Once you leave home, can you ever return? Two characters, mother and daughter, contemplate this question in Lost Path to Solitude. Twenty-five years after leaving Romania in order to follow the man she loves to New York, Maria Pop still struggles with accepting her decision. She is determined to go back and recapture the poetry and joy of life in Bucharest, even at the expense of risking her marriage. Meanwhile, her daughter, Liliana, second-guesses her own choice of moving to a small town in Southeast Texas, ironically called Solitude, where she finds herself lonely, bored, and nostalgic for the fast pace of life in New York City. Facing the claustrophobic social climate of a town that goes to bed early, as well as the constrictions of her emerging academic career, Liliana longs for something that would give her existence meaning. The parallel soul-searching and the frustration they experience does little to bring mother and daughter closer. Instead, as each struggles with finding her own place in the world, they become increasingly critical of each other. Will their relationship survive the growing pains they each must suffer in their quest for self-fulfillment?
Maria Elena Sandovici moved to Texas on a Greyhound bus in the summer of 2005. It would be the beginning of a great adventure. Born in Bucharest, Romania, a place she loves and where she returns often, she’d spend the requisite time in Manhattan to call herself a New Yorker, but also to know she was looking for something else. Her debut novel, Dogs with Bagels, is very much a New York story: the story of an immigrant family forging new identities for themselves in the city that never sleeps.
Her second novel, Stray Dogs and Lonely Beaches, is the story of a young woman traveling the world in search of herself. This theme persists in Lost Path to Solitude, her third novel, in which characters suffering an identity crisis are caught in a search for the ideal place to call home. Three locales dominate the story: New York City, Bucharest, and an imaginary, caricaturized town in Southeast Texas, called Solitude.
In addition to writing fiction, Maria Elena Sandovici paints every day. She has a studio at Hardy and Nance Studios in Houston, and also shows her daily watercolors on her blog, Have Watercolors Will Travel, accompanied by essays about whatever inspires or obsesses her at any given moment.
To support her art and writing, she teaches Political Science at Lamar University. She is also the well-behaved human of a feisty little dog.
Her favorite places in Texas are Houston and Galveston.
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EXCERPT: Chapter One of Lost Path to Solitude
New York, Fall of 2014
Can't Fix a Broken Vase
When you decide to go back to your estranged husband after ten years, when you allow yourself to forgive and be forgiven, there is a peace and sweetness to everything, yet in the background lurks the unmentionable, the hurtful, the stuff you both wish to forget, yet at the same time are afraid to, lest you follow the same slippery slope, commit the same mistakes, and wound each other again, in all the old ways, and perhaps some new ones as well. To forgive, to be forgiven, to love again, with the same intensity of your youth, and then again with the added benefit of the years of denied desire and a thirst for atonement buried deep in your soul, all this seems like a miracle, as if a dead person has been brought back to life. At first, you're in a haze, you feel like you are living in a dream, and the fabric of it feels so ephemeral, so delicate, that you're afraid you'll wake up, and find all the sweetness of your new life evaporated. At times you wonder: Why am I so lucky? Do I even deserve this? But underneath it all, the fear that lurks at times close to the surface, is not that. The fear, frankly, is that you'll blow it. Your truce with your former sparring partner seems solid, but it relies on a million tiny silences, a million calculated polite gestures, a million acts of mutual reinforcement, meant to prove, over and over again, to yourself, to the world, but most of all to your spouse: See, I’m not the old me anymore. I’m still the me you loved, but no longer the me you hated. I am no longer the me who used to get mad, who used to resent you, who used to scream and throw stuff.
It's an uncomfortable dance, or so Maria thinks. A tiresome dance. At times, the forced politeness of their exchanges is so obvious, she almost wants to scream. But then, not screaming is at the very core of her new persona, isn't it? She tries not to scream, Victor tries not to shut down and ignore her. They try and try and try, and it's exhausting.
A few years after getting back together, they went to see an exhibit of Japanese pottery. She doesn't remember the name of the technique now. But it consisted of gluing broken vases back together with gold, so that the flaws were rendered more beautiful than the objects themselves. They stood there and squeezed each other's hand in silence. After getting back together, they loved to hold hands. Maria felt uncomfortable, slightly claustrophobic faced with those broken vases so painstakingly, yet so obviously repaired.
"I'm hungry," she announced, and they left the exhibit.
Click here to read the full first chapter of Lost Path to Solitude
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