Hansen's ChildrenBy Ognjen Spahic and Nick J. Thorpe
Appalling and tragic, Ognjen Spahic's exceptional short novel animates the misery of Ceasescu's Romania and its inglorious fall with a metaphor fully up to the task: leprosy. Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen was a Norwegian scientist who isolated the Mycobacterium leprae in 1873 and his 'children' are the tragic sufferers of this ghastly disease. In Spahic's novel, it's 1989 and a dozen of them are confined to the last leper house in Europe, an under-equipped facility located in a miserable corner of South Eastern Romania overlooking a toxic fertilizer factory. Here our nameless narrator shares a room with fellow-sufferer Robert W. Duncan, an American intelligence officer whose career was ruined after he was captured by Communists in Berlin. But Duncan still has a few contacts in the shadowlands, notably 'Mr Smooth' who has it in his power to liberate the two men by supplying passports and helping them out of the country. Blending Romania's turbulent 1989 revolution with a lyrical fiction that both shocks and enthrals, Montenegrin author Ognjen Spahic offers an allegorical page to Southeastern Europe's intriguing scrapbook. In 'Hansen's Children', the downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu's repressive control is witnessed from behind the walls of Europe's sole leper-colony. Powerless against forces beyond the leprosarium, the rebellious political change seen across the country influences and erodes the camp's brittle harmony.