Marvelous epic on the eruption of violence
Wolfsroedel (Wolf Pack) is an impressive young people’s book: well written by a gifted author, it has a strong narrative that is relevant, originally structured and abounding in ideas. It is a complex, grown-up novel, a frame-work story in which a Romanian son talks about the tales that his father, Ion Brebu, once told him at the fireside. It’s a simple beginning, but Father’s own breathtaking story about the band of robbers to which he and two of his friends belonged in their youth pushes the narrow framework into the background, and the reader is drawn into a world as real as it is surreal.
The story of father Ion takes place in the nineteenth century when, as a boy of fourteen, he and his friends Alexandru and Vulpe lost interest in the hard life on the farm and slipped away to join the gang run by Vulpe’s brother Lupu and known as the Wolfsroedel, the Wolf Pack. Their initiation into the robbers’ existence is harsh. Gradually ‘harsh’ degenerates into ‘immoral’ and even ‘criminal,’ when firmly implanted scruples are not strong enough to shake off peer-group pressure. The gang desecrates an old grave at Snagov Monastery on an island in the middle of a lake. It’s the grave of the fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes, known in Romanian folk tales as Prince Dracula. Stories of this notorious villain and his brother come to life in the Chronicles of Snagov, episodes narrated from days gone by. Little by little Zwigtman reveals the relationships between the fifteenth-century royal brothers and the farm brothers Lupu and Vulpe from the nineteenth, relationships that prove to be not only historical but magical and mythical as well. The meticulous way in which the author shows how an Al-Qaida-like mentality and rhetoric can develop, albeit a Christian variant – or what passed for Christian in the fifteenth century – , is what gives the book its relevance.
The book is saturated very naturally with Romanian folk culture. It is one long fireside tale, interspersed with Romanian folk stories, mythology, riddles and vampires. Zwigtman constantly plays with the border between reality and fantasy, and her evocative use of language lends an inescapable realism to these supernatural phenomena. A masterful young people’s novel on the origins of violence, and an appeal, especially to those under peer group pressure, to think and act autonomously.
Lieke van Duin