Friday, May 15, 2009

Romanian Cafe Society Takes Manhattan

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER

The New York Times

Last year, the first foreign-language edition of the Book Review launched in Romania. Now, in another unexpected bit of cultural turnabout, Midtown Manhattan has gotten what must be its only Romanian bookstore.

Well, sort of. From now until July 15, all you need to do to browse the hippest bookstore in Bucharest is stroll to 38th Street and Third Avenue, where a temporary outlet of the chain Carturesti has set up shop in the exhibition space of the Romanian Cultural Institute New York.

Oversize photos on the wall give a sense of the relaxed, Euro-cool mood of Carturesti’s nine branches, which are known for funky designs selected in architectural competitions. Shelves and tables feature colorful and attractively designed novels, art books and poetry collections, as well as DVDs and CDs, along with some rustic stools — based on the famous three-legged chairs of Horezu — to sit on. Alas, you can’t sample the full range of fine teas that Carturesti’s cafe’s are famous for dispensing, though you can peruse a book called “Confessions of a Coffee Drinker” (if you read Romanian, that is).

The New York Times

At the exhibit’s opening, the novelist Filip Florian, whose book “Little Fingers” will be published by Harcourt Brace in July, stood out front smoking (but not complaining — apparently you can’t smoke in Romanian bookstores either). Inside, guests mingled over coffee and croissants while Marius Parghel of Carturesti’s Timisoara branch, who curated the exhibit, gave a tour of some literary highlights.

There were books of surrealist poetry, books of avant-garde plays, books about the Romanian royal family (quite strong sellers, apparently), books by the dissident journalist and politician Octavian Paler and the writer and Orthodox monk Nicolae Steinhardt. There was also a healthy selection of novels by Mircea Cartarescu, described by Parghel as “the only Romanian author with chances for a Nobel.” His trilogy, “Orbitor” (“Glaring”), Parghel said, is an attempt to create “a mythology of Bucharest and its communist space,” using metaphors from medicine and alchemy, along with some techniques reminiscent of Latin American magical realists, to evoke an “underground of the mind.” (Can’t wait for the translation? Check out Cartarescu’s short story collection “Nostalgia,” available from New Directions.)

But one thing the bookstore didn’t have, strangely, is a cash register, though the organizers say an English-language version of Carturesti’s “libraria online” should be up and running soon.

(The Carturesti exhibit is on view until July 15 and again from mid-September through the end of the year at the Romanian Cultural Institute New York at 200 E. 38th Street.)

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