Benderson, Bruce, “The Romanian: Story of an Obsession”, Tarcher/ Penguin, 2006.
An Intellectual Triumph
If you are in the mood for a serous book that will indeed make you think, pick up a copy of Bruce Benderson’s “The Romanian: Story of an Obsession” and I can promise you that you will not be disappointed. I knew nothing about it and the more I read the more surprised I became and the more I loved this book. Written as a memoir, it is really more of a mystery. It s one thing to go down the wrong road but it is something else when you knowingly do so. The book is honest (sometimes too much so) and realistic (because it really happened).
Anyone who has ever loved a person or a place with pain and obsessed, fantasized, felt not at home, or thought about the concepts of history and fate will have a pleasurable read. Benderson takes Romanian history and enmeshes it with the love story of a forbidden hustler. Benderson’s obsession with a Romanian rent boy parallels the scandal of a royal family and in doing so takes us with beautiful insight into the modern perspective. Benderson has created a whole new form of travel memoir with this book. He transforms his obsessions to matters for the intellect and we get a psycho-sexual soap opera where danger and truth hide in run down hotels, dim cul-de-sacs and unknown foreign landscapes. The titillation he could have provided his readers by writing this as a soft-core porn novel is instead relates as depraved, masochistic luminous and comical story. There is no hint of redemption and no patented wisdom. The style of the author is depressing and decadent and seems to be infused with mind altering drugs but this is what makes this book so great.
Benderson is at times self-indulgent but we never lose interest. It seemed to me that the author was trying to exorcise some of his guilt feelings about exploiting a young hustler but this is not really of importance as we see when the book draws to a close. Everything is just dirty and the man brought about his own fate.
Benderson felt that his mother had suffocated him emotionally and it is through this knowledge and his relationship with a young man that he begins to realize that everyone of us carries some kind of flaw and that above all, we are human. In learning this, the book shocks us into the reality of the way we live and we start to search within ourselves. Benderson shocks us out of any preconceived notions we may have about the nature of sexuality and we learn that we are mainly responsible for our undoing.
The layers of the book are plentiful as past and present intertwine and the passion of Benderson becomes the passion of the person reading his book. The language is beautiful and the way three different themes are bound together is nothing short of amazing. The descriptions are lush and I bet that Romania has never looked so good before. Benderson uses his beautiful narrative to tell us of things that should ordinarily shock us but his way of relating what he has to say is absolutely gorgeous.