by Sophie van Llewyn
Bottled Goods is a simple tale of life in the Socialist Republic of Romania during the late 1960s and ‘70s. Or is it? What starts out as the story of schoolgirl Alina growing up in Bucharest with her somewhat eccentric family morphs perplexingly into full-blown magical realism three-quarters of the way through, after which, elements become unexpectedly surreal.
Alina is a twentysomething school teacher when she and her husband Liviu find themselves of significant interest to Ceaușescu’s secret police following his brother’s defection to the West. To make matters worse, Alina attempts to protect one of her pupils spotted with a contraband magazine and is reported to the authorities for doing so. Suddenly the bad coffee and black-market apple strudels seem insignificant trifles when compared to being persona non grata with the regime, former-friends, neighbours and colleagues – and the situation isn’t alleviated by Alina’s self-centred, interfering mother, who has never approved of her daughter’s marriage to a peasant boy.
Bottled Goods is part of the Fairlight Moderns series, which aims to introduce readers to modern literary fiction from different parts of the world via an ever-expanding collection of multi-genre novellas. Printed in smaller format and with striking jacket covers created by Sara Wood and illustrated by Sam Kalda, these appealing little books are designed to be convenient travelling reads and will make ideal book club choices for those seeking contemporary themes combined with quality writing.
Sophie van Llewyn was born in south-eastern Romania but now lives in Germany. She has previously won awards for her flash fiction and short stories. In this, her “debut long fiction work”, she has created a chilling piece of absurdist fiction, which (often comically) depicts the depressing and troubled lives of those attempting to subsist under the constant watch of a distrustful authoritarian state.
“To my father and the heroes of the Romanian Revolution of 1989.”
Many thanks to Fairlight Books for providing an advance review copy of this title.