Short Story Review – Helena Drysdale – Ana, Camil, Niculina, and Me

This short story review has been imported from my now-defunct review website.  I will progressively import the remaining and available reviews throughout the coming months, all of which can be found here.

Have you ever had a friend you haven’t seen in a while, a long time, years perhaps, and then for whatever reason you see them again and they are utterly different?  Perhaps a friend you knew when you were eighteen, when your hair was long, your dreams were huge, and your capacity to accept business, politics, compromise, dullness, was tiny?  The sort of friend who was always up for a drinking session, who would discuss some rebel figure from some war-torn corner of the world, who voted as left as he possibly could?  And then, five years later, ten years later, did you meet him again, easy now that Facebook exists, and find that he is a father, a manager at a company, a quiet person who retires early on Friday and Saturday night, whose idea of “too much to drink” is a second beer after work?  And weren’t you more than a little disappointed that he’d changed so much, even though you were exactly the same?

Helena Drysdale’s short story, Ana, Camil, Niculina, and Me is a story about exactly the above, though with an obvious feminine slant.  The four (three girls and a boy) of the story were adventurers, wanderers, three of them Romanian, the narrator English, and oh, the fun they had!  But they were young and, after a time, they separated.  Communication was difficult because of the political problems between East and West Europe, and after a while they lost touch.  But then, in the story’s present, which is a little after the fall of Ceauşescu, there is an opportunity to reunite.  The narrator visits Romania and – they all have grey hair now.  They are all married now.  The all have children now.  And it’s disappointing, because did they really overthrow the dictator just to become middle-aged like every other generation before them?

But of course they did.  People have a habit of growing older.  Sad to say, but it’s true, and what’s perhaps most amazing about this is that we are all disappointed in everyone else for growing so old.  But what about us?  Wouldn’t it be a shock if they thought that about me?  But of course, they do.

Helena Drysdale’s story explores the sadness of ageing, but what’s most interesting about her story is that it does so through the prism of Ceauşescu’s fall and Romania’s attempt at rebirthing itself.  Not only are the girls “supposed” to have been the same as they ever were – bright, young, hopeful, dreaming, energetic, beautiful – but so was Romania.  This was the country’s time to shine!  Only it wasn’t, and the disappointment is reflected in the pollution of the cheap cars and the dullness of everyone’s grey hair.   

The story ends with Camil, the sole male from the group, commenting on Romania’s situation.  He says that, even though their children (who – unbelievable – are the same age now as they all were when the story started) have mostly left Romania, for him it was important to stay there because it was the only way to “restore the link with his own past”.  He recognises, however, that this link is,

…like a rope when it’s broken, you re-tie it, and there’s always a knot.  The rope’s never the same again.

And that is a sad indictment of both Romania’s chance of, and failure to achieve, a better future.  It could have been so much more, and we could have stayed young forever.  But we didn’t, and it wasn’t.

Author Helena Drysdale
Title Ana, Camil, Niculina, and Me
Nationality British
Publisher Bucharest Tales

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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