The Last Hundred Days ~ Patrick McGuinness

The Last Hundred Days is in fact just that: the last hundred days of the rule of Romanian dictator (and his wife), Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. The history is told by a young english student (never named) who has taken a job in Romania as an assistant to a professor at a university in Bucharest. The year is 1989 and it’s quickly obvious that the job is a bit of a sham, that there is more than meets the eye with everyone he meets. He becomes involved with the daughter of a high government official (the sex scenes are poorly drawn). Speaking of 100, that’s the amount of times I’ve seen a female in a film back up to a desk, hike up the old skirt and the man enter her while sweeping the desk clean. Cliche ridden. But he also becomes enmeshed in the underground dissident movement, helping people escape the brutal terrorist regime. This also involves various black market activities that help finance the people smuggling operations.

The student (in a semi-autobiographical turn), McGuiness, writes the story of these last days. That’s not the only writing going on here. His mentor, Leo O’Heix is writing a historical travel guide titled “The City of Lost Walks”. The walks are lost because the regime is tearing down the “bourgeois” historical buildings and streets, replacing them with the soulless and shoddy architecture of the Revolution. While Leo writes that book, a pre-Ceausescu Romanian leader (Sergiu Trofim) is writing not one but two books: one for the repressive regimes censors and an other to be published simultaneously in the rest of Europe – the real story, as it were.

Trofim tells the student who he has befriended the strange process:

‘I am writing my memoirs. Every day she takes dictation, and then the papers are taken away for…let’s call it ‘editing’. They return for proofreading completely different from what I dictated. They are taking my story from me. You’ve heard of the Freudian talking cure, where the mere act of saying something to someone who is listening is sufficient? Well, we always have someone listening here, we are the Freudian state. This is the communist talking cure: they are curing me of my own life. Every day my altered past catches up with me. You know the old joke: with communism, the future is certain, it’s just the past that keeps changing?’

The book has a painfully slow start. It took forever to engage me. Finally it did though – to an extent. I’d say the major flaw here was the disjointed nature of the story telling and the philosophical musings. The characters speech just did not flow and there was always that didactic tone that never worked. As with many books of fiction with a historical bent – based on a person, or based on an era, or here, based on a historical event – there is always something to learn at the very least. Ah, but history…

They say history makes the people who make history…”cometh the time, cometh the man” and all that bollocks. It’s not like that. History just crawls along on its belly picking up parasites…crabs on the pubis of history…      

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