Saturday, October 29, 2011

Train to Romance

As a genre, romance has tended to fluctuate between the sappy and steamy, taking stock characters on a predictable roller coaster ride that ends with either a wedding or some twist on revenge. In recent years, romance has strayed into not just mystery and suspense, but horror and the supernatural, in a crossover attempt to cover all genres. Working mothers or career women whose hopes for advancement included snagging the resident Adonis are no longer typical of this new wave of novels populated by serial killer investigators, ghost busters, and even vampires. Some are boring, others ridiculous. So it was with pleasant surprise that, having ejected the first disk of a vapid Danielle Steel novel, I next inserted TRAIN TO TRIESTE by first time novelist Domnica Radulescu, a literate romance that breathes spontaneous life from its opening paragraphs.  In the memoir-clarity of first person, the story of Mona Manoliu is told, circa 1977 in Ceausescu's Romania, as she falls in love with a young man who is later seen in the uniform of the secret police. Fleeing the country for Chicago, Mona goes on to live a quite different life with another man, but can never forget her one great love. Indeed, twenty years later, when she finally returns to Romania to learn the truth, the moment is rendered with exquisite detail, something that is simply absent in most of today's less believable manipulations. This audiobook kept me through all nine disks, thanks to the well drawn character of Mona, whose hauntingly original voice is honest, brave, witty, and most of all passionate and alive. Thanks also to narrator Yelena Shmulenson, whose ability to empathically inhabit the character is matched by her masterful delivery and authentic accent. Her latest is COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS. Absolutely the best modern romances I've ever heard.

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