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Bruce Benderson is the first American to receive the Prix de Flore, for The Romanian, which is published by Snowbooks in May 2006. He is the author of two works of fiction, User and Pretending to Say No, and several works of nonfiction, including Toward the New Degeneracy. He is a translator of French literature who has worked as a journalist for numerous American and French publications, including The New York Times Magazine and Liberation.
For this memoir in 2004, journalist Benderson (Pretending To Say No) became the first American to win the Prix de Flore, one of France's most distinguished literary awards. The story begins with the author researching a story about brothels in Budapest, where he meets Romulus, a young street hustler. A complex attachment colored by social inequalities grows between the two men. Benderson's attempt to come to grips with his attraction forms the bulk of the text; he tries to find parallels in the scandalous relationships of Romanian royalty and in his relationship with his domineering mother, and he loses himself in an appreciation of Romanian pastoralism that occasionally belies rational thought. Meanwhile, he pays the bills by translating Celine Dion's autobiography. Benderson weaves a startlingly beautiful tapestry of stifling heat, street dogs, overwhelming poverty, natural beauty, East clashing with West, and the banality of a pop singer, all supported by the central thread, the analysis of a relationship. He further examines-and candidly-the concept of obsession, both as it applies to himself and in other larger contexts. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Audrey Snowden, Cleveland P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Simon Callow: "Bruce Benderson's harrowingly autobiographical The Romanian (Snowbooks) is one of the most devastating and unsparing accounts of amour fou I have ever read, providing at the same time an extraordinary glimpse into Romania's past and present. I read it at the same time as Andrew Holleran's Grief (Hyperion), a novel which - haunted by reflections on Henry Adams as a widower and Mary Lincoln's aimless life after her husband's assassination - deals calmly and wisely, in exquisite pellucid prose, with some fundamental truths. Both these books deal with gay life, but from diametrically opposite points of view. Finally, Ian Buruma's fine and subtle Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Atlantic), while specifically and illuminatingly about some Dutch responses to Muslim extremism, has chilling resonances for all of us." More than simply a memoir, this is an extraordinary book: part travelogue, part love letter, politically incorrect and painfully honest. - Time Out - five star review More than just a memoir, The Romanian is also a fascinating travelogue of a country dense with mystical traces and decay...A grand, if disturbing adventure. --The Village Voice
Benderson was wandering Budapest researching sex clubs for Nerve. com when he fell in love. Romulus, a Romanian street hustler, was a sleekly attractive, uneducated (though clever) 24-year old (significantly younger than Benderson), into soccer, TV and swapping dirty stories with his buddies. Living in a largely homophobic culture, Romulus didn't consider himself anything but heterosexual, even as he spent months having sex with Benderson. As Benderson (author of two novels, including User, as well as some nonfiction) slid into an obsession with Romulus, he started reading about Romanians whose lives and loves seemed curiously tangential: the artist Brancusi; the novelist Istrati; the lascivious King Carol II and his Jewish lover, Lupescu. Sometimes, Benderson and Romulus drove around the Romanian countryside, exploring villages mired between pastoral paganism and socialist realism. Weaving storytelling and seduction, Benderson's tale has a deliciously Arabian Nights flavor. His descriptions-the fat Ukrainian bartender with "fast, greedy fingers" and "predatory" hospitality-render scenes so three-dimensional, readers will be checking for their wallets. While some may be derailed by the unsafe sex and Benderson's back-to-the-closet erotics, anyone-gay or straight-who's able to read a painfully honest account of an obsessive love affair without feeling they need to judge the author will be rewarded. This Prix de Flore winner could be Benderson's American breakthrough book. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.