I just finished reading Europolis, written by Jean Bart, the pseudonym of Eugeniu Botez. I had written an article about him and it was appropriate to go ahead and read his work to better understand what he was doing. I bought it in the Danube Delta Museum gift shop a few days ago.
[adsense]I won’t tell you all the details because it will spoil the story if you decide to go ahead and read the book. (Which I totally recommend!) I made the mistake of reading the foreword before the rest of the book and that pretty much ruined it for me.
What I will tell you, however, is that the story takes place in the port of Sulina, around the early 1930. The book itself was published in 1933. A critic wrote once that Jean Bart used the whole story as a pretext of conserving that unique way of life that he witnessed during his many.
As the author himself says, Sulina is the only place in the country where you could see authentic port life. While Constanța, Brăila or Galați were cities with a port attached, Sulina was just a port. Everything there revolved around commercial maritime activities.
Unlike the popular belief, Jean Bart actually made it a point throughout the book to mention that Sulina wasn’t really that great a place to live in. Most of the time it was pretty boring, and although there were numerous nationalities living together peacefully, they were all here just trying to get rich, holding great rivalries towards one another.
He did indeed, as some critic mentioned, exaggerate with the word cosmopolite. The main characters of the story are part of the Greek community, which, at the time, represented more than half of the population.
What is fact and what is pure fiction?
Knowing the place where the action takes place, you can’t help but wonder which parts are true and which are just made up?
The city of Sulina
First, the description of the city is, in my opinion, almost a hundred percent true. I can’t say that I know for sure that the names of the restaurants are the original ones, but having been there, what he’s saying about the place is pretty accurate.
Just for that, I believe that the book is worth ten times the amount I paid for it. There’s no museum trip that will give you a better picture of the city than that.
The real people in the story
[adsense]The characters were inspired by the lives of real people in Sulina at the time. As captain of the port, Jean Bart knew closely his community and always scribbled notes of the events in the city so he could later use them in his books.
Evantia, the central figure in the story, was actually a real person. Much later, in the 1960s, Al. Protopopescu caught up with her. She mentioned that ‘the writer had played superbly with her life’. Although she did come to Sulina with the same boat the the American, she wasn’t his daughter..
She had tremendous respect for Jean Bart for handling the details of her life in such a delicate manner, although she couldn’t understand why the writer finished the book the way he did.. “For, look ‘ere, I have outlived the lot of them.”
Her tomb can be found in the catholic part of the maritime cemetery in Sulina. Had I read the book a month earlier, I would have made a point to get there and see it. Oh well, maybe next year.
Damn, I just slipped a spoiler in there. Ok, here’s another one…
You know the two old lighthouses, on the left and right side of the Danube? At the time they were right at the point where the Danube’s course finished and entered the Black Sea. Now, the seashore has moved east another two or three kilometers.
Well, at some point in the story, somebody jumps in the water from the right bank lighthouse and makes a point not to swim out.
But can you guess who?
I won’t tell you if it’s Evantia or not. You’ll have to read Europolis to find out.
P.S. There’s also a english version!
That’s true! Europolis was translated to English throughout the years, but it’s quite rare and you’ll hunt for it.