Train to Trieste by Domnica Radalescu © 2008, Random House/Highbridge.
Mona loves Mihai, but is fed up with living in communist era Romania. Friends and family die in a shockingly frequent number of car “accidents.” Her intellectual father is always watched and occasionally arrested, suspected of being a subversive. The markets offer little to eat. In the paranoid atmosphere, Mona even wonders if Mihai works for the secret police. So she decides to flee, slip out of the country on the train to Trieste, seek asylum in Italy and eventually the U.S.
Train chugged along nicely through Mona’s Romanian years, providing an interesting, disturbing picture of life in the Ceausescu regime. It struggled once Mona reached America, which Mona finds liberating in some ways, disappointing in others. She gets an education, a career, marriage, children, an affair, a divorce, all while missing her homeland and Mihai. This took up most of the book, and while it was cleanly written, it was a bit dull. Nothing that happened to Mona throughout her Americanization was surprising.
Train picked up speed again when Mona’s parents join her in the U.S. after Ceausescu is ousted. She learns her beloved Mihai was killed in the upheaval, and becomes determined to revisit her homeland, which was her father’s dying wish. Upon her return, many secrets about her past and about Mihai are revealed to Mona, and the story comes full circle in surprising and emotionally pleasing ways.
It was a very realistic tale and therefore educational. Dramatically, I would have liked to see Mona face more formidable obstacles. But Radalescu kept me interested enough throughout to park Train on my permanent bookshelf.