Friday, February 25, 2011

The White King by Gyorgy Dragoman

In some ways this is a story narrated by a young boy who engages in the typical pranks and activities of boys everywhere. However, Djata, who is eleven, lives in a Communist country—most probably Romania. At the beginning of the book Djata recounts how his father left with some men—“colleagues” according to his father. His father’s explanation for leaving home—a research project.

Later on Djata learns the truth. His father had been sent to a labor camp at the Danube Canal for his protest against the government. Because of his father’s outspoken stance, Djata is expelled from Communist Youth organizations and his mother is no longer employed as a teacher. Djata’s life continues and is framed against some of the anti-father figures he encounters including a sadistic coach.

His grandparents detest his mother because she is Jewish and offer the family no support. When Djata sees his grandfather once a year, it is a formal visit. His mother has forbid him from accepting and keeping any gift from his grandfather.

In the midst of this repressive society, Djata engages in some colorful escapades that indicate that even in the most closed societies boys will find adventures worthy of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Once Djata and his friend discover a cache of pornographic movies when they sneak into the backroom of a theater. When the two friends decide that a quarry has gold ore in its walls they climb over a chain link fence to enter the area. They stumble upon two ferocious dogs and the son of the old man who had lived there until his recent death. What follows is an escapade worthy of a picturesque novel.

But there are many difficult times for the boy who wants to believe that his father will return. Life in a totalitarian regime is rife with indignities and pressure and the adult world is filled with horror and sordid details.

The ending of the book is a painful awareness of the constrictions and abuse that await those who oppose the regime.

Read East Challenge

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