The Faraway Mountains

Fiction - Cultural
240 Pages
Reviewed on 06/30/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Andy Hutchings for Readers' Favorite

This week, I’ve been thoroughly absorbed by Radu Guiasu’s powerful depiction of friendship and determination in The Faraway Mountains. The book explores the lives of several young people living under a communist dictatorship, splitting between a group of friends on an expedition up a mountain – facing the perils of nature – and a talented pianist in the city desperate to escape. Exploring themes of friendship and surviving in a world that is inherently hostile toward you, the book delivers a remarkable insight into the reality of life beyond the Iron Curtain through the eyes of young people who have never seen life outside the painful rule of a dictatorship.

The human spirit is a difficult thing to sustain in a world that views people almost as if they were disposable commodities, and the ingredients needed to keep the flame of hope alive in such a context are elusive and often out of reach. But as Radu Guiasu explores in this seminal work, it isn’t impossible to retain your humanity and keep moving forward. His protagonists, each one rich in depth and nuance, form a powerful core in this narrative to show the reader how a better future can be fought for through the bonds we share with the people around us. Their friendship - and the journey that their friendship takes them on - is a beautiful contrast to the oppressive context in which The Faraway Mountains takes place, creating a powerful and moving portrayal of a single light burning brightly in a sea of darkness. As the story unfolds and the darkness threatens to overwhelm them, it is impossible not to spend page after page rooting for their journey to continue.

Bil Howard

The Faraway Mountains by Radu Guiau is broken into two parts. The first part deals with three young friends' last mountain climbing adventure in the Apuseni Mountains of northwestern Romania. They can discuss the pitfalls of the ruthless authoritarian regime under which their country is held captive, free from prying eyes and eavesdropping ears. However, their adventure is not without dangers, such as bear encounters, venomous adders, colorful locals, storms, dangerous climbs, flooded caves, and other challenges. Intertwined into the story is that of a brilliant young pianist, his ill-fated quest for freedom, and his last effort to free himself. The second part is their urban life in the dreary capital and the unique challenges of life, which include run-ins with feral dog packs and the secret police, which is different but no less dangerous as the three part ways to pursue the separate lives fated to each one.

Few in the West truly understand the weight of a repressive regime like the one that cast its dark shadow over Romania during the Cold War. Thanks to Radu Guiau, we have a chance to follow three friends who are determined to maintain their freedom regardless of how heavy the hand of the oppressor becomes. In a well-crafted adventure story, the reader is given a glimpse into how the soul continues to be free despite what the body must adhere to on the outside. The contrast between rural and urban threats allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the dangers those living under a totalitarian regime faced daily in a more profound way than a simple recitation of people's hardships. Radu expertly sets the scene in each case, putting you into the tall grass with venomous adders or reaching for a finger hold on a rock wall. Whether hiking in the mountains or navigating the streets of Bucharest, you’ll sense that someone or something is lurking in the shadows, ready to attack.

Frank Mutuma

It had been weeks since Gabriel had disappeared. His uncle took a white bedsheet and wrote something in red ink that put him at odds with the authorities. The apartment door was broken shortly after, and the uncle was never heard from again. Alex, Dan, and Victor are best friends, but very different. Victor avoids confrontation, hoping everything will get better in time for the motherland. Dan is a medical student and doesn't know what he wants with life, unlike Alex, who is sure about most things, including emigrating to Canada, where his parents already live. The Faraway Mountains by Radu Guiasu is meticulously written and takes us behind the Iron Curtain after the Second World War. Is communism truly egalitarian? To find out, get a copy of this amazing book.

The Faraway Mountains by Radu Guiasu gives an enlightening glimpse of life behind the Iron Curtain. The adventures of Alex, Dan, and Victor while hiking in the mountains are an experience for the reader. I loved how vivid Radu was with his descriptions of events and places. It helped the reader form a mental picture of what was happening. The flawless flow of the plotline kept me glued to the book. The Faraway Mountains is thought-provoking not only on communism as a system of governance but also on our responsibilities in society. I am looking forward to reading something else from Radu, perhaps the life of Alex in Canada or a possible reunion with his friends.

Jamie Michele

In The Faraway Mountains by Radu Guiasu, Alex, Victor, and Dan embark on a challenging mountain hike, facing storms and encountering a desolate village and wildlife. They find strength in camaraderie and discuss their future amidst dwindling supplies. They witness a golden eagle and stumble upon a military helicopter wreckage, and even see a ghostly apparition. Returning home, Alex contemplates his journey to Canada and the corruption under the communist regime of his home. Memories of destruction and his strong scientific ambitions shape his determination. Despite bureaucratic challenges, feral dogs, and police encounters, Alex remains focused on his goals, and for the first time feels his fading grandfather's embrace. Facing strict airport regulations and corruption, Alex and his friends triumph at a hotel bar, marking the beginning of his new life in Montreal.

While Alex is the only character in The Faraway Mountains with a complete arc, the lives and past experiences of multiple point-of-view characters come into play. Each has their own hopes and regrets, and each has situations they are struggling through at that moment. Alex alone has a clear vision of the future but in order to achieve them, he will have to leave everything behind. This includes his possessions and, most difficult of all, the people he deeply cares for. Radu Guiasu has based the essence of this book on his life and from that perspective, it does change how I view it overall. From a literary standpoint, the writing is very simple. It is something of a series of vignettes that tie these people together in hardship and friendship, but we do know Alex is leaving from its near onset. And this is where the author's journey comes in because this then makes the book a legacy piece for his family, and I have no doubt they will treasure it for generations to come.

K.C. Finn

The Faraway Mountains is a work of fiction in the cultural issues, interpersonal drama, and adventure subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Radu Cornel Guiasu. In this highly engaging novel which also takes on a biographical tone with regard to recent history, we follow the exploits of two perspectives on life from different angles. A young pianist in an urban population works toward his idea of freedom whilst three friends climb a mountain and encounter the dangers of the wilderness. Both perspectives show the struggles and tensions of life during Communism and the power of friendship to get us through such times.

Author Radu Cornel Guiasu has a lot to offer readers in this highly immersive tale of the search for freedom, identity, and meaning, and he puts a lot of his own personal experience, culture, and attitude into the poignancy which we find as the plot is gradually revealed. It’s a slow-burning tale that focuses on character development from the off, and I was delighted to get to know the cast of characters more intimately and see the pressures and struggles that each of them brings to the mix. The descriptive quality of the work is outstanding, from the rough urban street scenes to the depictions of wild storms, raging waters, fierce creatures, and the people stuck in the middle of it all, just trying to survive. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend The Faraway Mountains as a must-read for fans of cultural, literary fiction that is heartfelt, original, and deeply engrossing.

Vlad Bina

The 1980s in North American popular culture bring up for many of us the films of John Hughes and the birth of MTV. In his latest novel, "The Faraway Mountains," Radu Guiasu presents an engaging time capsule for a different kind of 80s nostalgia.
The last decade of the Cold War was a surreal period in communist Romania. A North Korean-style nightmare had arrived unexpectedly after more than 15 years of relative liberalization when a fleeting glimpse of the post-war Western culture and values raised false hopes for a return to a free society.
The book describes this reality through the eyes of three senior students of one of the remaining elite high schools in Romania's capital city. The story is set in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains and in Bucharest, a city once called "The Little Paris," at the time dressed in the gray hues of the Eastern Bloc color spectrum. From Kundera to Havel, the communist era writers used humor as a powerful antidote to the surrounding desolation. "The Faraway Mountains" was written 34 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, allowing humor to become a perfect "aide memoire" through classic jokes from that period, absurd situations, and an enchanting collection of descriptive vignettes that absorb and delight.
The prose is elegant and straightforward, the dialogues entertaining, and a message of hope amid confusion and insanity keeps the reader interested in finding the outcome of what seems to be a decisive year in the protagonists' lives.