Blinding: Book One


Translated from by

Published: October 2013





If George Lucas were a poet, this is how he would write.” —New York Sun


“Cărtărescu’s phantasmagorical world is similar to Dalí’s dreamscapes. 

—Kirkus Reviews


“[Cărtărescu is] a writer who has always had a place reserved for him in a constellation that includes the Brothers Grimm, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Bruno Schulz, Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, and Milorad Pavic, to mention just a few.”   —Andrei Codrescu


“His novel is nothing less than a cathedral of imagination and erudition … This masterwork of mannerism is guaranteed to catapult Mircea Cartarescu to the highest echelons of European literature.” —Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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Book Description

Part visceral dream-memoir, part fictive journey through a hallucinatory Bucharest, Mircea Cărtărescu’s Blinding was one of the most widely heralded literary sensations in contemporary Romania, and a bestseller from the day of its release. Riddled with hidden passageways, mesmerizing tapestries, and whispering butterflies, Blinding takes us on a mystical trip into the protagonist’s childhood, his memories of hospitalization as a teenager, the prehistory of his family, a traveling circus, Secret police, zombie armies, American fighter pilots, the underground jazz scene of New Orleans, and the installation of the communist regime. This kaleidoscopic world is both eerily familiar and profoundly new. Readers of Blinding will emerge from this strange pilgrimage shaken, and entirely transformed.

For a captivating introduction to Cărtărescu’s novel, Blinding, read Sharon Mesmer’s article at the Paris Review Daily.



Our wholehearted thanks to the Nimick Forbesway Foundation for their generous support.



Blinding expands inward, plumbing the infinite depths of an individual imagination. It’s as though Cărtărescu has chosen to withdraw from any topical literary or cultural conversation, and that rather than attempting to stitch together a fragmented contemporary reality, he is returning to a time that never actually existed, an imaginary time when all genres were one genre and all discourses one discourse, before everything broke into parts.

Martin Riker, London Review of Books

In this sad, wise, stunning novel, everything is divided: the narrator; the history through which that narrator lives; the very city of Bucharest. Unlike many authors who play at the edges of what makes fiction fictive or what can be said to constitute reality, Cărtărescu manages to keep his profundity engaging, his irony humorous, his wit both acid but not cruel. Here he explores the inevitable narrative of failure—failure of everything in his world and probably in the world at large—to evoke at once melancholic nostalgia and total revulsion, revealing not only the split nature of the writer and everything he writes about, but also the split narrative of the reader, who emerges from the great project of Blinding at once shattered and more acutely connected to experience itself.

Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far and Away

...from the original, Cotter has created a great a book in English, a journey through childhood and hospitalization, a “kaleidoscope world” as described on the book jacket, of “hallucinatory Bucharest” as told by a deeply sympathetic, vital narrator, a character that Cotter interpreted, created in English....Cotter’s sensitivity to language and to what he has interpreted as Cărtărescu’s intentions in his book are what have given us these “linguistic pyrotechnics” in English.

Elizabeth Harris, Three Percent

Stitched into the multi-stranded fabric of Blinding is a tender, mesmerically precise account of a humble Bucharest upbringing and its formative effects…Above all, Blinding insists that memory can make a world…From that past – which stretches back to encompass all of human history – Cărtărescu has fashioned a novel of visionary intensity. Bring on the next installment – soon.

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

The reader is invited to embrace this feeling of overwhelming comprehension, this comprehensive vision exceeding life and imagination. As Borges said when Joyce’s Ulysses was published, this text does not aspire to be a novel, but a cathedral.

Bogdan Suceavă, Los Angeles Review of Books

Visionary, surreal, convoluted, far-reaching (perhaps overreaching), Cărtărescu’s first volume concludes with a spiritual call-to-arms, in which creativity and fertility are one and the same. This vision imparts beauty to this destiny, but there are also intimations throughout of power misused, of violence, of beings struggling for connection in the face of obstacles.

The Quarterly Conversation

Blinding is a fever dream; a baroque hallucinatory journey through a labyrinth of gorgeous language and discovered meaning. It is a memoir and a collection of fantasy scenes woven tight into the Bucharest landscape — a twilight that extends through centuries...a circus of the macabre and misbegotten. I could not put it down and I was continually getting lost, in the best possible way.

Cărtărescu's language, and this magisterial translation by Sean Cotter, can be compared to nothing completely, but is Joycean in it’s scope, with Ishmael Reed’s bop prosody and Thomas Pynchon’s improbable continuity mixed in with Grimm, Kafka and Calvino.

I find it impossible to describe the book further or the events that are chronicled. There is a sense that the story morphs from page to page like fungal growth and develops in the way the pupae of a butterfly that is a recurring theme. The story is liquid and cunning and by the end you are exhausted and exhilarated.

Allan Bealy

Cărtărescu binds together unrestrained fantasy with a precise, poetic language. Seldom have the crumbling curtains of communism brought out such a marvelous Beauty.

Der Stern

With a deft hand Cărtărescu crosses every border between organic and inorganic, animal and human, narration and reflection ... and lets loose once again an uncanny plot with immense linguistic power and feverous intensity, which drags the reader along with it like a river bursting its banks.

Frankfurter Rundschau

A gigantic literary coup ... Wild and heedless, here is a still unpruned author on a spiritual quest, for which in its anarchistic rampancy there is currently no equivalent in western literature.

Die Zeit

The cosmos of the writer Cărtărescu is one in which the conventional slides into the fantastic, in which a few pages and eons later a new milky way will emerge from a horn concert in a cream-colored Dacia.

Frankfurter Rundschau

With Blinding Cărtărescu has erected a monument of world literature for Bucharest.

Der Standard

His novel is a cathedral of both imagination and knowledge, a riddle, in which a 40-year-old demonstrates his unique literary potential.... Mircea Cărtărescu's masterwork catapults him to the peak of European literature.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

The apocalypse of a gloomy, now extinct world is described in an extravagant language, in which the author always hits the right metaphor, and the intertwined, fragmented story, at times made up of a dozen narrations, never becomes exhausting. Literature as it has not appeared for many years. A hymn!

Erich Klein, Falter

A writer who has always had a place reserved for him in a constellation that includes the Brothers Grimm, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Bruno Schulz, Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, and Milorad Pavic, to mention just a few.

Andrei Codrescu

Cărtărescu’s fluid formalism translates all into some of the most imaginative literature since that of the masters mentioned by name in the text (Borges, García Márquez, and Cortázar, among others).

Joshua Cohen, New Haven Review

Cărtărescu's phantasmagorical world is similar to Dalí's dreamscapes.

Kirkus Reviews

Cărtărescu is taking Europe by storm, with nostalgia leading the way and garnering prize after prize in France, Italy, Germany...

Christian Moraru, American Review

Gripping, impassioned, unexpected—the qualities that the best in literature possesses.

Thomas McGonigle, Los Angeles Times Book Review

If George Lucas were a poet, this is how he would write.

Benjamin Lytal, New York Sun

Cărtărescu's magical mystery tour has begun. Memories warp into fantasies and cityscape melts in and out of dreamscape. Segments of realism (the narrator’s family’s history, his country’s Soviet occupation) serve as springboards to great swaths of surrealism, much of it nightmarish (marauding zombie armies, statues that come to life). We get gypsy folklore, bloody legends, close-up anatomical detail and grotesque erotic reveries.

Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star tribune

It is tempting, when encountering a new translation, to compare the foreign author with someone more familiar ... those who reach into nightmares to capture the monsters in our waking lives. Still, Cărtărescu’s scope and ambition, soaring to metafiction and beyond, surpasses most of these comparisons...For English readers, the arrival of Blinding: Volume 1 is a great gift from the gods of altered reality.

KGB Bar Lit Magazine

At once philosophical and historical, the novel is full of fresh insights and remarkable turns of phrase. Sean Cotter’s translation only adds to the book’s emotional tenor, since it reads like an English-language original, and it would not be too surprising to see this become an American bestseller as well.

Hannah Thurman, The Coffin Factory the Prague of Michal Ajvaz and the Buenos Aires of Borges, in Cărtărescu’s hand the rooms, gazes, corners, lamps, current events, political officials, ruins, hallways, and basements of Bucharest become portals to hidden, dreamlike, distorted, and yet visceral worlds. Reader, beware: one might veer into them at any second. Cărtărescu’s prose, so magically transformed into English by Cotter, speaks to the reader with a lush and fruitful honesty. Time and again, he produces imagery you, the reader, are sure you’ve held in the quiet of your own subconscious, mirrored in Maria and Mircea’s own search for memories and images of their pasts.

Nathaniel Popkin, Cleaver Magazine

Sean Cotter has done a masterful, inspired job with the translation. The meditative, Baroque rhythms of Cărtărescu’s Romanian flow into graceful, vigorous English thanks to Cotter...nothing seems gratuitous: language itself, in its long lists and flights of fancy, proves Cărtărescu’s ultimate point about birth. Every human life is a Gospel, every birth an Annunciation...

Carla Baricz, Words Without Borders

A best-seller from the day it was published, it’s the first in a trilogy stretching across the poet’s life and the wings of a butterfly to express Cărtărescu’s thrilling, melancholy, and divine understanding of life in Bucharest and beyond.

World Literature Today

Fluidly translated by Sean Cotter… the book has a cinematic quality that we don’t so much read as drift through—as in an amusement park ride. What fantastic notion, or iteration of metamorphosing insect will pop out and regale us next? If you’re game for a mystical mind-bend, give Blinding a go.

Ann Beman, The Los Angeles Review


  • Read an interview with translator Sean Cotter by Loren Kleinman in The Huffington Post: “I had had no idea how demanding the rest of the book would be, how horrifying and how sublime.”
  • Winner of the 2013 Swiss Leuk Spycher Preis and the Serbian Grand Prize for International Poetry in Novi Sad
  • Watch Chris Via review Blinding on his YouTube channel, Leaf by Leaf.
  • Read an interview with Mircea Cărtărescu by Morten Høi Jensen in Bookforum 
  • Read an interview with Mircea Cărtărescu from the PEN World Voices Festival at the Romanian Institute of Culture
  • Read about the Bucharest’s new legacy as the setting for postmodern Romanian literature in “Balkan Influences Mirrored in Bucharest’s Image as Discussed in Some Romanian Postmodern Novels” by Maria Alexe
  • Read an essay on Mircea Cărtărescu’s magical realism
  • Learn about the Athenee Palace Hotel and its Western visitors
  • Read about journalist Jörg Plath’s visit to Mircea’s childhood apartment
  • Peruse a website dedicated to Romanian writers
  • Watch the Romanian Writers on Writing series sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York
  • Take a virtual tour of Bucharest
  • Read a review of Mircea Cărtărescu’s debut novel Nostalgia from Kirkus Reviews
  • Read a review of Nostalgia from Publishers Weekly
  • Read an essay by Mircea Cărtărescu, “Europe Has the Shape of My Brain” in the Philadelphia Review of Books
  • Read an interview with Cărtărescu on The Quarterly Conversation, with Audun Lindholm.
  • Read in interview with Cărtărescu about Bucharest in Words Without Borders