An incandescent love story—a thrilling debut novel—that moves from Romania to America, from the Carpathian Mountains to Chicago, from totalitarianism to freedom, and from passionate infatuation to profound understanding.
In the summer of 1977, seventeen-year-old Mona Manoliu falls in love with Mihai, a mysterious, green-eyed boy who lives in Brasov, the romantic mountain city where she spends her summers. She can think of nothing, and no one, else. But life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu is difficult. Hunger and paranoia infect everyone; fear, too. And one day, Mona sees Mihai wearing the black leather jacket favored by the secret police. Could he be one of them?
As food shortages worsen, as more and more of her loved ones disappear in “accidents,” Mona comes to understand that she must leave Romania. She escapes in secret—narrowly avoiding the police—through Yugoslavia to Italy, and then to Chicago, a city she calls “fit for my hunger.” But she leaves without saying a final good-bye to Mihai. And though she struggles to bury her longing for the past—she becomes a doctoral student, marries, has children—she finds herself compelled to return to her country, determined to learn the truth about her one great love.
Seductive, suspenseful, intensely evocative, and told in an astonishingly original, poetic voice, Train to Trieste is a force of language and emotion, as acutely observed as it is impossible to put down.
“This vivid debut novel [is] alive with the youthful awareness of the texture of the old world, the world left behind–in this case, Romania. Mona is just 17 when she falls in love with her ‘green-eyed mountain boy,’ Mihai. The adult world–Ceausescu’s government, secret police, parents in political peril–is closing in on them both. But for one beautiful summer, it’s linden trees and vodka made from fermented plums and stars and mountains and raspberries. . . . Drink in the gorgeous scenery, the Carpathians, Bucharest, the dark forests. Suspend all cynicism and believe in the possibility of this love story.”
–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“Like the heroine of her debut novel, Domnica Radulescu escaped from Romania in the early 1980s, studied literature at the University of Chicago, and is a smart, sensitive, passionate, and beautiful woman. Hungry for love and life, 17-year-old Mona falls deeply in love with Mihai. But living in Communist Romania, where everyone is suspicious of everyone else, she is unsure of who he is. . . . Despite her constant fears, she cannot stay out of his bed. But when her father is directly threatened and her own life is in danger, [Mona] is encouraged to flee the country. . . . She eventually arrives in Chicago . . . [Years later,] after her marriage ends and the Ceausescus are murdered in a bloody revolution, she returns to her homeland to find out who her first and only love, Mihai, really was. Radulescu’s novel, sprung from an autobiographical impulse, powerfully combines the intensity of first love, the confusion of politics, and the melancholy of exile.”
–Barbara Fisher, Boston Sunday Globe
“I was swept away by Domnica Radulescu’s debut novel. It’s at once a haunting journey to a faraway country, beautiful and terrifying, and an odyssey straight to the heart of a young girl and the remarkable woman she becomes. Deeply moving and deeply felt, Train to Trieste is an unforgettable story that introduces a new and astonishingly fresh voice.”
–Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
“I never thought I’d have cause to refer to life behind the Iron Curtain as ‘magnificent’ or ‘evocative,’ but there’s a first time for everything. Train to Trieste is Domnica Radulescu’s debut, and it’s a sweeping, gorgeous book about a young woman’s quest for freedom and safety in Soviet-ruled Romania during the late 1970s. Mona Maria Manoliu is 17, beautiful and has a boyfriend, Mihai, who adores her. [But] Romania is in the throes of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist reign, political dissidents (Mona’s father is one) are being arrested or killed every day . . . Mona lives in constant fear that her father’s contraband typewriter will be found in its hiding place in the oven, or worse, that Mihai himself will be revealed as a member of the secret police. Eventually, the only thing left to do is escape. Mona–alone, bereft, terrified and without saying goodbye to Mihai–turns up briefly in Trieste, moves on to Rome, and finally reaches Chicago, where she begins her life as a refugee. . . . When a cousin visits from Romania and dredges up memories of the past, Mona knows she must return to her homeland, to find Mihai and learn the truth. Every page in this elegant, sophisticated novel drips with detail, from the bittersweet taste of walnut preserves to the sheen of the mahogany wardrobe where a young Mona hides, wondering if it will ever be safe to come out.”
–Tiffany Lee-Youngren, San Diego Union-Tribune
“A spirited, passionate, funny look at the world in the time of the new millennium. Domnica Radulescu is a remarkable writer enriching American letters with her Romanian perspective. We are lucky to call her ours.”
–Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
“Richly poetic . . . Mona, an impulsive Bucharest teen, falls in love with Mihai, a boy from the mountains. He’s just lost his longtime girlfriend to a violent accident, and Mona’s drawn to the rawness of his grieving. Her youth in Romania is a flurry of sensual pleasures, despite the fear and want endemic to life under a Stalinist regime. . . . Though Mona grapples with secret police and with scarcity, her evocations of the pleasures of youth and love are indomitably joyous, almost synesthetic in their sensuality. . . . Mona’s story spins out over years, as she builds an American life that’s forever overshadowed by the one she left behind. Fittingly, the novel ends in Romania, on her first trip back. Radulescu beautifully evokes the timelessness of spaces, as Mona’s middle-aged self attempts to fit into landscapes she moved in as a young woman. The book’s final pages raise as many questions as they answer, but Radulescu is happy to leave something to the imagination.”
–Melissa Albert, Time Out Chicago
“A must-read thriller. Radulescu writes with intensity and urgency and pulls readers along with her first-person account of escape, survival and love. . . . Mona Manoliu is a student and blossoming beauty of 17 when she meets Mihai while vacationing in the beautiful foothills of the Carpathians. Radulescu’s descriptions of this region speak volumes about her intimate knowledge of her home country. Innocent love risks discovery back home in Bucharest as Mona’s father pursues hidden agendas, and even best friends are suspected enemies. Savagery and starvation prevail as Ceausescu and cohorts bleed the country of food and money. Mona’s family urges her to flee . . . [After living in America for years,] Mona makes the return to her homeland and her first love. What she finds is a revelation that is both unsettling and satisfying. Mona Manoliu lives her life in rapid, staccato bursts of action and emotion. Readers will page through her adventures with precisely the same feelings.”
–Barbara Dickinson, The Roanoke Times (October 12, 2008)
“Unique . . . Like an oven on fire, with a typewriter and love letters, Train to Trieste bursts forward with a novel definition of woman, family, and instantaneous decision. Mona Maria Manoliu is a protagonist who captivates through sheer boldness and endless adventure. [She is also] a feisty woman who is in love during dangerous political divisions. . . . Daring with words, Radulescu narrates the political tensions that Ceausescu throws upon Bucharest and Romania. . . . The power of now, the necessity of the present, and a woman’s decisive intuition explode from every page.”
–Kimberly Gilmour, Seven Times (September 10, 2008)
“It’s a long way from Romania to Lexington [Virginia], but Domnica Radulescu has made the transition with grace. . . . Train to Trieste tells the story of Mona Manoliu, who’s 17 when the story begins in the late 1970s. A relationship with a young man she comes to believe is a member of Romania’s secret police makes her flee to America via Italy. Years later, she returns to Romania and discovers the truth. More than a coming-of-age story, the novel is an exploration of a brutal regime and the new life Mona finds in the United States. Radulescu is a Virginia author with a fresh perspective who gives voice to both her native and adoptive lands.”
–Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch (August 31, 2008)
“True love is hard to find, but it’s priceless–a lesson it takes feisty and vivacious Mona Manoliu decades to learn. A 17-year-old student in late 1970s Romania, Mona has fallen hard for the charismatic Mihai, whom she meets when summering with her family in the foothills of the Carpathians. Back home in Bucharest, her father pursues clandestine activities, and the family barely eats, but Mona is starry-eyed about Mihai–until she sees him in a black leather jacket, the favored outfit of the secret police, and encounters a crazed woman who asks her whether she really knows who he is. Then her family persuades her to flee to the West, and she’s off to America via Italy via Bucharest. Years later, Mona returns to Romania and discovers the truth about Mihai–a revelation that, against all expectations, is both startling and satisfying. . . . Engaging, evocative, intensely sensual, and sharply perceptive, conveying both the horrors of the Ceausescu regime and the ironies of Mona’s experiences in America. A strong first novel.”
–Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
“A page turner: I read Train to Trieste with multitudinous gasps of delight, breathlessly and quickly.”
–Andrei Codrescu, author of The Blood Countess and commentator, “All Things Considered”
“Startling . . . a passionate narrative, intertwining political and love intrigues in the most thrilling ways. Train to Trieste is seductive and suspenseful, shimmering with linguistic brilliance and marvelous images. Lovers seem to be spies, and informants fall in love, in this story full of intelligence and beauty.”
–Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool’s Day
“Magnificent . . . Dominica Radulescu writes the incredible journey of seventeen-year-old Mona Manoliu and her struggles with the basic need for a woman–love–in a time of hunger, fear, and death. . . . The resolution [of Mona’s story], although shocking and riveting, brings a satisfaction and happiness; the true mark of a great writer. This was perhaps one of the most touching stories that I have ever read. The sensuous language and the artistry, in which the words are woven to tell the tale of Mona, connected me greatly with the character. I felt her love, passion, and anguish throughout the story. . . . I felt a great connection to [Radulescu], as if she were speaking to me, almost in a luring way. Enchanting and beautiful, at the same time chaotic and strong, Mona was a girl that I could envision and almost touch as if she were real. Train to Trieste [is] fantastic in every way, I just simply loved it.”
–Beatriz C., Bookdivas.com (October 2008)