„On Saturday, the 24th of September 2016, I was taking a walk with my wife, Adela, in Cluj. We’ve lost our way to Anatole France Street. I was already tired and annoyed. We were walking among identical blocks of flats and seeking the exit towards the house we were staying for a few days now, being put up by our friends, Oana and Ciama. We went by a trashcan, with waste spilling near it and what I saw there quickly changed my state of mind: in the trash there was a sign, so strange, so unexpected and inappropriate for the message written on it with purple bold letters on a black background: Writing is the only way of life. I shot a few photographs. And then, although I can hardly say I am the superstitious type, I kept thinking what it means. In four days’ time, on the 28th of September, I had my first session of chemotherapy“.
Cel care cheamă câinii by Lucian Dan Teodorovici is a mixture of autobiographical writing, literary, religious and theoretical digressions, a therapy journal and an all-encompassing narrative on illness that resembles the structure of a fiction book.
While confronted with the possibility of a life threatening illness, the narrator of the book decides to document his struggle with disease and treatment by writing a and therapy diary about his experience with doctors in Cluj and Iași, but also about the an experience which forces him into isolation, being confronted with the limits of life and the possibility of death. What is striking to the reader is that the book refuses the kind of mysticism and pathetic tone you can find in books about illness. Writing is the only way of life becomes a central statement in the book. The author is obsessed with finding a structure for a type of narrative that escapes any genre of writing. Five years after he published his last book of fiction, Matei Brunul, a novel with a historical background, partly taking place during the fifties Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej Stalinist Romania, Lucian Dan Teodorovici sets out to write his new novel. The beginning of that new novel is included in the beginning of this autobiographical book as a false beginning, the first pages of a book that will never be written, a beginning which is also good for this book „like an alien body, like a kind of barrier between what I would have wanted to write and what I am going to write“. The novel that he was going to write would have been too much to take, taking him, the writer, to dark places, with a main character which would have been a religious fanatic, the narrative of a mind ridden by madness and monstrosities, written in the first person. The narrator’s consciousness had to be one with the consciousness of the writer. Like any other writer, Lucian Dan Teodorovici confesses that he needs to inhabit the mind of the narrator in order to be in the middle of the events. You need to be inside the mind of another, to inhabit another consciousness in order to communicate what is needed. But when you are diagnosed with cancer, your life is suddenly overturned; you are not willing to insert your mind in an atmosphere of darkness and insanity.
So, what follows after this false beginning is one of the most moving and least pathetic accounts about illness that I have ever read. Lucian Dan Teodorovici is able at times to find the humour even in the most difficult situations, through doctors’ visits and chemotherapy sessions. The book is also a philosophical essay on the nature of language and reality, which is suddenly illuminated by a life-threatening experience and the confrontation with illness. The author is a self-confessed strong believer in rationalism. He is very careful to eliminate any pathetic tone from the book. Any trace of the irrational is carefully disposed of, but the irrational enters his consciousness through the destabilising effects of the illness. Lucian Dan Teodorovici is always careful to explain these inserts of irrational nature in the text; his account remains a very lucid, of an almost surgical like precision. For the author, writing is indeed the only way of life. And this is also what makes Cel care cheamă câinii a great book of literature: the ability to escape clichés about illness, to find humanity where most of us would find desolation and despair, a quality which brings forth the idea of salvation through writing.