In New York City in 1969, Andrei Codrescu, a Romanian poet just beginning to master the American vernacular, began writing The Life & Times of an Involuntary Genius (1975), a memoir of antic Communist youth now recognized as a classic of comic self-creation. “There I was, twenty-three years old, the possessor of a wealth of experience which had already spawned an equal if not greater quantity of mythicizing anecdotes.”
Anecdote 1: He was the intellectual love child of Transylvania’s great culture heroes, Dracula and Ionesco, twin totems of the Immortal and the Absurd. Anecdote 2: He was a political exile from Communist Europe, and everyone knows that all exiles are geniuses. A later anecdote—the one about the enormous file the INS had collected on him and his left-wing Neo-Beat activities—provides the subject of the sequel, In America’s Shoes (1983), the mock epic of his quest to become a U.S. citizen.
This new book collects both of Codrescu’s memoirs, together with the now-middle-aged author’s wry notes on the young man who wrote them. While traveling the road from the Balkan forest to the land of the free, he writes, “I never abandoned my rebellious Romanian generation, within which I’d been raised a baby dissident destined for great things and prison. I just put on a cape ‘—a Dracula cape, with a star-spangled lining—’ to complete the picture.”
The Algeresque story of how Andrei Perlmutter, a bright kid growing up in the Stalinist backwater of 1950s Romania, manages to vault himself into the heart of ’60s American counterculture as Andrei Codrescu, Transylvanian exotic and man of letters. . . [Written] with enormous verve . . . it is not only a self-portrait of the future poet, travel writer, NPR broadcaster and novelist but a thumbnail history of recent American literary Bohemia.