Monday, August 1, 2011

Filip Florian - Little Fingers - Book Review

In modern day Romania, once a border province of the Roman Empire, archaeologists working to uncover a Roman fort stumble upon a mass grave. As the bones surface, former political prisoners and the sensationalist media will stop at nothing to prove that this is the site of mass murders committed by the Communist regime. The archaeologists sulkily stand aside, waiting for the truth to be uncovered, (but whose truth?) so that they can go on with their work.

Little Fingers, Filip Florian's debut novel, has all the premises for a historical mystery, but it turns out to be something else. It's more of a gallery of picturesque portraits, interwoven to in a meditation on history – how long does it take for a crushed, devastated generation to let go of the past, allowing it to become history?

It's not really a book on ancient Rome, as you've probably figured out, but the ruins of the Roman fort serve as foundation for the unraveling modern events in Little Fingers. The theme is deep and disturbing, some of the portraits are memorable, and the style is brilliant in places. In a few places. Quite often, the abundance of adjectives makes it very inviting to skip a few paragraphs – that is, if the book would have any paragraphs. But it doesn't.

Little Fingers left me with an overall impression that it could have been a brilliant short novel, instead of a full-fledged novel that's dragging in places. The characters get a long introductory presentation, with very little development to follow – and the fruit-salad comparison for the archeologist's girlfriend is a trying experience for any reader. Same goes for the long and obviously dogmatic digression that introduces the Argentinian characters – that play little part from then on – and for the author's obsession to explain his metaphors and connections (if you are familiar with soccer, you'll get them without explanations, if you're not – you won't get them anyway, so several pages are an exercise in futility).

I'd say that Filip Florian's Little Fingers is an overly ambitious exercise for a first novel. You may want to pick it up when you have some free time on your hands – I had the feeling that I had to finish it in one sitting, or I won't pick it up again. Fortunately, it's short. You may also want to read it it you have an interest in the massively under-estimated Eastern European literature, or if you want to check out the first work of someone who promises to become an excellent novel writer.

By the same author: The Days of the King
(also dealing with Romanian history, and a much better literary achievement)