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  • Between Inter-Imperial Pasts and the Neoliberal PresentThe Year in Romania
  • Ioana Luca (bio)

Sălbaticii copii dingo: Cartea adolescenței, published in 2021, is the latest installment in Vasile Ernu's serial autobiographical project. A compulsive chronicler of his past, Ernu is a unique voice in Romanian culture. Born in Odesa, Ukraine, and raised in the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in a religious sectarian family, he came to Romania to study philosophy, as part of the first group of students on fellowships to their "mother country" in the 1990s. He is now an outspoken public intellectual, a prolific writer, and an editor. A fervent anti-Soviet and anti-communist in the late 1980s, Ernu has become a strong leftist voice—one of the first to openly defy the orthodoxies of the established intellectual circles in Romania. Moreover, he embraces his "born in the USSR" identity, which has defined him since he wrote his first autobiography, Născut in URSS. This identity—together with his reminiscences of the USSR, which re-envision the demonized country under whose influence Romania wriggled for almost half of a century into a vividly multifaceted locale—represented genuine rebellion in the potently anti-communist atmosphere of Romania in the 2000s.

The inclusion in my review of Sălbaticii copii dingo, Ernu's autobiography about the former Moldavian SSR, reflects both the "inter-imperial" histories (Doyle) and the impact of neoliberalism in the region. Bessarabia, the traditional name for most of what is now the Republic of Moldova, changed hands several times over the last few centuries, passing from the medieval principality of Moldavia to the Ottoman and Russian empires, Romania, and the Soviet Union. This has resulted in significant changes in language and cultural identity. Ernu's relocation to Romania in the 1990s speaks not only to the Moldovan exodus to Romania but also to the larger out-migration patterns post-1989 when millions of East Europeans moved "west."

Organized both thematically and chronologically, Sălbaticii copii dingo is divided into four sections that follow the change of seasons, and is an ode to Soviet [End Page 77] Moldova of the 1980s, with a focus on Chişinău, the capital city where Ernu attended high school. The symbolic structure of the book—the heat of summer giving way to the new beginnings of spring—is matched by the metaphor of the title: the "sălbaticii copii dingo" (wild dingo children) are the last generation of Soviet children, who, just like the Australian dogs, were once domesticated only to be abandoned and become wild once again. The first pages of the book provide the rationale for the autobiographer's return to the 1980s: he chooses this decade over the "crazy 90s" (251), which he could "not bear" to experience again (15). The title, the symbolic structure, and the narrator's explanations point to the numerous structural tensions Sălbaticii is built on. Such structural paradoxes derive from the constant juxtaposition of the 1980s with the 1990s (and the present more broadly), as well as from the shifting perspectives the book offers in alternating the teenage voice with that of the mature narrator. The 1980s are a paradise lost, but also a "tragedy" when viewed retrospectively (15). The narratorial shifts and temporal juxtapositions weave a comprehensive narrative, in which the autobiographer untangles the political and historical conditions in former Soviet Moldova created by the violent histories of what Laura Doyle describes as "plural, interacting empires and persons moving between and against empires" (160), delineating the dynamics of power at many scales. While this shows how macropolitics plays out in microcontexts, it also engenders a narrative that is rife with contradictions.

When not contrasted with the 90s, the last Soviet decade is captured in its historical complexity and paralleled with the Bildung of the teenage protagonist. This theme is explored at length in over 400 pages, with the sounds, images, and materiality of daily life taking center stage. Countless songs are interspersed with personal reminiscences, entering into a complex dialogue with the narrator's voice.1 The detailed descriptions of the parks, industrial complexes, and Chişinău's varied neighborhoods find their graphic counterpart...