a princess. Her dream was to go to the city of Tîrgovişte, marry a great boyar, have carriages and beautiful gowns, and never to return to Coteni.
She liked Pampu. She could feel her soul all a flutter when she saw him, but she knew very well that there could be no relationship between them. Pampu was her odd-job man. She used to call for him two or three times a day, send him on various errands – to bring her flowers from the garden, to pick apples for her, apples other than the ones brought to her in the morning. She used to tell him how to dress and she would fill his head with all her dreams about Tîrgovişte or about the merchants’ shops in Sighişoara.
Nevertheless, in her spoiled life, there was one person who used to put spokes in her wheels and dampen her spirits. That person was Maşcatu, the court overseer. It was not that he was insolent or that he behaved badly to her. He was, essentially, the general manager of the court. It was he who motivated everyone else. From dawn to dusk, his somewhat hoarse voice could be heard, from down in the stables up to the great hall in the house. On hearing that voice, Ghighina could picture in her mind the gloomy visage of the overseer. He had the look of a man who was ready to knock your brains out. But when Gongea the Spatharius appeared, the overseer’s face would instantly brighten, and he would become a balm. Otherwise, he would either pretend not to hear or just mutter something. But when he saw Ghighina, he would give her a hostile look and never hastened to do what the lass told him. That is why she had been overjoyed when Savetina the cook had told her the previous evening : “Ladyship, ladyship, our overseer got such a drubbing, there was a brawl in the stables last night. They say that Pampu is possessed, God forbid !”
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
"The novel iis filled with an atrocious realism, showing a vision as veridical as possible strictly of contemporary reality, but it escapes in the fantastic in a way as natural as Marquez's famous Remedios was rising to the sky while she was hanging the laundry to dry."
"The fabulous, the miraculous, the supernatural blend with the petty history, in detail, even in the day-to-day life. A substantial and gripping novel, an altogether unwonted presence on the current literary stage."