The first part of the story is spent getting to know more about Nora, her family, Gigi and his family … and what it is like to be living under such a regime in Mangalia. We get a sense of the rhythm of Nora’s life and the political precepts.
Nora, aged 15, is spending the summer running wild with Gigi, who is a little older. Their families follow different religions. Nora’s mother works in an office at the school but during the summer, rents out most of the house to tourists and so is busy cooking and looking after their guests. Nora and Gigi pretend to be beggars in the marketplace and get up to all sorts of mischief. This summer, Nora is ready to paint the images she has in her head but she can only see their leaders face.
We get to learn a little about the background of Nora’s maternal relatives in relation to Communism and we find out how politics shape their lives today.
It is not until Nora and Gigi save a drowning Polish émigré Anushka (who lives in France) and the ensuing attraction between Gigi and Anushka that Nora realises she feels more for Gigi than childhood playmates.
Nora has a twin brother, Valentin, who has been living with a maternal aunt in Bucharest since they were aged ten. He is a piano prodigy. When the aunt is dying, Valentin moves back into the family home. From this moment, life starts to change for Nora.
Black Sea Twilight is written in the first person from Nora’s perspective. I’m not sure whether I liked her character – she is such a whirlwind! She goes through so many dramatic experiences that you can’t help but admire her stamina and perseverance in fighting for what she wants. Nora has a disability, she is ‘uneven’ – on one side of her body she has a smaller breast and arm. This was portrayed so well throughout the story. At no time was it seen as a disadvantage. It made no difference to how people related to Nora. At her first art lesson in Bucharest, the art teacher comments on how good it is to be able to create different techniques from Nora’s different size hands.
The story has many different threads. There is the developing love between Nora and Gigi. Nora’s experience of family life, which has been directed long ago from the parenting Nora’s own mother received. We get to experience what it is like to live under a Communist regime – a different culture from our own – and how that shapes choices made which can be life-threatening. We learn about friendships and how one friend can help another salvage their own life from heroin addiction.
The writing is beautiful and evocative without making the reader feel swamped. It’s easy to believe you are living the pages of the book.
Personally, I enjoy reading about different cultures and the differences between my own. It is things like this that makes us stop and ponder about what life really means and the freedom we may have to achieve our goals.