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AGUIDE TO
ROMANIAN
LITERATU
NOVELS, EXPERIMENT
AND THE POSTCOMMUNISJJ
I BOOK INDUSTRY
-
.135
39
Contrava/oarea timbrului literar se varsa in contul ASPRO,
nr. 45.10.80.12.108 BCR-sector I, Bucuresti ION BOGDAN LEFTER

A GUIDE TO
ROMANIAN
Editor Clilin VLASIE Manager LITERATURE
Consilier editorial Gheorghe CRACIUN Editorial adviser
DTP Mana CRACIUN DTP
Grafica Adrian TIMAR Graphic design NOVELS, EXPERIMENT,
Apllrut 1999 Published AND THE POSTCOMMUNIST
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ION BOGDAN LEFTER (b. 1957), poet, literary
critic, cultural and political analyst, teaches literature at
the University of Bucharest, Romania. A visiting
professor at the University of Amsterdam, Holland
(1992-1993, 1993-1994), he also delivered conferences
in American, German, Austrian, and Dutch universities.
A frequent participant in international colloquims and
debates, he was also the Bucharest Bureau chief of the PREFACE
American Radio Free Europe ( 1995-1998) and currently
is president of the Association of Professional Writers in
Romania - ASPRO (since its establishment in 1994). This book collects three of my essays on
Romanian issues. They have appeared as
articles or chapters of the following volumes:
l. The Romanian Novel. An Introduction
[ur der the title A Brief Introduction to the
Romanian Novel], in "The Golden Bough",
supplement of the "Arc" magazine of arts
and letters, Bucharest, The Romanian
Cultural Foundation, No. 1 (5), 1997,
special issue: "The Romanian Novel", co-
edited by Ion Bogdan Lefter and Carmen
Matei Mu~at [translated into English by
Adrian Solomon] .
2. Literature in the '60s and '70s. The
Experiment: A Separation from Neo-
Modernism (a typological outline and a
brief inventory), in "EXPERIMENT in
Romanian art since 1960/ in arta
romaneasca dupa 1960", Soros Center for
Contemporary Art/ Centrul Soros pentru
5
Arta Contemporana, Bucharest, 1997 The third essay here is a systematization of
[translated into English by Ruxandra-Ioana post-Communist literary developments,
Patrichi (now revised by the publisher)]. including the publishing industry and the book
3. Romanian Literature and the Publishing market. It is based on a general description of
Industry since 1989: Asymmetries between post-War culture, but I specifically refer to
History and Rhetoric, in "Canadian only six years (1990 to 1995, when I wrote it).
Review of Comparative Literature" I Various issues, that is, and within different
"Revue Canadienne de Litterature time scales: two centuries, two decades, and
Comparee", the Canadian Comparative
several years. However there are reasons to
Literature Association, University of
Toronto Press, Vol. 22, Nos. 3-4, bring these three essays together as parts of a
September I December 1995 [orig:nal coherent outlook.
version in English (edited by the CRCL)]. Firstly and clearly enough, they all speak of
Romanian literature, don't they?! Their
* complementary character is a direct result of
their :ommon field of interest, be it explored
Just a few introductory remarks on these from a larger or a narrower point of view.
three essays. Secondly, I used in all three pieces the same
The first one is a brief introduction to the
type of approas;h: a mixture of a historic
Romanian novel, covering roughly two
perspective and a theoretic one. Therefore they
centuries. So it focuses on only one genre, but
make detailed inventories of texts from one
I expanded the panorama to the whole history
cultural epoch or another, but never from a
of institutionalized Romanian literature, up to
purely descriptive point of view, for they
the present.
1 always aim at absorbing names of authors and
The second uses the 111ore theoretical
titles of books in conceptual structures.
concept of experiment in order to trace back Thirdly, the essays collected here, as well
the anticipations of Romanian postmodernism as most of my writing, derive from a certain
in the 1960s and '70s. I used wider contexts,
interpretation of Romanian literature. In one
but focused on just two decades as such.
word, it's a postmodern one. I openly assume
the perspective of a Romanian postmodern.
6 7
A (l uide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
All the way since the late '70s, across the '80s,
and now ready to cross the millenium
threshold, I have been deeply involved as a
young writer and critic, alongside of my
colleagues, in the "battle" of the new
postmodern generation in my country. Until
1989, the Communist cultural authority
allowed us to promote our literature, but never
ceased to accuse us of being too
THE ROMANIAN NOVEL
"cosmopolitan", "Western-oriented", insuf- An Introduction
ficiently "specific", and thus dangerously
"non-patriotic". In fact we were nothing else
than citizens of the world - and of the free
The Romanian novel has a relatively recent
post-Communist world to come. In the '80s
history. If we leave aside, for the time being,
the postmodern plurality of cultural discourses
its ea -Iiest explorations, as well as the isolated
anticipated the actual pluralism of democracy.
exception named A Hieroglyphic History
The concept of postmodernism bore - and (which I shall soon cite), the first novel ever
bears still - in our culture, and in East-Central
seriously mentioned by literary histories was
Europe in general, an implicit political
published as late as 1862 I 1863; on the other
significance, if not explicit eventually.
hand, there was no constant, significant
But that is a long story to tell some other
production of titles to illustrate the genre in
time: the "saga" of emerging postmodernity in
Romania before the end of World War I. Ever
late Communist and early post-Communist
since then, however, at least two major peak
times. For the purpose of ·these introductory
intervals can be registered in the local
remarks, it suffices to say that the essays in
evolution of the novel: the inter-war period
this book may be seen as postmodern readings
(between the '20s and the '40s), and the last
of the literary past...
decades of the Communist period (between the
' 60s and the '80s). In the absence of
I.B.L.
8 9
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

exhaustive bibliographies, the existing partial as total negation: we do not have a real novel,
ones are enough to draw a picture made up of I he Romanian novel cannot bracket the
hundreds - a few thousands, more likely - European novel and so on and-so forth .
Romanian novels published over the 20th How can one explain such an image? How
century (not to mention the translations). much truth - or error - is there in it? More
Statistically speaking, the genre has clearly than one answer can be supplied to those
dominated the local literary market, as questions, and it is worthwhile insisting a bit
elsewhere. Several dozens of authors gained upon them before sketching a descriptive
widespread repute, and their books are authors-and-titles inventory representative of
considered prime assets of the national cultural the Romanian novel.
heritage.
Despite that, general estimates are usually
rather temperate. When literary exegetes look 1. The novel between poesy and tale
into the great Romanian novelists taken
separately and their great novels, the image is
that of vintage authors and masterpieces; but A first answer must be sought among the
when general judgments are passed, the profile prejudices typical of the literary genre
of the genre takes a lower tum and remarks hierarchies in Romanian culture. A pervasive
become cautious. Thereupon a traditional idea throughout the 20th century claimed the
cultural complex comes forth: localism, or the absolute supremacy of local poetry. Romanian
hindrances faced by the national values on cultural commentators kept reiterating it was
their way to international acceptance. Never poetry that yielded· the highest literary results.
has there been any talk abroad of the The lyrical, not the narrative genre, is more
Romanian novel as a specific formula, a suitable to us, as it were. Briefly, as the
tradition, a "school", nor is the name of any popular saying goes, "The Romanian was born
Romanian novelist quoted among the world's a poet." Not at all a novelist, that is.
"heavyweights". At their sternest, some This may not be the right place to dismantle
commentators' general appraisals went so far that fallacy. Let us just list its presence; and let
11
The Romanian Novel '\ ()uide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

us also note that neither did Romanian poetry s11rmise was perpetuated over several
contribute any name as yet to the select •enerations of literary critics that Romanian
worldwide ledger of the genre. Obviously, prose writers had storyteller rather than
there are also reasons regarding cultural novelist's skills. On that account, the so-called
sociology to it: a borderland status, coupled ·'simple", linear narrative, as a nai"ve expose,
with a language lacking international was opposed to the novelistic architectural,
circulation - hence limited translatability, etc. "polyphonic" build. A barely concealed
On the other hand, it is customary for the complex of cultural retardation is involved:
Romanians to compare Mihai Eminescu, their one is a "storyteller" owing to inborn talent,
great 19th century poet, to l:>ante, Shakespeare .1ffability, the pleasure of talking and
or Goethe, namely to the emblematic cultural 11nfolding events or memories, which confines
myths of European nations (although he would the narrative act to an almost folkloric
rather fit in a series comprising Holderlin, performance, still miles away from the
Novalis, Hugo, Byron, the nocturnal 1ntelli ctual and aesthetic performance implied
Romanticists). During the 20th century, by the setting up of a complex, multi-faceted
Romanian poetry reached a remarkable level narrative.
thanks to authors such as Tudor Arghezi, The other fixation of local commentators is
George Bacovia, Ion Barbu, Leonid Dimov, nothing but the result of the first one in the
Mircea Ivanescu or Mircea Cartarescu, but area of typology relating to the narrative
seldom and accidentally have their works species proper: being such wonderful
become known outside the local cultural "storytellers", Romanian prose writers are
space. · horn to be novella writers, not novelists. That
is one instance of prejudice connected with the
Sticking strictly to prose, we come upon purity of literary genres and species. In reality,
two other ideas that were so often repeated that there are both novellas or short stories
they became well fixed, supporting each other. displaying narrative complexity and
One takes up the viewpoint of a general sophisticated constructions, in addition to
(pseudo )typology of recountability: the "simple", linear novels. Moreover, the history
12 13
The Romanian Novel \ <luide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

of literature lavishly illustrates the fact that xccptional writers emerged that quickly
those imaginary polarities are not really lll·came absolute standards · in Romanian
antithetical: ample, multi-level narrative has rn lture: Mihai Eminescu, Ion Creanga, Ion
always meant a narrative, "storyteller's" Luca Caragiale and Titu Maiorescu. National
vocation, no matter how technically 111ythology would tum them into the
sophisticated may novelistic construction be. l mblematic figures of literary genres:
l.' minescu - the Poet; Creanga - the Prose
With such postulates we find ourselves in Writer; Caragiale - the Playwright; and
the vast territory of enormous, "essentialist" Maiorescu, the "Junimea" mentor - the Critic.
dictums that stake on the existence of national They are the great classics of Romanian
particularities, hence of direct, mechanical literature. Well, in this typology that
relationships between the ethnic or ethno- Romanians consider fundamental to national
psychological data and the artistic, aesthetic spi rituality, Creanga - the Prose Writer - is
contribution of a nation. The image of the .;ccn 1recisely as a Storyteller, author of tales
Romanian novel is also marked by other types 111spired from popular literature and memories.
of prejudice - due to the actual circumstances I lis masterwork, Memories from My
of the genre's historical evolution, to cite an Childhood (Amintiri din copilarie), which has
hccn supplying school textbooks with very
instance.
The Romanian novel compelled amusing episodes for more than one hundred
recognition, as I wrote before, only in the 20th years, has been systematically reduced to the
century, whereas the "classical" image of status of a rather folkloric work. In fact,
national literature was established in the 19th Creanga has been perceived as an "epic"
century, particularly after 1865, when the author, a Romanian Homer, a sort of popular
"Junimea" (Young Generation) group bard who did nothing but jot down the over-
succeeded in imposing very high aesthetic individual discourse of the collective,
standards to the local cultural milieu for the anonymous "national spirit". A very influential
first time. From the authors formed within the critic (and good novelist) formulated such an
literary circle of "Junimea", a group of idea without taking any precaution: "Creanga
14 15
The Romanian Novel A< luidc to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

is a monumental expression of human nature Let us add another category of rationales


in its historical guise named the Romanian of ten applied in connection with the late
people, or - more simply said - he is the 11psurge and further evolution of the Romanian
Romanian people, at a moment of prodigious novel: the sociologically inspired ones.
expansion. In truth, Ion Creanga is an I 1tcrary historians have systematically referred
anonymous author." (G. Calinescu). At the lo the laborious establishment, in this country,
antipode of this abating, utterly mendacious of the urban middle class that could have
vision, Creangii's aesthetic consciousness was provided, in the 19th century, both narrative
outstanding, and Memories from My 111 ·1terial, typologies, social conflicts, and novel
Childhood, a remarkably complex writing, is a consumers. In 1848, the Romanian
quite original novel, the first great one in Pnncipalities embraced Western Europe's
Romanian literature - and ignored as such. I l volutionary spirit, but in a more general -
Caragiale, the Playwright, also wrote exquisite t nlightenment-like, national - sense: the
prose, but mostly humorous sketches and •rnup of intellectuals that made the revolution
novellas, masterpieces in their own right. As a 111 the Danubian countries had in mind the
consequence, "Junimea" promoted Slavici to t rcation of modern administrative and cultural
the Novelist's position. The author of Mara "tructures capable of reducing the historical
was a good social observer, but less of a h,tckwardness vis-a-vis the West of the
genius, compared to the golden threesome - continent. Apart from that, there hadn't been
Eminescu, Creangii, Caragiale. Real prestige any industrialization, economically active
would be earned by the local novel only in the capital, nor a middle class in this country.
third decade of the 20th century, when the These would come forth only toward the end
national tradition of poetry was accredited and of the century, and reach spectacular levels of
honoured - or even worshipped (the case of development in the 20th century, after World
Eminescu, the untimely dead Romantic genius, War I, when the novel itself flourished. From
etc.). The narrative genre entered the the cultural sociologists' point of view - quod
competition with a heavy handicap. The game erat demonstrandum.
was lost beforehand, in fact.
16 17
The Romanian Novel \ < i111di: to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

2. The beginnings of the Romanian n1111ection with and no influence upon


11:it ional literature. As a matter of fact, it was
novel
11tly issued in 1883.
Beyond these more or less justified
explanations, the history of the Romanian /\ fresh start takes place after almost a
novel remains rather recent, as I mentioned. e11tury and a half: 1845 is the date of the first
Next we are going to follow its main phases in 1111vcl proper in Romanian literature: Elvira, or
lw Bndless Love (Elvira
. sau amorul -fiir' de
brief, starting with its "prehistory".
,\/jq·it). A significant detail: only the author's
i111tials - D.B.F. - are known. The Story of
Dimitrie Cantemir' s bestiary novel A
Ut'Cll $oricescu (Jstoria lui Alecu Soricescu),
Hieroglyphic History (Jstoria ieroglifica,
1705) is an isolated precedent. In the w1 itten shortly after, was known only to small
Romanian principalities there had been no i11trllcctual circles of the period, but was
medieval literature as such, only publi' ~ed after more than a century, although
historiography, religious and administrative 1'1111 time the author was one of the most
writings, etc. A multilateral scholar, a great listmguished literary, intellectual and political
European intellectual, Cantemir took his personalities of the principalities - and
models from foreign cultures. The novel o;ubsequently 19th-century united Romania:
Ion Ghica. Fourteen novels are published till
applies an animalistic code to the respective
epoch, the author (a monarch's son, himself a ,1round 1860. Over the '60s, '70s and '80s,
monarch for a short interval, then an exile in there is a slow rise, up to about 20 titles a
Russia, where he became a prince of the dl'cade. Only after 1890 can one mention a
Empire and Peter the Great's counsellor) production of Romanian novels, namely an
mingling with the characters. Very amusing, institutionalization of the genre. Naturally,
like any such work, donning a scholarly garb, translations had conquered the market earlier,
with a rich inter-text, parody and delightful, with 29 titles in the '40s, 73 in the '50s and
ironic touches, A Hieroglyphic History increasingly larger numbers afterwards,
remains an exceptional sample bearing no mainly from French. (from Benjamin Constant

18 19
The Romanian Novel
r\ (luide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

and Balzac to Dumas and mystery novels). but


·· lunimea" generation. There is not much they
the most famous German or English models
l an do either, at that time. Still, they have their
were also admitted (The Sorrows of the Young
pioneering merits. A great deal of
Werther, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels,
undertakings is dropped midway, after a few
Walter Scott, Dickens).
ku illetons published in the press. Even
The novels of the period are na·ive, typically
completed novels are short (between 60 and
amateurish without exception. French models
120 pages). The lack of expanse denotes the
are being roughly fashioned to suit the local
im maturity of a whole budding literary system.
geography and onomastics. Technicall y
Nicolae Filimon's novel Squires, Old and
speaking, the narrative omniscience of the
New (Ciocoii vechi ~i noi, 1862-1863 in
third person is reigning. The first - auctorial -
periodical, 1863 in volume), also considered
person is also employed, which today offers
"the first Romanian novel", in view of its
attractive "post-modernist" effects, only they
.tcceptable standard of originality and aesthetic
are unintentional, due to the beginner
value falls into the same category of na'ive
novelists' callowness: they did not have in
Balzacianism. It is rather a synthesis of the
mind their own "disclosure" as narrative
possibilities offered by this incipient period
authorities - on the contrary, their in ability
than a real step forward. Better, but not
would not permit efficient camouflage in the
thoroughly different results are attained with
text. The characters are typical in the classical
the same narrative techniques . Characters and
way, while conflicts are either melodramatic,
conflicts alike do not change. In short,
or naively-realistic, sometimes naively-
Squires, Old and New (another novel
Balzacian. The naivete is not solely the
abandoned half-way - only one of two
authors', but also the genre rhetoric'~. sti II
announced volumes) casts the upshots of
unexercised. Incidentally, among the firs t
attempts made from the 1840s through the
braves one can notice remarkable poets or
1880s in a consistent, sharp mould and
short prose writers: besides Ion Ghica, authors
manages to introduce a local Julien Sorel
such as Mihail Kogalniceanu or Dimitrie
lookalike, the main hero - Dinu Paturica.
Bolintineanu, first-rate precursors of the
Creanga's Memories from My Childhood
20
21
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

belong to the same period (1881-1882, with an version of the Golden Age myth. No wonder
1892 posthumous completion). Their memoir- then that Memories from My Childhood made
like appearance is deceitful: the author's 110 impression on the evolution of the
biography, that is the raw material, is not Romanian novel. It couldn't possible have: the
simply elicited, but deftly processed, edited latter's nonage was incapable of assimilating
and reconstructed in a fictional way, the subtle conception of Creanga's so
emphasized through the name distinction "special" masterpiece.
between the first-person-child protagonist and
the adult author mentioned on the cover. The
difficutty of integrating the Memories into the 3. The end of the beginnings:
history of the Romanian novel is not due the Romanian novel goes professional
solely to the disregard of fiction in favour of
the memoir side. The fact that Creanga had In the last decade of the 19th century, the
written real tales before, fairy tales with novehtic model of socio-historical
princes and dragons, processing popular investigation hurdles the na'ive stage with the
themes in the same scholarly way, mattered a firs t important titles. Local production rises
great deal, for at a quick glance he fitted the visibly, up to approximately 100 titles between
"storyteller" role perfectly. Moreover, the 1890 and 1910, even though the overall level
Memories were patently different from the remains modest, a substantial progress being
blooming model of the Romanian novel: registered only in the wake of World War I, as
whereas the latter was fictitious and [ have already mentioned. Only thereafter shall
omniscient, the Memories were biographical we be entitled to finally admit the institution of
and subjective; thematically, the other novels the novel in Romanian literature, as well as a
were urban and early-middle-class, whereas local history of the genre.
the Memories were situated in the countryside; In 1894, Slavici, the "Novelist" of the
the backdrop of Squires, Old and New and "Junimea" group, publishes Mara, and Duiliu
similar works was social-historical , whereas Zamfirescu, an intimate of the same literary
Creanga's world was archaic, non-historical, a circle, inaugurates the Comiine~teanu Saga
22 23
The Romanian Novel '\ Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

(Romanul Comane,Jtenilor), which he wi ll 4. Three explosive decades in the first


conclude in 1906 .(by the dates of the first half of the 20th century:
publication in periodicals). Mara is considered the '20s, '30s and '40s
to be the finest local achievement of the genre
before the inter-war period. The title of Duiliu
Zamfirescu's first volume of the cycle is After World War I ends and peace sets in,
illustrative for both: Life in the Countryside Romanian literature explodes! The cultural
( Viafa la fara). In other words, the Romanian market, on a fast rise during the previous
novel cannot reach its zenith in the 19th decades, becomes . extremely dynamic and
century, except through images of the rural develops far ranging institutional networks.
world. When the story line moves on to the Such progress takes place against the overall
city - either in Transylvania, as with Slavici, setting of Romania's evolution. The breakup
or the Kingdom of Romania, as with Duiliu of the Austro-Hungarian Empire enabled the
Zamfirescu -, we simply come across some Kingi om of Romania to incorporate all the
larger villages. Both writers undergo the same Romanian territories and become a very
changes - writing is getting more professional, important state in the region. Economic
novelistic construction becomes more solid, growth in subsequent years was fabulous.
more coherent, articulated on broader Business activity, mining, trade, the banking
expanses, characters are more complex, social system took off. The national currency was
analysis - more careful, more profound. one of the strongest and stable. Political life
Although the peasant-panorama line was to had grown up. The democratic constitutional
produce a few more masterpieces in the 20th monarchy had been working flawlessly since
century - mainly Ion and The Uprising late 19th century. New administrative and
(Rascoala) by Liviu Rebreanu and The l'lectoral reforms were added after World War
Moromete Family (Morome/ii) by Marin I. One of Europe's most liberal constitutions
Preda -, it would not play a major role in the was elaborated in 1923. Along with its
history of the local novel, which very soon growing prosperity, Great Romania (as it was
became urban. called then) became an attractive country for
24 25
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

immigrants (which it had been before, to a The writing career, especially journalism,
lesser extent, ever since the 19th century). attracts thousands of new professionals.
True, a large segment of its inhabitants Such an environment makes the
remained rural, hence less developed from the "explosion" of Romanian literature perfectly
moment's perspective, but also economically understandable. The output rises sharply with
active, which turned Romania into one of the all genres. A relevant fact: it is for the first
world's big cereals producers. As for the urban lime in Romania's cultural history that a
areas - brisk modernization, ebullience, complex, mature system of critical reception
cosmopolitanism. Romania was being of contemporaneous works is set up. Worthy
compared to Western nations, nicknamed forerun ners, led by Maiorescu, had existed
"Belgium of the East", and Bucharest, its before, but only between the World Wars can
capital, was dubbed "Little Paris" or "Eastern one point out generations of critics and an
Paris". ample, constant assessment and classification
The cultural market of the period of th~ publisher output. Of course, as far as
synchronizes with the West: theatrical life is Impetuosity is concerned, the novel is on top -
animated, avant-garde artists gain European again, a national first, as during the initial two
credit, creative, Bohemian, smart-set decades of the century it could not prevail over
Bucharest secures the badge of a real artistic the still leading shorter species. From now on,
capital. As regards our subject - written lhe Romanian literary market will be
culture, the leap is magnificent. Almost permanently dominated by the novel, no
overnight, Romania becomes book-and- matter what the historical moment or political
newspaper land: the press, incredibly regime. Just as everywhere else.
extended, invades the market, the publishing Any attempt to describe the novelistic
house network consolidates, imposing major background between the World Wars is bound
trademarks, the bookstore chains ensure to stumble upon two major impediments. One
plentiful, assorted supplies, through prompt is the amount itself. For instance, 1937 alone
and regular book and periodical orders abroad. brought out 360 titles. There are no complete
bibliographies yet. The other difficulty
26 27
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

consists of the diversity of the novel lanscape. European evolution of the genre, leaving the
With the important Western literatures that ran local prose without the solid foundation that
through each standard touchstone of European only the realistic novel could lay. Between the
cultural evolution, leaving aside the so-called World Wars, a few great authors filled the gap,
"natural" plurality of rhetoric formulae at a first of all Mihail Sadoveanu and Liviu
given time, a central model, a master paradigm Rebreanu. Both first-rank national classics,
can be quite easily identified. In inter-war they wrote novels that proved essential to the
Romania, a complicated and quite confusing history of Romanian literature. Sadoveanu, an
process occurs that aims for a quick recovery amazingly prolific author, published about one
of inherited delays, the remaining "corners" hundred books (the exact number is hard to
being cut in parallel with the introduction of determine because of the numerous editions
the latest techniques. The outcome was, for the and collections with variable configurations),
novel and literature on the whole, a stunning among which Ancufa's Inn (Hanul Ancutei,
variety, a mind-boggling mixture of rhetoric 1928), The Sign of the Cancer or When Duca
and aesthetic styles, as if several cultural ages Was King (Zodia Cancerului sau Vremea
had melted into one. Mind-boggling, but Ducai-Voda, 1929), The Golden Bough
fascinating as well. In addition, pretty hard to (Creanga de aur, 1933), The Marten Brothers
systematize. (Frafii Jderi, a trilogy, 1935-1942), The
Below is an inventory of several important Persian Divan (Divanul persian, 1940) are
novel prototypes of the period, only most considered mast~rpieces. They are all
representative names and titles mentioned. historical, mediaeval romances, very different
from Walter Scott's, though: with Sadoveanu,
The most serious drawback of the 19th a very subtle bookish and mythical mien
century consisted of the socio-historical idealizes the narrative space. The author's
panoramas of the omniscient, Balzac type. excellency also breathes through the stylistic
Having only incidentally gone beyond the level, linguistic registers (dialects included)
tryout stage, the early Romanian productions being blended with refinement into an
had not been able to stay tuned to the extremely personal narrative "paste". The
28 29
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

price of that language magic is commensurate: other inter-war secondary writers, such as
Sadoveanu is virtually untranslatable. Liviu Cezar Petrescu, an author of cycles aiming at
Rebreanu's two already cited masterpieces, sweeping descriptions of the epoch, Ion
Ion ( 1920) and The Uprising (Rii:scoala, 1932) Agarbiceanu, Constantin Stere, Ionel
are traditional peasant tableaux. Another Teodoreanu - very popular for his books about
novel, The Gorilla (Gorila, 1938), ventures a teenagers entangled in their first love, I. Peltz,
political analysis of the period. A typical Ion CalugalJl, George Mihail Zamfirescu,
realistic prose writer in his two masterworks, Mircea Damian, etc. Above them and the most
Rebreanu also wrote books that stray from the "Balzacian" - G. Calinescu in Otilia's Enigma
model of narrative omniscience at the service (Enigma Otiliei, 1938), an excellent novel in
of social investigation: he experimented in which the recipe is revived programmatically
various directions, such as in The Gallows and parodied at the same time.
Forest (Pii:durea spfnzurafilor, 1922), a Along with the serial cycles produced by
psychological novel about the war, influenced Cezar Petrescu and the other "social realists",
by introspective modernism (Dostoyevskian , the commercial novel of the time must be
according to others), likewise interesting referred to. It prefers topical models, chiefly
through the multiethnic subject matter (the romance-like or erotic, having a substantial
main hero, a Romanian officer of the motley contribution to mass readership and,
Austro-Hungarian army, is forced to fight, on consequently, to the implementation of the
the battle-front, against the Romanian army, a novel by and large. The champions of
particular case of identity drama undergone consumer heartbreaking goods: Mihail
then by Czech, German, Jewish and other Drume~, Octav Desilla and other industrious
soldiers alike); along the same line, Adam and authors, inferior to the above-mentioned Ionel
Eve (Adam ~i Eva, 1925), a novel on Teodoreanu.
metempsychosis.
The class made up of historical/ social/
Through its main - and "contemporaneous"
political realistic themes and omniscient
- nexus, that is, in synchronism with the
narrative techniques was fueled by scores of
European literature of the period, the
30 31
/\.Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
The Romanian Novel
novelistic fiction . Next to Camil Petrescu, the
Romanian inter-war novel exercised modernist "classical" representative of the modern
recipes lavishly, beginning with Romanian novel is Hortensia Papadat-
"psychologism" and concluding with the most Bengescu (Romania's only great female writer
radical avant-garde experiments. A major before World War II). Her main books belong
influence came from Proust, very promptly to the Halippa Cycle (Ciclul Halippilor):
and favourably received in local literary Unbraided Maidens (Fecioarele despletite,
milieus, more so than almost everywhere else 1926), A Concert from Bach's Music
in Europe. Gide was as popular, and Joyce had (Concert din muzica de Bach, 1927), The
his emulators, although the most important Hidden Way (Drumul ascuns, 1932), and
Romanian modernist writer, Camil Petrescu, Roots (Radacini , 1938). Although they do not
rejected him, choosing instead the author of A employ first person narrators, Hortensia
la recherche du temps perdu. Papadat-Bengescu' s novels rely on
The Romanian introspective, digressive introspection too, while keeping a character-
novel, using psychological scrutiny in the related dimension that confers them a social
narrative first person, takes after Cami! "fresco" look, often downgraded to caricature.
Petrescu's two masterpieces, Last Night of Both authors tackle the aristocratic, "haut-
Love, First Night of War (Ultima noapte de monde", intellectual, sophisticated, and brittle
dragoste, intiia noapte de razboi, 1930) and
urban world.
The Procrustean Bed (Patul lui Procust, Several fine authors populated that
1933). Both usher in notable construction novelistic class in the '30s: Anton Holban,
merits: the former is split into two contrasting Mircea Eliade (the future historian of religions
parts (in accordance with the title), two distinct that would acquire international fame after
"floors" between which a psychological, World War II) , Mihail Sebastian, Gib
moral, philosophical tension is created; the Mihaescu, M. Blecher. One or more titles by
latter is made up of sections attributed to each are quotable among the best of the
several narrators who in their turn are being period. Other notable modernist authors: Felix
discussed, in footnotes, by an auctorial voice
thus vouching for the "reality" of the 33
32
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

Aderca, Tieu Archip, Cella Serghi, Constantin dating back to the beginnings of the modern
Fintineru, Ion Biberi, Octav Sulutiu etc. age: the one related to the late-19th-century
The more "marginal", special modernist "decadent" style: it is The Philanderers at the
formulae are left to review, as opposed to Old Royal Court (Craii de Curtea Veche,
Proustian scions of all kinds. Avant-garde, 1929) by Mateiu Caragiale (the son of the
"crazy" novels were written by Tudor Arghezi great "Junimea" writer), a short novel written
(one of the great modern poets), H.· Bonciu, in a poetic-baroque manner, loaded with
Felix Aderca again, etc. Among the few texts obscure symbols, veiled in a mysterious-
left by the bizarre Urmuz, the founder of the initiatory atmosphere. It is no surprise that the
Romanian avant-garde (he committed suicide ensuing generations turned it into a cult.
in 1923), one - The Funnel and Stamate
(Pilnia $i Stamate) - is subtitled "a novel in The inventory is rich enough to conclude
four parts'', although it only has several pages. that toward mid-20th century the Romanian
Beyond the display of absurdity and the novel had managed to cancel the handicap of
burlesque effect of a subtle utilization of the late start and synchronize (a concept used
speech automatism (Urmuz being both a by E. Lovinescu, the major Romanian
humorist and a language theorist), the modernist critic of the period) with the
traditional principles of the "Bildungsroman", international evolution of the genre.
family saga and romance are observed in their Diversified and emancipated, supported by
essential lines. The message is in fact a many great authors and masterpieces, the
categorizing sentence: stereotypes, affectation entire Romanian literature seemed now ready
make the genre stupid and ridiculous. Reduced for future postwar recognition in Europe and
to a Lilliputian scale, enough for the world-wide.
demonstration, the fundamentally ample
species of narration finds its unbridled parody
in The Funnel and Stamate.
At last, a choice novel recovers the then
still recent (if one may say so) drawback
34 35
The Romanian Novel
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

5. Three other explosive decades: the Communist regime. No remarkable novel


'60s, '70s and '80s,following a appeared in the first two or three years after
proletcultist (almost) wasteland the war. Rebreanu, Matei Caragiale, Holban,
Gib Mihaescu, Blecher, Sebastian were all
dead (the last - in 1945), Sadoveanu,
Unfortunately, history decided otherwise. Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu, Camil Petrescu
The political decisions of the Great Powers published next to nothing, Mircea Eliade, very
blocked the free manifestation of Romanian prolific in the '30s, had emigrated before the
cultural life and society in all. Left in the end of the war. A few names would return
Soviet Union's influence zone after World after the installation of the Communist regime,
War II, under the (unofficial) occupation of the but their books were subject to the official
Red Army (until 1957), in a few years ideology.
Romania was converted into a totalitarian state Like in all Central and East European
ruled from Moscow. The "Popular Republic" countries submitted to the Soviet system after
was proclaimed on December 30, 1947, and the war, the first stage of Communist
King Michael forced to step down. From that domination was Stalinist, based on harsh
day on, the country endured Communist repression, terror and mass arrests. The single
dictatorship, which ended on December 22, party system replaced the multiparty one.
1989. Freedom of speech and individual freedoms
In 1945-46-47, nothing worth writing were suspended. All institutional systems
about happened in literature. The models came under a strictly centralized command.
dating from the previous decades still Private industries were confiscated in order to
dominated the book market. The first be transferred to the "ownership of the whole
"existentialist" attempts (Mihail Villara, people". The entrepreneurs from the
Sorana Gulian, Dinu Pillat, Alexandro Vona - commercial and services areas were
the novels written by the last two were eliminated, their businesses integrated in
published much later) did not enjoy more networks supervised from the "centre".
substantial follow-ups because of the Agricultural plots were either directly annexed
36
37
The Romanian Novel /\ Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

by the state or banded by force into vast tracts the abounding propaganda trash of the times.
laboured in common. The political, military, The unending series of books written to order
social, economic, cultural elite became the did nothing but repeat obsessively a few
target of systematic repression. Ex-ministers or cliches: victorious workers building a new
adminfstrators, army officers, aristocrats, country, poverty-stricken peasants, exploited
factory or land owners, artists, important by the former regime, uniting their lands in
intellectuals, university professors, but also "cooperatives" (following the example of the
common people who had been resisting the Soviet collective farms, kolkhoz). Characters
new regime, students, peasants who had were diametrically opposed, in accordance
opposed the forced takeover of their plots were with the Marxist theory of "class struggle": the
arrested, and many of them died in prison or good against the evil, the latter being remnants
labour camps. Old Romania was destroyed of the "rotten capitalism". The good were
methodically and replaced with the totalitarian always the winners, naturally. From the
utopia of a "new world". rhetoric point of view, the ideology in the
A "new world" called for a "new culture". message was sustained by a determined return
Consequently, the Soviet "socialist realistic" to traditional narrative ways - the more
model was imported. Strictly controlled now primitive and elemental, the better appreciated
by Communist activists, the press and art by the officials. Structural acumen was
institutions became instruments of political incriminated as a sign of "bourgeois"
propaganda. Imposing extremely harsh sophistication. Introspection - denounced as
censorship, the ideologists of the single party "individualism" or "intimism", lethal misdeeds
allowed only thoroughly checked productions in a society "for all the people". Hundreds of
to surface for over a decade and a half. Many such novels, like as many uniforms, apparently
artists of the "old world" were jailed or written by a single over-personal author, filled
forbidden to publish their works. Others up the libraries and bookstores in the '50s.
collaborated with the new regime and wrote Aesthetically beyond repair, they deserve only
"proletarian" books. In the novel area, there is a sociological analysis, unless taken as
almost nothing that could be mentioned amidst
38 39
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

samples of unwitting humour - although they describing - or feigning - the past in


did not raise anybody's smile then compliance with the official doctrine. They all
Is there anything worthy left, then? Unlike exhibit decadent aristocrats, poor honest
the poems published in those days, entirely peasants, progressive workers, starving
jettisoned, the narrative genre saved itself, paupers in a ruthless society. Yet literature had
indeed, through a small series of titles that been critical before Communism too. Vigorous
were able to elude the rules of malformation. investigation of life, oftentimes exaggerated,
They did not do this by opposing those rules, either pathetic or scathing, has always been the
for censorship would never permit anything of daily bread of prose; therefore, the anti-
the kind to come out, but by dodging them bourgeois satire in these novels, runaways
with the air that they actually obeyed them. from the ideological desert, is not
Incredibly - at first sight, two all-time compromising in itself. Wherever the
masterpieces date from the '50s: Poor Ioanide ideological stereotypes infiltrated, the outcome
(Bietul Ioanide, 1953) by G. Calinescu, and is annoying (to say the least). The Family
The Moromete Family (Moromefii, 1955) by Chronicle trilogy, for example, advances
Marin Preda. Next to them, a few others worth nicely for as far as half-way, offering a
mentioning - ideologically distorted here and splendid sort of social prose and characters,
there, but containing many pages of good luscious, subtle descriptions, the most
prose: Barefoot (Desculf, 1948) by Zaharia comprehensive picture of Romanian
Stancu, The Stranger (Strainul, 1955) and The aristocracy in the 19th and 20th centuries;
Thirst (Setea, 1958) by Titus Popovici , A then, as the thread reaches the pre-Communist
Family Chronicle (Cronica de familie , 1956) decades, it strands into the ideology of the
by Petru Dumitriu, The Furrow (Groapa , "decadence" and "extinction" of a "diseased
1957) by Eugen Barbu, The Black Cabinet world". In The Stranger and The Thirst,
(Scrin.ul negru, 1960) by the same G. where enlightened Communists appear before
Calinescu. Their secret recipe was the same: Communism itself, the hoax is even worse. On
technically "tame", these novels set their the upper deck, there are novels sporting an
action before the installation of Communism, ironic or satirical estrangement from the recent
40 41
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

past. Therein, the indistinctness between .lgain in the '80s, too late to stop the artistic
perennial recipes and a possible political bias and intellectual elite, recovered over the
is complete. Satisfied with the theme in previous decades. Straight, open refutation of
question, censorship was taken in, allowing the the regime or supreme leader was the only
emergence of aesthetic feats downright forbidden thing after 1965. Aside from that,
subversive in respect to the rudimentary, due to occasional strategies, the new official
depersonalized standards of "socialist doctrine even invited the rebuke of
realism". Poor Ioanide, scanning with proletcultist abuses, which brought about a
devastating verve the aristocratic and waterfall of novels about the so-called
intellectual elite of the ' 30s, is a master "obsessive decade" (the '50s). Political and
caricature novel. The other major title of the social satire with more recent, or even current
period, possibly the masterpiece of Romanian targets was sometimes thwarted, but tolerated
literature in the second half of the 20th even in very incisive forms as a general rule.
century, introduced Ilie Moromete, one of the There was another reason too for the immense
strongest characters in Romanian prose: in audience enjoyed by such books: other than
juicy ironical touches owed to both the author- the Communist doctrinal discourse, the system
narrator and the main hero, the prewar village did not allow the publication of specialized
is set down in a lasting image. historical, sociological, political science
studies about the postwar period.
When the Communist system moves on to Consequently, the novel substituted for the
the "thawing" stage, around 1960, and human sciences too. There were cases of
especially after the 1965 effective interdiction, pre-publishing blockage
(pseudo )liberalization, "socialist realism" is or subsequent public incrimination. All told,
cast off and the brutally torn tissues of national though, the narrative genre developed
culture begin to heal. A second booming impetuously, causing a second "boom" in its
period starts for the Romanian novel. Almost brief history.
everything becomes possible along with a
much looser censorship - it will stiffen up
42 43
The Romanian Novel I\ Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

There is again a wide range of narrative 11ovel recipes had been active, the ones that
formulae on the map of the Romanian novel in had somehow survived proletcultist
the '60s through '80s. The situation between n~nsorship, but more important, modernism
the World Wars is thus reprised. Just like then, was discovered again, with its full range of
local literature has to recover a delay, one that technical solutions.
must not be equated with the "socialist Let us attempt a brief systematization in
realism" span proper, whose record cannot be
this case too. The great realist novelist of the
reduced to a fifteen years' setback: the whole
period, the most important Romanian writer in
intellectual, creative metabolism had been
the second half of the 20th century m all
muddled. In the wake of such a historical
probability, remains Marin Preda, whose
"calamity", the yarns of evolution cannot be
Moromete Family II (Jvloromefii, vol. JI,
simply knotted a second time. Once the 1967), The Great Loner (Marele singiratic,
proletcultist interlude over, local culture is
1972), The Delirium (Deliru/, l 975) are
unable to make an immediate step forward, as
sequels to The Moromete Family pursuing the
if nothing had happened; it cannot hop from
characters' later destinies, parallel to works
prewar modernism to the post-modernism that that make use of more recent narrative
should have ensued. The tattered tissues of a
patterns, either in the first person - The
national culture are hard to heal, and the
Intruder (lntrusul, 1968) and The Most
operation implies backtracking and resumption Beloved Man on Earth (Cel mai iubit dintre
of experiences already consumed, reconstruction paminteni, 1980), or, such as in Life as a Prey
of phases previously indexed. Somehow, (Via /a ca o prada, 1979), under the guise of a
everything must restart from square one. "memoir novel". No other Romanian author
Indeed, Romanian literature in the '60s and has reached his immense prestige during the
'70s became eclectic again, more so than in
last decades. With The Moromete Fam;ily JI,
any "normal" phase in the history of art, when
in which the action continues after the War,
diversity lines up around a paragon. One during the first Communist years, Preda had
model imposed itself, the post-modern, only inaugurated the "obsessive decade" vogue he
after 1980. Before that, only the traditional
45
44
T he Romanian Novel (\. Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

would practically end himself with the trilogy Kafka's writings, are present in novels by
The Most Beloved Man on Earth, a lvasiuc, ~tefan Banulescu, Octavian Paler.
tremendous sellout. Political panoramas, social A separate chapter must be dedicated to
critique, profusion of characters can be novels written, or only published abroad by
descried in the novels of other important postwar exiles, escaped from Communist
realistic authors of the period, oftentimes in Romania. The most important belong to Paul
works containing touches of variously dosed Goma and Dumitru Tepeneag, both modernist,
modernism: Zaharia Stancu, Constantin Toiu, although thematically very different: Goma,
Augustin Buzura, etc. the most noteworthy Romanian dissident,
The recurrences and extensions of inter-war devoted himself to the unveiling of truth
modern prose are numerous, as I mentioned regarding the Romanian Gulag, and was
before. The main line of the analytical novel is considered by his Western commentators a
followed by Alexandru Ivasiuc, Nicolae "Romanian Solzhenitsyn" using Joyce-like
Breban , Norman Manea, Mircea Ciobanu, narrative techniques, while tepeneag, an
Bujor Nedelcovici, Dana Dumitriu, Mihai Sin, apostle of "oneirism" before being forced into
Gabriela Adame~teanu and many others. Yet exile in the West, emulated the French
none has preserved a single formula: Ivasiuc, "nouveau roman" experiments. The last-
Ciobanu and Adame~teanu dealt with socio- decades Romanian exile also gave titles by
political investigations too, Dumitriu wrote a Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu, Vintila Horia,
trilogy inspired from a 19th century subject, Petru Dumitriu, Petru Popescu, Nedelcovici,
and so on. The "Joycean" tag is carried by Virgil Tanase, Herta Muller and others --
George Balaita, the "Faulknerian" by Dumitru almost all well-known prose writers long
Radu Popescu's extensive cycle. In Radu before going into exile.
Cosa~u's books, confession bears ironic hues.
More recent European "nouveau roman" At last, the aforementioned postmodern
versions were authored by Augustin Buzura, model. Its novelistic structures begin their
Sorin Titel, Vasile Andru. Myth and/ or ascent around 1970 and the next decade with
parable, whose ascendant is to be found in the books written by a small group later known
46 47
The Romanian Novel /\ Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

as "The Tirgovi~te School": Radu Petrescu, (the most appreciated poet of the generation),
Mircea Horia Sirnionescu, Costache Olareanu, Radu Aldulescu, Caius Dobrescu, etc. The
Tudor Topa, Alexandru George. The first two most original experiment as far as the
wrote several masterpieces of Romanian Romanian postmodern novel is concerned
postwar prose. Remarkable novels were also remains The Woman in Red (Femeia in rO$U ,
written by Matei Ciilinescu, Virgil Nemoianu, 1990), the game-like work of three authors:
Vintila Iviinceanu, Sanziana Pop (the firnt ones Nedelciu, Adriana Babeti and Mircea Mihiiie~
~ notorious critics; the latter - members of the (the last two, re~arkable congeneric
"oneiric" group). During the '80s, the essayists).
experiences of a few other isolated authors like
Alexandra Indrie~, Paul Georgescu, Marian Tens of titles, between The Moromete
Popa, Ion Iovan would follow, as well as the Family and The Woman in Red, make up the
massive contributions from a new literary substantial layer of first-rate novels in the '60s,
generation, the first to assume, '70s and '80s. I shall not mention them all
programmatically, the project of the new again. At the end of 1989, when the Communist
paradigm of postmodernity. These prose regime collapsed, the bibliography of the most
writers set about short prose species first, in popular species of narrative was quite
addition to the concept of "text", contending extensive, against the background of a
with the cumbersome "frescos" of the substantial, generally speaking, creative culture
"obsessive decade", which they read out of - in fact, counter-culture, opposed to the
political curiosity. Somehow, notable novels official, propaganda one. The distortions
were written in the '80s by Mircea Nedelciu, suffered by Romanian arts during Communism,
$tefan Agopian, Gheorghe Craciun, Sorin the aesthetic and moral trade-off, the fiascos
Preda, Constantin Stan, Stelian Tiinase, resulted from either censorship proper or self-
Alexandru Vlad, Adina Kenere~, Bedros censorship, fostered by the regime, are yet to be
Horasangian, Viorel Marineasa, Cristian investigated; on the whole, though, the richness
Teodorescu, Daniel Vighi, and in the '90s by of post-proletcultist artistic achievements is
Ioan-Mihai Cochinescu, Mircea Ciirtarescu beyond any doubt.
48 49
A Guide to Romanian Literature - I 1 Bogdan LEFTER
The Romanian Novel

edited in 1992-1993, 7-8 years after the death


6. An epilogue in the '90s: of its author, and The Woman in Red). Still, as
the past, the present, the future. I mentioned before, the "soft" censorship after
Transitory conclusions 1965 had allowed almost everything, so novels
relying on political revelations, cautious at
Almost nothing new occurred in Romanian intervals, but sometimes very aggressive
literature during the '90s, particularly relating toward the system, were published in the late
to the novel, which caused some frustration as ' 60s, the '70s and '80s. The wish concerning
well as two major objections. One regards the the overdue publication today of dissident
recent past, noticing the absence of long- literature more radically anti-Communist than
yearned for "drawer books". The other refers what could be written at the right time is
to the extant activity of local prose writers, nothing but gullibility liable to psychoanalysis.
blaming them for the inability to create a "new Moreover, such attitudes ignore the novels
novel" that will, on the one hand, tell the published only in the free world before 1989,
whole truth about our terrible Communist from Paul Goma' s to, say, The Second
history now that it's done with, and on the Messenger (Al doilea mesager, 1985) by
other hand capitalize on the extraordinary Bujor Nedelcovici. Edited in large numbers
experience of post-Communist "transition" in over the past years, they can be considered a
a changing, and at the same time already sort of "drawer" that was exported and printed
deeply transfigured world, with new themes, only in exile. One must also take into account
different obsessions, phantoms and traumas. the wave of diaries, memoirs and documentary
The inadequacy of the first objection lies in reconstructions, witnesses of all past events,
the wrong estimate of both the Romanian that stormed the market in th '90s. That is
literature of the past decades and the latest "drawer literature" too, albeit non-fictional.
book issue. True, after the downfall of the The second objection, blaming the authors
Communist regime, very few novels came out for looking away from new investigations on
that could not be published at the time they things past, also ignores the grounds of the
were written (the finest being Farewell, issue. A case in point, in the post-Communist
Europe! (Adio, Europa!) by Ion D. Slrbu, 51
50
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

period, in other words a free world, out reorganization of local culture. Nothing
reconstituting the truth about the old regime is similar is expected in the near future. The
by no means a task for the novel, such as in the history of creativity works in broad cycles. Not
'60s through '80s; it is the duty of science, no even a political revolution can ruffle it.
longer politically controlled, now able to do
what was forbidden before: historians, What are the main conclusions to be drawn
sociologists, political scientists have got full- after this brief exposition? First of all, it took
scale freedom of movement and plenty of data the Romanian novel little more than a century
to study. As for the almost total absence of to assimilate phases, tendencies, models and a
novels inspired from today's mutations, there remarkable diversity. All in all, its record
is an explanation too. Like fellow-writers from includes numerous first-rate authors as well as
the entire Central-East European region, tens of top-notch titles. Unfortunately, cultural
Romanian authors have frequently decided on stalemates and political fractures claimed their
journalism since 1990: a new experience in a toll. Too much reliance on specificity, topical
new world. Its time will come to generate themes and untranslatable stylistic feats
fiction. The artistic milieus felt like taking a narrows its chance to attain worldwide esteem.
break in order to meditate, after the massive Conversely, specificity is sterile even as an
earthquake provided by history. individual stamp: there is no "school" in the
Still, why has there been no renewal of history of the Romanian novel, nor a peculiar
novelistic structures or narrative rhetoric all bent that could be recognized by a foreign
these years? One answer is at hand: it would reader, but only the intricate dynamics inspired
have been against the odds! Post-modernity from or compatible with leading universal
was only born in the last decade and is models. Be that as it may, whoever wishes to
steadying just now. To some extent, it find out about the Romanians and their
anticipated the overthrow of the Communist civilization is bound to read the great novels
power, counterpoising it with a model of that embody national myths and distinctive
pluralism. In any case, the emergence of the imagery.
new paradigm in the '80s was behind the all-
53
52
The Romanian Novel \
1
Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

As to the future... The Romanian novel


seems to get ready for a fresh start. The respite
will end. The brutal interference of politics in
literature is over. After the inter-war and the
post-proletcultist medley, the time has come
perhaps for a complete acceptance of
postmodern liberty and plurality. LITERATURE IN THE
'60S AND '70S.
The Experiment: A Separation from
Neo-Modernism
Translated by Adrian SOLOMON (a typological outline and a brief
inventory)

After the Communist regime had


initially been established and consolidated in
post-war Romania, as soon as uniform
proletcult (one may even say "uniformed
proletcult") is left behind, the new literature of
the '60s indulges in a voluptuous rediscovery
of diversity. Innovating energies are unleashed
- and, concurrently, experimental ones.
Although perfect synonyms or very close in
meaning in other periods, these two categories
of the impetuous search for novelty -
innovatorism and experiment - may be
regarded as substantially distinct in the period
55
54
Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

we are examining, as a result of the very cultural plane, abolishing the old and imposing
special background of the restorarion of a new art. Quite a large number of inter-war
Romanian culture after the disaster of the avant-gardists from Romania and from
proletcult. In the late '60s, as well as elsewhere had prophesied it, some of whom
throughout the following decade, authors and became, after the second World War, its
groups of authors of a marked experimental faithful mercenaries. "Progress" and building
character did appear. The question is: where an ideal world were the issues at stake. Just as
do they stand on the cultural map of that time? the tyranny of the bourgeoisie, its "decadence"
What distinguishes them from other writers and "decay" (incriminated in 1948 by the
whose innovatory spirit lacked that genuine public prosecutor of Arghezi), were considered
disposition towards change, and who therefore to remain behind. Reforming a whole artistic
could not attain the radicalism of new, system by entirely rejecting its structures, and
unprecedented solutions? A typological outline then having them replaced by a
and a brief inventory of names and titles will "progressioni'st" project - here is a true
facilitate a preliminary discussion on the very "experiment": a total one, "maximalist" so to
concept of experiment against the blurred speak.
background of this period. Actually, it was a total failure brought
about by certain flagrant inadequacies. First,
the large scale socio-political project of
Context outline. Communism had been transferred to art
(1) The proletcultist "revolution" and without being in any way "translated", without
any creative doctrine, any aesthetic
the modernist "restoration" programme, however "impure", being worked
out. The militancy of the (pseudo-)literature or
Was not proletcult itself - after all - an
the (pseudo-)painting of the '50s had not
ample "experiment"?! Through the so-called
found - or had not been allowed to find (if at
socialist realism doctrine, proletcult
all possible) - any intrinsic motivations, inner
transferred the political revolution to the
mechanisms or impetus of its own. It was
56,
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Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

purely political propaganda disguised for the So the political propagandists in charge
occasion into verses about victorious miners, decided to give up proletcult. It faded towards
or into portraits of workers smashing the 1960, and was officially abandoned after 1965.
capitalist chains of "exploitation" with their Its artistic failure was too obvious, and besides
large bare hands. The "progressionism" this, it had carried out its propagandistic task
paraded by the (pseudo-)artistic discourses of doing away with pre-communist culture.
was not backed up by any genuine innovating The "thaw" was prepared for. A lenient
energy. censorship, allowing for what was called the
Second, and as a result of this initial return to the aesthetic, now replaced the
inadequacy, the rhetoric of socialist realism former strict censorship. A whole young
was - from start to finish - ridiculous, generation of writers, fine artists, actors and so
absurd and a failure. It did not replace the forth took advantage of the new rules of the
inter-war artistic styles with new ones, did not game, experienced the elation of rediscovering
seek out invigorating formulas, did not genuine poetry, metaphors and abstractions of
innovate, did not go for any actual experiment: all sorts, creative elitism and artistic
for a change, the solution imposed by the Bohemianism. While the formal speech after
formal cultural ideologists was a return to 1965 sounds "Khrushchevist" and criticizes
obsolete means of expression, to the 1848 style the establishment of Communism for
and even to folklore. The topics referred to the politically and socially exaggerated actions
bright future and a "new world", yet the means (admittedly calling them mere "mistakes'',
of expression were long outlived. This although they had been - both figuratively
inadequacy resulted in a huge anachronism and strictly speaking - crimes), the revived
hopelessly unable to survive from an aesthetic culture of the '60s sweeps the previous
point of view. We are left with nothing else decade's aberration off the stage. A new
but an immense corpus of "masterpieces" of "experimenf' is conducted at an accelerated
involuntary humour. Although hardly anyone pace: after the "revolution" of socialist realism
felt like laughing at that time ... there follows the "restoration" of the aesthetic.

58 59
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
Literature in the '60s and '70s
contempt the anachronism of rhetoric that
Context outline. prevailed in the '50s, yet a conjunction of
(2) Between innovation and circumstances condemns them to another
experiment anachronism. This one was forced upon them
not by the artificial propaganda of the political
Therefore, in the '60s everything is once regime, but by the so-called natural
again new if compared to what had happened metabolism of the national cultural history,
before. Yet, how "new" this time? And in what which compels them to take part in healing the
way was it "new"? proletcultist disease by mending the material
The answers to these questions will allow where it had been torn. The "new" formulas
us to work out the distinction between they enthusiastically explore mark a progress
experiment and innovatorism against the if we compare them to socialist realism's neo-
confusion of that period. Experiment implies a folklorism and revivals of the 1848 style, yet
progressive exploration sustained by a sense of they do nothing but reconstitute the range of
the desire to discover, · and a striving for the rhetorics in fashion in the former half of
absolute, not relative, novelty. However, the 20th century. It is a reversed innovatorism,
Romanian arts have a basically different · and therefore lacks any genuine experimental
historic mission at that time: they regained dimension.
their aesthetic substance through . a regressive That is why the '60s and then the '70s will
evolution. Paradoxically, such an option - also stick, at their core, to a "neo" -type model:
instinctive otherwise - is quite logical in a these decades saw a neo-modernism, which
context in which it is essential to resume what would never have existed unless the historical
was brutally interrupted in 1948. Most of that hiatus of the '50s had made it absolutely
period's young creators sought their future in necessary and indispensable.
the past and built up short-lived glory by
taking up the melody of the inter-war period.
Their way of going forward was by turning
back. Their discoveries are rediscoveries. The
representative artists of the '60s hold in 61
60
Literature in the '60s and '70s
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

Context outline.
appearances. A whole series of texts, authors
(3) Working hypothesis: through and even groups having original programmes
experiment - towards postmodernism approximate the new cultural pattern - to be
recognized as such only as late as the '80s and
'90s, when the phenomenon on the large scale
So, where does the experimental impetus of has become visible and has started to move
that time take refuge? As always, towards the towards the central zone of the Romanian
borders, towards the cultural system periphery, cultural system, to become, in its turn,
where altogether new formulas, contesting the dominant.
day's establishment, are searched for.
Focusing on literature, we can now set forth
the working hypothesis of this ever changing Typological outline.
panorama: while the innovatorism of the
(1) The last experimental resources of
majority proceeded to a historical replay
which resulted in the neo-modernism of the modernism
'60s and '70s, the experimentalism in a
minority of writers of that time engendered the
first forms of Romanian postmodernism. The Starting from a general equation of
prevailing mood is set by a literary trend evolution, let us try to extract a couple of
which, while apparently invigorating, actually experimental types out of the '60s and '70s,
comes back just to complete its own historical where various literary ages paradoxically exist
cycle premature] y broken off. Its actual together, mixing up criteria and doing away
novelty resources are limited and can only with the standard sequentiality of European
yield to experimental epiphenomena. cultural history. Before listing the first
Meanwhile, a new trend looms, hardly grasped explorations aimed at a new Romanian cultural
in its global coherence for the time being, yet pattern, let us first review the poetic and then
already vigorous enough in many of its the prosaic versions of neomodernism, which
62
63
Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

still point to certain experimental resources avangarda) by Sa~a Pana and a first study on
that had not yet been exhausted before 1948. Romanian Poetic Avant-gardism (Avangar-
dismul poetic romanesc), due to Ion Pop, to be
Perpetual avant-garde. Out of all the published. The next year Urmuz's Bizarre
formulas pertaining to poetic modernism, the Pages (Pagini bizare), and another book
most radical ones - such as avant-garde - devoted to Urmuz, Urmuz by Nicolae Balota
were the most difficult to rank among the were edited as a post-war premiere. The thread
classics. Their innovative capacity was ampler, was resumed, and the unusual effect-
their movement more dynamic, their non- techniques involved ranked among those to
conformism more frolicsome and actually which many and quite various authors of the
more profound than that of any other moment following decades resorted, testing their
throughout art history. So that when, after the efficiency over and over again. Unfortunately,
proletcult, there was a recurrence of the only a few avant-gardists were able to carry on
literary patterns of the '20s and '40s, it was in with their own experiments after such a long
the avant-garde area, and not anywhere else, pause. Meanwhile, some of them had died,
that a certain continuity of the experimental others had emigrated, and others had allowed
approach could be reached again. It was not themselves to be - alas! - sucked in by the
accidental - of course - that the "soft" yet system, on the basis of their apparent
careful censorship after the "thaw" proved consonance of "revolutionary utopia". Perhaps
more vigilant at this point. The "recovery" of one single name can be quoted as an example
surrealism as well as of the other of continuity: that of Gellu Naum, the only
complementary -isms was allowed only after "surviver" of the inter-war avant-garde, who
the young generation of the '60s had been has pursued, since the '60s and up to the
conquered by the new conformism of present day, his investigations, faithful to his
metaphorical inconsistency. initial programme, understanding or sensing its
It is only as late as 1969 that it was possible still active potential. After 1968, when he was
for an Anthology of Romanian Avant-garde allowed to have his volume Athanor
Literature (Antologia literaturii romiine~ti de published, and thus to release his old formula
64
65
Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

once again on the market, Gellu Naum wrapping paper. The last two publishing
periodically reveals ever new surrealist experiments were accepted - which is
experiments, pushing somehow the premises important to note - only by "Litera", a small
of the 20th century's great nonconformism to marginal publishing house that was publishing
their ultimate conclusions. So far, his books, against payment by the authors.
among which Poetise, Poetise... (Poetizafi,
poetizafi, 1970), The Animal-tree, (Copacul- The Bookish "Extremism". In opposition
animal, 1972), ·My Tired Father, (Tatii.l meu to the avant-gardist poetic radicalism which
obosit, 1972), or A Description of the Tower has always wanted to be spontaneous, genuine,
(Descrierea turnului, 1975), to quote just some energetic and an intrinsic part of life (and of
titles up to the end of the '70s, merged both dreams as well), we may locate the most
recent and old texts, providing implicit proof "counterfeit" bookish experiments for which
of the perpetual avant-garde vitality. Some artificiality, the outmost refinement and
young poets such as Sebastian Reichmann .o r devitalization are the ideal. We can quote here
Valeriu Oi~teanu joined him for a symbolic Poems (Poeme, 1965) plus Some Other
discipleship, as well as Dan Stanciu later on. Poems (Si alte poezii, 1970) by Romulus
Vulpescu, Poems by Balduin of Tyaormin
"Black" neo-avant-gardism. Other late (Poemele Lui Balduin de Tyaormin, 1970) by I.
avant-gardisms. Along the tradition of a Negoitescu, some texts scattered in Stefan
certain avant-garde imagistic "cruelty", one Aug. Doina~'s writings, and particularly, as a
may also quote A.E. Baconsky's experiments compact phenomenon, the subtly distilled
in Corpses in Void (Cadavre fn vid, 1969) and stvlistics of the group including Adrian
Lunatics' Ship (Corabia nebunilor, 1978). Popescu, Ion Mircea, Dinu Flam1nd and
Sa~a Pana tried to bring up-to-date his own others, who were given a start under the aegis
collages in Offence of Good Old Habits of "Echinox" magazine founded in Cluj at the
(Atentat la bunele tabieturi, 1970 -, from an end of 1968. The Shadows' Land (Umbria,
older project). Constantin Abaluta had his 1971), The Fire and the Feast (Focul $i
verses in Ewww-Errre (1972) edited on brown sii.rbii.toarea, 1975), The Magnetic Fields
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Literature in the '60s and ' 70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

(Cfmpiile magnetice, 1976) and Court of necessarily be mentioned once again here with
Doctors (Curtea medicilor, 1979) by Adrian his verse booklets - Simpleroses (Simpleroze,
Popescu, Isthmus (lstm, 1971) and Tender 1978), The Shawl, Isadora's Scarves (Salul,
Drums (Tobele fragede, 1978) by Ion Mircea e$arpele Jsadorei, 1978), Copyright ( 1979),
or Apeiron (1971), Poems (Poezii, 1974) and Areal (1983) and Holorhymes (Holorime,
Ingraftments (Altoiuri, 1976) by Dinu 1986) - published in a regime of self-
Flamind impose in the epoch a particular type assumed marginality (especially at "Litera"
of modernist experiment of subtle lyrical Publishing House, at his own charge). Poetic
filtrations. Other genre variants in which a "mystery" is explored here with an
bookish style stands alongside jocular and inexhaustible jocular verve at all language
parodic dimensions were those suggested by levels, up to genuine syntactic and
"balladeers" such as Teodor Pica in Poems morphological stunts, decompositions and
(Poezii, 1971) or Tudor George in Singapore recompositions of words, syllables, and
Ballads (Baladele singaporene, 1970) as well sounds. Among other things, Foarta has
as in his numerous other volumes. A very invented the "tautophonies", a personal
interesting experiment in this area was that of method of "(unpunishedly) suppressing the air
the Texts for Phoenix (Texte pentru Phoenix, between the words", that is of making up
printed in 1976) through which Serban Foarta holorhymes, phonetic sequences which,
and Andrei Ujica rewrote some passages of depending on pronunciation, stress and
indigenous mythology in mock-heroic register pausing, may be read in several ways (like in:
particularly intended for the music group "Sie~i egal, ah, adamantul, I ca stelele-n care
"Phoenix" from Timi~oara, famous at that sper, jur. .. I ... Castelele! 'N care sperjur I
time, who used them in the rock opera (sie~i) e Galahad, amantul", · etc.) 1• Through
Cantofables (Cantofabule). ·such texts as well as through others created by

Language's ultimate resources:


morphological, syllabic and phonetic 1
Untranslatable pun on the various meanings a
experimentalism. Serban Foarta should different division of the continuous into words may
engender.
68 69
Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

means of other acrobatic means, Serban Foarta Vestibule (Vestibul, 1967) and Interval
set up a kind of ultra-refined poetic language (1968). The Joyceanist style timidly explored
for his own use, a funambulist-like hermetism by several minor inter-war writers was more
of masterly style. He experimented with manifest in The World in Two Days (Lumea in
original phrasing, breaking off, and all sorts of doua zile, 1975) by George Balaita. The
insertions and dislocations in his essay writing alternation of points of view experimented by
as well. Some other poets of that period, Virginia Woolf in The Waves or by William
mainly Tudor George, the fanciful balladeer, Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury is taken
have also tried word modulations, syntactic as over in Dumitru Radu Popescu's cycle F (a
well as morphological and phonetic innova- cycle of novels started in 1969).
tions. Another very special case is Adrian
Rogoz, a disciple of the modernist "classic" Echoes to the "new novel". The
Ion Barbu in his young days, then a promoter experimental trend, fed on the more recent
of science fiction literature, author of a single model of the French "new novel" ("nouveau
volume of poetry, Enduring Heart (/nima roman"), was more manifest in the prose of
rezistenta, 1981 ), which gathers up various that time, namely: loose narrative, frame
experiments, including palindromes and splitting up into a multitude of details, self-
puzzle-like poems with graphically repre- reflection, textualism, anti-novel, anti-hero,
sented "invariables". and so on. The best known examples were
The Prisoner's Long Journey (Lunga
New School Proustianisms, joyce-anisms, calatorie a prizonierului, 1971) by Sorin Titel
faulknerianisms. The neo-modernist and the sketches by Dumitru Tepeneag in
experimental resources of the '60s and '70s Exercises (Exercifii, 1966), Cold (Frig, 1971)
were more limited in prose. Only seldom did and Expectations (A~'iteptari, 1971 ). The
the introspective formulas of Proustial} origin former' s novel came out in France in the
bring any shade of typological novelty. "comet tail" fashion of the "new novel", also
Mention can be made - for instance - of the illustrated by the prose of the latter, otherwise
analytical effort in Alexandru lvasiuc' s novels a promoter of "oneirism" (among others,
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Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogda11 LEFTER

Tepeneag translated Alain Robbe-Grillet into Typological outline.


Romanian for the first time). In various (2) The first Romanian postmodern
combinations with more marked propensities experiments
towards psychology, symbolism and
mythology, we can also refer to: Hanimore The awareness of inaugurating a postmodern
( 1969) and Truth Only is Beautiful (Frumos e period was to appear rather late, in the '80s, in
numai adevarul, 1979) by Florin Gabrea (also the Romanian culture. The same happened to
declared as "oneiric" at the beginning); The the term of postmodernism. Yet there existed in
Next Room (Camera de alaturi, 1968) by Paul the '60s and '70s individual authors and groups
Goma; Applause (Aplauze, 1968) by Nicolae who instinctively departed from the paradigm
Krassovski; The Absentees (Absentii, 1970) by of modernism, thus anticipating the new
Augustin Buzura; The Witnesses (Martorii, cultural pattern of the decades towards the tum
1968, 1973), Epistles (Epistole, 1969, 1971) of the 20th century. Some of them are the first
and The Wood Cutter (Taietorul de lemne, great postmodern Romanian writers . In what
1974) by Mircea Ciobanu; even Possible follows, an attempt of systematization wil1 be
Yutlanda (lutlanda posibila, 1970), The Bride made.
Comes at Dusk (Mireasa vine cu seara, 1973),
The Groom (Mirele, 1975) and Archeology of Poetic "oneirism". While the prose versions
Desires (Arheologia dorin/elor, 1977) by of the "oneirist" group interfered with the late
Vasile Andru. Most of these authors did not modernist experiments of the French "new
stick to their early experiments, so they were novel", the first move towards postmodernism
not decisively marked by textualising is made within the same trend in poetry, where
experiments. Leonid Dimov manages an extraordinary
synthesis of lyricism and narrative character by
making use of dreamlike syntactic patterns.
Verses (Versuri, 1966), 7 Poems (7 poeme,
1968), Dream Book (Carte de vise, 1969) and
his numerous other volumes (except perhaps
73
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Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

the fixed form poems, especially sonnets and digression imbued with almost non-apparent
rondels to which he also dedicated some discreet cultural symbols and references, which
separate booklets) develop a genuine epic in - however - give a seductive impression of
verse of a great complexity, vital and bookish at nostalgic subtlety. Plunging into prose, poetry
the same time, alluring and mysterious. thus finds out new resources of complexity. In a
Dimov's epic poems set a huge jocular period when metaphor and ambiguous lyricism
mechanism to work bringing about an were dominant, some other outstanding authors
avalanche of characters and happenings with such as Petre Stoica and Florin Mugur joined
both symbolic and philosophical meanings, and this narrative poetic line. Sometimes, authors
ironic and parodic ones. who first expressed themselves within the
modernist paradigm begin, towards the end of
Biographical prosaism poetry. A
that period, to experiment with prosifying
counterbalance to Leonid Dimov's unbridled
solutions. One example is the cycle La vie en
imaginary fantasy, M. Ivanescu 's creation
experimented the realist epic language in
rose in the volume Zebra Crossing (Pasaj de
Romanian poetry, which does not mean
pietoni, 1979) by Dorin Tudoran.
necessarily an exclusive descriptivism (as Sensual poetry with animated objects.
reverie, delusive pictures, utopia are also Another "oneiric", Emil Brumaru, asserted
present) but rather an appearance of narrative himself with poetry which was more traditional
"prudence", of transferring some biographical in point of form, yet quite daring in point of
experiences into the text. In a dense row of theme: he makes up in his verses short domestic
books unceremoniously entitled Lines (Versuri, stories, about kitchens and pantries, bringing
1968), Poems (Poeme, 1970), Poesy (Poesii, objects to life such as dishes, cutlery, food,
I 971 ), Further Lines of Poetry (Alte versuri, especially vegetables and fruit, all of them
1972), Further Poems (Alte poeme, 1973) wrapped up in a sensual, sometimes simply
a.s.o., M. Ivanescu's poetry continuously sexual atmosphere of perverse overtones.
swings between a kind of minimal indoor Fantastic pictures, Emil Brumaru's poems re-
behaviourism, and the Proustian-type analytical evaluate the most derisory everyday reality by
74 75
Literature in the '60s and '70s
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
turning it into a great show. Quite impudently,
too. Ulysses. Various formulas are tested in Prose
Writings (Proze, 1971) and in One Single Age
Multi-layer prose. The comedy of (0 singura virsta, 1975), as well as in
literature. The amplest postmodern Romanian Petrescu's diary books, which raise, in their
experiment avant la Lettre wa~ developed by the turn, spectacular issues related to literary
prose of the so-called "Targovi~te School" theory. The cycle The Well-tempered
consisting of a group of three authors, namely: Ingenious (lngeniosul bine temperat) by
Radu Petrescu, Mircea Horia Simionescu and Mircea Horia Simionescu, including Dictionary
Costache Olareanu. They rejected both of Names (Dic/ionar onomastic, 1969), The
traditional realism, and modernist General Bibliography (Bibliografia genera/a,
psychologism, and built up, in contrast to 1970), Half Plus One. Another Dictionary of
previous styles, complex multi-layered textual Names (Jumatate plus unu. Alt dicfionar
spaces in which the most concrete-biographical onomastic, 1976), Breviary (Historia
narrative and the fantastic vision fancy, the calamitatum) (Breviarul [Historia
gravity of the most refined descriptive notations calamitatum}, 1980) and Toxicology or on the
and parody broken loose, the text and the Other Side of Good and on This Side of Evil
metatext co-exist. The work of each of them (Toxicologia sau dincolo de bine $i dincoace de
includes various experiences which cannot be rau, 1983) is an enormous Borgesean
reduced to just one salient feature with which framework in which there coexist narrative
we can label them. Radu Petrescu's novel formulas of a giddy variety, quotations, copied
Matei lliescu ( 1970) is a masterpiece of the or parodied with an inexhaustible zest, as in a
perfect, almost imperceptible mixture between total comedy of literature. The other works of
referential narrative and auto-referential this prolific author centre round the Well-
reflection. Unlike it, What Can Be Seen (Ce se tempered Ingenious in a highly original
vede, 1979), the other novel by Radu Petrescu, creation. Costache Olareanu, the miniaturist of
is a masterpiece of demonstrative multi-layer the group, had only three booklets published in
building, a Romanian equivalent of Joyce's the '70s, consonant with his fellows' works and
it was only in the ' 80s that he wrote his best.
76
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Literature in the '60s and '70s A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

They were joined by Tudor Topa with the diary take the experiment in The Leap in the Void
in The Writer's Test (incercarea scriitorului, (Saltul fn gol, 1973), a novel-montage in which
1975), to be continued in Footbridge (Punte, Alexandra Indrie~ pieces together various
1985), Petru Crefia with his monotheme discourse types in an attempt to grasp multi-
notations in The Clouds (Norii, 1979), and dimensional psychologies (an approach
Alexandro George with the bookish short continued in the '80s in two more novels
stories in Mere Happenings Meaningful in the equally radical-experimental).
End (Simple intimplari cu sensul fa urma,
1970) and Poison Hourglass (Clepsidra cu The prose of biographical authenticism. In
venin, 1971) followed in the '80s and ' 90s by a the late '60s and throughout the '70s, a large
series of novels integrating authenticist and number of experiments were recorded, which
bookish procedures. forced a passing beyond the Proustian type of
modernist authenticism, in the sense of
Other multi-layer textual solutions. regaining the biographical concrete character of
Parallel to the experiments of the "Targovi~te existence, which somehow meant a revival of
School", there existed some solitary quests Zola's classical concept of "experimentalism",
which in some ways followed the same line. a concept he would equate with naturalism.
For instance, those of Paul Georgescu, the Writers pertaining to very different areas of the
author of the novel s Going Down (Coborfnd, Romanian cultural field took part in this joint
1968), New Year's Eve (Revelionul, 1978), The effort, such as: Slnziana Pop, a member of the
Baroque Summer (Vara baroc, 1980), the "oneiric" group, author of Serenade on
cycle continued in Troubled Solstice (Sofstifiu Trumpet (Serenada la trompeta, 1969), a
tulburat, 1982), Siesta (Siesta, 1983), - along teenage novel related to the prose of Boris Vian
their thread, Paul Georgescu pursued his jocular or J.D. Salinger; the poet Florin Mugur with his
and parodic vocation, thinking out step by step diary (but not so much with his bookish-style
a style in which multiple plans overlap creating prose) in Almost November (Aproape
a sort of continuous substance in a sui generis noiembrie, 1972); non-conformist Al. Monciu-
interpretation of the stream of exi stence. Or, Sudinski with his neo-realist cmel portraits
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Literature in the '60s and '70s
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

from Characters (Caractere, 1973) and Novels of enigmatic essayism. Somewhere


Common Biographies (Biografii comune, on the boundary between the modernist
1974) (after he had experimented with psychologism and the postmodern comedy of
techniques of the grotesque in Rebarbor, 1971 ); literature there also stand the novels of
prose writer, and at the same time journalist and enigmatic essayism written by the critics Matei
film critic Radu Cosa~u with the cycle of half- Calinescu and Virgil Nemoianu, namely The
fictions, half-memoirist short stories Survivals Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter ( Viafa
(Supraviefuiri, the first two books published in $i opiniile lui Zacharias Lichter, 1968) and
1973 and 1977, continued with further ones in Symptoms (Simptome, 1969), respectively.
the '80s); Norman Manea with the diary in The Both ascribe eccentric philosophies to bookish
Apprenticeship Years of August the Ninny characters. Without such a narrative "disguise",
(Anii de ucenicie ai lui August Prostul, l 979). It Fragments about Words (Fragmente despre
is also here that we must necessarily mention cuvinte, 1968) by Toma Pavel belongs to the
Paul Goma's work (except for his afore same series. Not dissimilar are the novels by the
mentioned first book), his fiery novels "oneiric" Vintila Ivanceanu, Until Evanescence
confessing the dramas in the concentration (Pfna la disparifie, 1968) and The
camps; at that time they were published only Extraordinary Adventures of Milorad of
abroad, beginning with the Joycean Ostinato Bouteille (Nemaipomenitele pafanii ale lui
(which came out in German and French in Milo rad de Bouteille, 1970), animated by a
1971, in Dutch in 1974, and only in 1992 in keener histrionic and parodic spirit, and
Romanian), but also The Quod-Gherla therefore closer to the next style, the last in this
(Gherla) (in French in 1976, in Swedish in inventory.
1978 and only in 1990 in Romanian), The
Rainbow Colour (Culoarea curcubeului) (in The neo-Caragialean and neo-Urmuzean
French in 1979, in Dutch in 1980 and only in humorism. Other "serious" absurdities. In
1990 in Romanian). Different Stories (Povestiri diferite, 1968) by
Tudor Octavian, Robert the Horse (Robert
Calul, 1968) and Linda Belinda ( 1979) by
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Dumitru Dinulescu, Dog Project (Proiect de subjective analytical, even confessing


cfine, 1970) by Tudor Vasiliu and The discourse, more or less often used by Nicolae
Adventures of Young Seraphim (A venturile Manolescu, Lucian Raicu, Eugen Simion,
tfnarului Serafim, 1976) by loan Radin, the Valeriu Cristea and so on. One person who is
absurdity of existence gets inexorably coloured clearly an experimenter is Dan Culcer who, in
in comic tones, throughout the range. The critic A Geometrical Locus (Un Zoe geometric,
Marian Popa with his short novels Doina 1973), brings together texts pertaining to three
Doicescu and Nelu Georgescu (Daina literary genres, prose, critique-essay and poetry,
Doicescu $i Nelu Georgescu, 1977) and Good and achieves in Reading and Living Literature
Riddance (Calatorie sprfncenata, 1980) stands (Citind $i traind literatura , 1976) an intelligent
at the extreme point of the flat humour of the montage of critical , essayist and personal note
theoretician who has a good knowledge of registers.
literary recipes and applies them to their
Enough substantial matter - the results of
ultimate commonplaces. Some texts by certain
this typological outline and name and title
"professional" humorists, such as Theodor
inventory - to illustrate the experimental
Mazilu or Dumitru Solomon, can be quoted
here as well. vitality of the "borders" of an impetuous neo-
modernist epoch. The seeds of the literature to
Let us only add the remark that the come "grow mature" within such quests and
experimental attempts in the field of literary exploration, sometimes amazingly radical or
criticism were scarce in the '60s and '70s. We simply exceptional, if not both. There comes a
have mentioned the essay writing of Serban time at the end of the '70s for the first books of
Foaqa, basically a poet. Exegetes seem to have the new generation that were to impose the
directed their innovating energies, if any, to postmodern pattern in the following decade.
puns in prose, as in the case of Matei Calinescu, But that is another story ...
Virgil Nemoianu, Toma Pavel and Marian
Popa. We could mention as well the
explorations of many critics in the sense of a Translated by Ruxandra-Ioana PATRICH/

82 83
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

ROMANIAN LITERATURE
SINCE 1989:
Asymmetries between History and
Rethoric

As everywere in East-Central Europe, the


fall of the Communist regime in Romania
brought instant and decisive changes in
culture. Normally, po)itical changes do not
have an immediate-1.mpact on culture, except
when tyrannies emerge or come to an end. In
such cases, the sudden ban or reestablishment
of freedom of speech explain why artistic and
social discourses change so quickly and so
dramatically. Under strictly centralized
ideological control, open discourse is ruled
out: once in power, authoritarian regimes
impose their own vision of how and if artists,
the media, and the public in general can
express themselves. In cultural expression,
85
The Romanian Novel
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
however, after the initial and rigid rules, the
totalitarian regimes begin to allow exceptions, 1. The effervescence of cultural
reorientations, and various strategies, institutions
sometimes quite far from the original dogma.
On the other hand, when political and social
oppression is successfully challenged, During the Communist regime (1947-
regained freedom of speech and artistic 1989), culture has been under rigid state
expression leads to vivid and more often than control in Romania. While the control of
not chaotic outbursts of text, words, images, minds and ideas is impossible, it is indeed
and gesture, as if a new Babel were born. And possible to control the institutions through
it truely were, as the freedom of speech which ideas and cultural expression reach the
following a totalitarian censorship produces an public. The conditions prescribed by such a
energetical return of all codes formerly situation lead to a very complicated, subtle,
repressed, as well as the unforeseeable birth of and to a certain extent perverse struggle
new ones, all of them noisy and colourful between the artists and the state. Since the
tunes in a rarely harmonious "concert". mid-1960s, when the Stalinist years were left
Since the end of 1989, Romanian culture behind and Communism started pretending to
has experienced all these changes and have gained a "human" face, it could no longer
eruptions. Everything seems to have changed afford to fully repress the liberty of thought
and, to various degrees, it did. Still, certain and expression. While the 1950s had been a
asymmetries between the arts and culture and tragic period of a cultural oblivion, with pure
the new political situation occured as well. In propaganda replacing all forms of art, the late
this brief outlook, I will focus on these 1960s and the next two decades witnessed a
assymmetries, while at the same time I will return of modernism and the emergence of a
attempt to link the new cultural situation to Romanian postmodern culture. In virtually all
history and rethoric.
fields of cultural expression, poets, fiction
writers, critics and essayists, painters and
sculptors, actors, theatre and movie directors,
86
87
A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER
The Romanian Novel
they were severely censored. In addition, there
etc. contributed to a newly flourishing cultural were certain genres such as detective fiction,
scene. While the hard ideological pressure love stories, pornography, and even science
exerted by the political authorities at the time fiction, previously encouraged during the
cannot be underestimated, at the same time Stalinist period as a form of "progressive" and
cultural expression kept getting stronger as it therefore "educational" literature, which were
enlarged itself, and thus successfully resisted now all rejected together with mass culture.
the aggression and oppression of official After the turn in 1989, cultural institutions
propaganda. organizing and controlling public consumption
While artistic expression flourished on the of culture underwent profound changes and a
one hand, cultural institutions were still strictly proliferation of new institutions occured. Thus
controlled on the other. All categories of one may speak of an overwhelming
cultural institutions were state controlled: there institutional effervescence. Leaving the
were no private publishing houses, newspapers electronic media aside and concentrating on
or magazines, no private print press print culture, I will briefly describe the
distribution, no private theatres, museums, or situation of newspaper industry and book
galleries, etc. More than that, forms of culture, industry ever since.
such as genres or topics, were kept under
control, or at best diverted. However, except The disappearance of censorship, the
for direct political messages or formulas regained freedom of speech and the now
monopolized by the state, almost everything limitless possibilities of expression made an
was permitted with poetry. The visual arts almost instantaneous eruption of independent
developed strongly in the 1970s and 1980s journalism possible. Beginning with the very
despite of the official reticence against day of December 22, 1989, several hours after
formalism, avant-garde, experiment. The the former dictator Nicolae Ceau~escu, who
situation of narrative forms such as the novel, had fled from the capital, Bucharest, was
theatre, and cinema, all of them dangerously caught and held hostage to be executed three
"resembling" real life, was moreproblematic. days later, on December 25, new newspapers
As they represented testimonies of the time,
89
88
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

were published in Romania. This was at first perspectives related to sociology, histo~y,
an enthusiastic burst of freedom but later on an politics, cultural studies, etc. A large number
expression of deeply felt involvement in the of well-known literary personalities ·- and
politics of post-Communism and the release herein lies the main connection between the
from ideological colonialism. Hundreds of press and literature - switched to journalism
newspapers, magazines, and journals have during these years and diversified their topics
been launched since, resulting in a diverse and of interest as well as their style of writing.
dynamic landscape of the print press. Many of
them did not survive, while others succeeded In comparison, the book industry evolved
to dominate the market and created financia l after the changes in 1989 with a certain
fortunes for their owners. At the same time, amount of delay. However, soon after 1989 the
high-level political interests started to get first private book publishers came out with
involved. new titles and these books became bestsellers
The new Romanian press includes the at the same time making the publishers·
following charactersitics: chaiotic, naive in its famous. About 2,000 (!) new private
reactions, formally independent in most of the publishing houses have registered since then in
cases but nevertheless biased, always taking Romania, out of which many did not survive,
parts, always favouring commentaries instead while others have made a lot of money and
of information; and frequently sensational, tend to control the market (notably the
tabloid-style, full of sexy photos or of articles following: Humanitas, Nemira, RAO, ALL,
about horrifying crimes, thus speculating the 1
Institutul European, Olimp • All in all, the
compensatory demands of a public previously
deprived of such "thrilling" material. From my 1 Since the end of 1995, some have preserved their
point of view, probably the most important positions, others have not, which again stands as a
matter with regard to the form and content of proof of the dynamics of the industry. Among the
the press is the richness of new journalistic above .mentioned ones, Olimp has closed down,
discourses which are either purely political or lnstitutul European has downsized its production,
which cover a broad range of professional while other publishers like Teora, Polirom, and
Paralela 45 have joined the successful group. ( 1999)
90 91
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

newspaper and book industry may safely be was that only during the 1980s were there
considered among the most successful private signs of a Romanian postmodernism, replacing
businesses that emerged after the fall of a the "aestheticism" of the previous neo-
centralized, state-controlled political system. modernist period, which was characterized by
They were the first to profit - in the good inward looking, metaphorical, and symbolic
sense of the word - from the explosion of literature. The young generation of the 1980s
freedom of expression in a population hungry attacked then what they perceived as an
for public discourse. evasion from real life and from a real and
pragmatic rejection of the reigning political
system. This new generation of authors and
2. Four categories ofpost-Communist artists was, in my opinion, justified in their
attacks. At the same time, the generation of the
textualities 1960s and 1970s has been right as well, for
they created a situation and cultural climate
which avoided direct confrontation with a
In Romania, by the mid- l 960s, censorship promptly repressing rival ideol-
paradoxically a non-ideological literature ogies or just disobedient intellectual theories.
began to develop within the highly ideologized Their work with the "aesthetic approach" was
Communist society. It was after the first useful in the sense that state control hesitated
fifteen or so hard-line years and after the post- to censor art too subtle to be measured in
Stalinist degel ("thaw") that the official political terms.
political strategy offered an almost incredibly After 1989, the post-Communist book
wide liberty to artists, who instinctively industry now facilitated the newly regained
favoured purely aesthetic solutions. For them, freedom of expression and the possibility to be
the refined and abstract rethoric of modernism openly confrontational. Whole categories of
- which had been extensively used between books were at once "reinvented" at the
the two World Wars - supplied models and beginning of the new decade. Some, like the
styles. The result of this paradoxical situation popular genres, had been marginalized by the
92 93
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

old regime owing not to any explicit political history according to its own theories and to its
agenda but to rigid and morally determined own benefit. Fiction was less acceptable than
cultural conventions such as the prescription of abstract and "aesthetic" poetry, but non-fiction
no violence, no adventure, no thrill, no sex etc. was utterly unacceptable so . that the state
Others could not have been published during controlled publishing system and its sustaining
the Communist period for much more precise censorship kept it as far away as possible. As a
political reasons. It so happened with the four consequence, the post-1989 years witnessed a
categories listed as follows. flood of memoirs and diary books, which the
public bought and read with passion. Their
The first two categories of ..t~ts "re- authors were sometimes politicians from the
invented" after 1989 were non-fi~tional: one pre-Communist era 1 including the kings of
based on realistic narratives, thus favouring
descriptive images, and the other more scient-
ific, focused on analysis of reality and facts. 1
Here are a few examples (as will be the case with the
The first one was the wide class of other categories of books mentioned here; all
subjective writings such as diaries, memoirs, refferences are listed in the alphabetical order of
autobiographies. The reason why they were authors' names): Constantin Argetoianu, For the
incompatible with the official ideology People of Tomorrow. MemoriJ!S of the Times of Past
People [Pentru cei de miine. Amintiri din vremea
previously was their testimonial character. celor de ieri], 4 vols., Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991 -
Totalitarianism based on censorship never 1993; Idem, 2 vols., Bucure~ti, Albatros, 1991 - 1993;
allows either the present or the past reveal Raoul Bossy, Memories of My Life as a Diplomat
their actual truth. A political and social system [Amintiri din via/a diplomaticii], 2 vols., Bucure~ti ,
proclaiming a prosperous utopia while turning Humanitas, 1993; Armand Calinescu, Political Notes
[fnsemniiri politice], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1990; I.
everyone's life into misery and poverty did not G. Duca, Portraits and Memories [ Portrete $i
need self-reflective images of the present. And amintiri], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1990; I. G. Duca,
neither were such images of the past desirable Memoirs [Memorii], Bucure~ti, Expres, 1992;
because Communist history and literature had Grigore Gafencu, Political Notes [fnsemniiri
already "rewritten" the country's national politice], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991; Constantin
Sanatescu, The Diary of General Siiniitescu
94 95
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

Romania 1• The documentary value of such cases, the authors collected and published
books is impossible to overestimate. A good testimonies by others about sufferings of this
number of other testimonies referred to the sort 1• Books were also published about the
Communist era itself, most of them memories former dictator's last years 2 . Extremely
of survivors of the Romanian Gulag, of the
countless prisons and labour camps in which
Dumnezeu], Tlrgu Mure~, Arhipelag, 1993; Andrei
tens and hundreds of thousands of people died Serbulescu, The Dialectical Right of Monarchy
during the hard-line Stalinist years 2 . In other [Monarhia de drept dialectic], Bucure~ti, Humanitas,
1991; N. Steinhardt, The Diary of Happiness
[Jurnalul fericirii], Cluj, Dacia, 1991 ; Aurel State,
[Jurnalul generalului Siiniitescu J, Bucure~ti, The Road of the Cross [Drumul crucii], 2 vols.,
Humanitas, 1993; etc. Bucure~ti , Litera, 1993; etc.
1
See, for example, The Memoirs of King Charles of See, for example, Virgil Ierunca, The Pite§ti
Romania [Memoriile Regelui Carol I al Romaniei], Phenomenon [Fenomenul Pile$fi], Bucure~ti ,
Bucure~ti, Scripta, 1992; Mircea Ciobanu, Dialogues Humanitas, 1990; Viorel Marineasa and Daniel Vighi,
with Michael I of Romania [Convorbiri cu Mihai I al Whitesuntide '51 [Rusalii '51 }, Timi~oara,
Romaniei], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991 ; Mircea Marineasa, 1994; etc.
Ciobanu, Nothing without God [Nimic fiirii 2
See, for example, Doina Cornea, Liberty?
Dumnezeu], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992; etc. [Libertate? ], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992; Gheorghe
2
See, for example, Constantin Cesianu, Saved from the Cionoiu, War Declaration [Declarafie de razboi],
Inferno [Sa/vat din infern], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, Pite~ti, Vlasie, 1993; Ion D. Slrbu, The Diary of a
1992; Lena Constante, Silent Escape [ Evadarea Diarist without a Diary [Jurnalul unui jurnalist fora
tiicutii], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992; Lena Constante, jurnal}, Craiova, Scrisul Romiinesc, 1992; Ion D.
The Impossible Escape [Evadarea imposibila], Sirbu, Crossing the Curtain. Correspondence with ...
Bucure~ti, Fundatia Culturala Romana, 1993 ; Adriana [Traversarea cortinei. Corespondenfii cu Jon
Georgescu, The Beginning was the End [La !nceput Negoifescu, Virgil Nemoianu, Mariana $ora],
a Jost sfir$itul], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992; Ion Timi~oara, Editura de Vest, 1994; Mircea Zaciu,
Ioanid, Our Everyday Jail [f nchisoarea noastrii cea Diary [Jurnal], 2 vols., Cluj, Dacia, 1993-1995; etc.
de toate zilele], 4 vols., Bucure~ti , Albatros, 1991- An interesting description of Ceau~escu's last
1994; Al. Mihalcea, Jail Diary [Jurnal de ocna/, "pharaonic" achievement - the House of the People,
Bucure~ti, Albatros, 1994; Victor loan Pica, Liberty the largest mono-bloc building in the world - was
Wears the Face of God [Libertatea are chipu/ Lui
96 97
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

moving and therefore enJomg a great public disguising its miserable reality behind an
impact were two books describing the destiny elaborate propaganda machinery, the regime
of two peasant women for whom the did not need lucid minds able to dissect both
Communist regime meant tragedy and ideologies and realities. Thus it came that the
suffering 1• government, as early as 1977, eliminated the
study of sociology from Romanian
The second category of non-fiction books universities, while a mixture of Marxist
that have flooded the Romanian market since philosophy and history studies was promoted
1990 belong to the wide field of Humanities instead. All in all, the Humanities were among
and the Social Sciences. Many historical the most strictly censored intellectual fields in
studies which could not be published under the Communist Romania. After 1989, the national
Communists for reasons already suggested champion of the human sciences, the
above, sociological and politological science philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu, began to lead
texts, psycho-analytical studies, and both the publishing house Humanitas. During its
classical and modern philosophy books first five years of existence, Humanitas
became bestsellers. They did so owing to the launched over 400 titles, printed in over 6
same socio-psychological mechanism of million copies, belonging to a wide variety of
compensation after more than four decades of historical, sociological, philosophical etc.,
restrictive access to non-Communist, non- texts. A special mention should be made of
Marxist, non-"materialist" philosophy and Humanitas' support of and focus on what
history, and to almost any kind of social and might be called "theories of democracy". They
political analysis. As it kept busy with published authors such as Hannah Arendt,
Julien Benda, Alain Besan~on, Ralf
pu~lished by loan Popa with his Slaves on Uranus Dahrendorf, Jean-Marie Domenach, Alain
[Rabi pe Uranus], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992.
Finkielkraut, Francois Furet, Andre
Anita Nandri~-Cudla, 20 years in Siberia {20 de ani
1

fn Siberia], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 199 I; The Story of


Glucksmann, Friedrich A. Hayek, Samuel P.
Elisabeta Rizeafrom Nuqoara [Povestea Elisabetei Huntington, Jakub Karpinski, Lesek
Rizea din Nuc:joara], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1993. Kolakowski, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl R.
98
99
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

Popper, Jean-Frarn;ois Revel, and Frarn;:oise Georgescu' s History of the Romanians, a


Thom, but also went back to "classics" like wide and synthetical panorama in a
Max Weber and even to Alexis de
Tocqueville's De la democratie en Amerique. 1992; Victor Frunza, The History of Stalinism in
Humanitas as well as many other private Romania [lstoria stalinismului in Romdnia],
publishing houses have systematically payed Bucure~ti, Humanitas, I 990; Victor Frunza, How

attention mostly to history books meant to feed Long Can a Political Corpse Survive? [Cit mai poate
trai un cadavru politic?], Bucure~ti, Victor Frunza,
the huge public appetite for the truth about the
1 1990; Vlad Georgescu, Politica $i istorie [Politics
national past • Among these ones, Vlad and History], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991; Vlad
Georgescu, The History of Romanians from Their
For instance, among many other: Ion Alexandrescu, Origins to Our Times [/storia romanilor de la origini
Ion Bulei, Ion Mamina, loan Scurtu, The pina in zilele noastre /, Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992;
Encyclopedia of Political Parties in Romania (I 862- Valentin Hossu-Longin, The Romanian Monarchy
I 994) [Enciclopedia partidelor politice din Romania [Monarhia romdneasdi/, Bucure~ti , Litera, 1994;
(1862-1994)], Bucure~ti, Mediaprint, 1995; Victor Ghita Ionescu, Comparative Research on Communist
Barsan, The Massacre of Innocents [Masacrul [ lnvestigarea comparativa a politicii comuniste
inocen/ilor], Bucure~ti, Fundatia Culturala Romana, Politics], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1992; Ghita Ionescu,
1993; Victor Barsan, The Ila$CU Trial (in English), Communism in Romania [Comunismul fn Romania],
Bucure~ti, Fundatia Culturala Romana, 1994; lon Bucure~ti, Litera, 1994; Ion Nistor, The History of
Bulei, loan Scurtu, Romanians and Democracy Bessarabia [lstoria Basarabiei], Bucure~ti,
[Democra/ia la romdni], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1990; Humanitas, 1991; Ion Nistor, The History of
Paul Cernovodeanu, Bessarabia. The Drama of a Bukowina [Istoria Bucovinei], Bucure~ti, Humanitas,
Romanian Province in an International Political 1991; Andrei Pippidi, Romania of Kings [Romania
Context [Basarabia. Drama unei provincii romdne~ti regilor/, Bucure~ti, Litera, 1994; $erban Radulescu-
fn context politic internafional], Bucure~ti , Albatros, Zoner, Beatrice Marinescu, Bucharest during the
I 993; Eleodor F oc~enean u, The Constitutional First World War [Bucure$1ii in anii primului razboi
History of Romania [lstoria constitufionala a mondial], Bucure~ti, Albatros, 1993; Anton Ratiu,
Romaniei], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991; Nicoleta The Romanians East of the River Bug [Romanii de
Franck, A Victory Turned into Defeat. How Romania la est de Bug/, Bucure~ti, Fundatia Culturala Romana,
Changed from a Kingdom to a People's Republic [O 1994; $tefan Zeletin, The Romanian Bourgeoisie
infrfngere fn victorie. Cum a devenit Romania, din [ Burghezia romdnaf, Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 199 I ;
Regat, Republica Populara], Bucure~ti , Humanitas, and many more others.
100 IOI
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

compendium format, is definitely the best of hand, the disappearance of censorship since
1
its ki nd • A positive impact on the historical 1990 made it also possible for books of the
sciences was achieved with two excellent extreme right to be published. The tendency to
critical analyses of the Romanian extreme publish for an interested audience of mystical
right movements of the I 930s 2. On the other and occultist books has been very visible as
well.
Also available in English: Vlad Georgescu, The
Romanians: A History. Edited by Matei Calinescu. The third category of post-Communist
Translated by Alexandra Bley-Vroman. Epilogue by books is that of books by previously banned
Matei Calinescu and Vladimir Tismaneanu, Ohio Romanian authors, some belonging to the past,
State University Press, 1991.
2 others to more recent times. Nae Ionescu, the
Z. Ornea, The 1930s. The Romanian Extreme Right guru of the extreme right Iron Guard political
[Anii treizeci. Extrema dreapta ronuineasca],
Bucure~ti, Fundatia Culturala Romana, 1995; Leon movement during the 1930s, Radu Gyr, a
Volovici, Nationalist ideology and "the Jewish nationalist religious poet linked to the same
Problem" in Romania during the 1930s [ldeo!ogia party (an orthodox "fundamentalist", as we
na/ionalista # "problema evreiasca " in Romania would put it today), Mircea Vulcanescu and
anilor '30], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1995 (also others who had died in prisons and camps
available in English: Leon Volovici , Nationalist
Ideology & Antisemitism. The Case of Romanian
during the early Communist years are just a
Intellectuals in the 1930s, Oxford, Pergamon Press, few examples of authors of the past who were
1991 ). Two foreign studies on similar issues were banned from being reprinted. In same cases,
recently translated into Romanian : Andreas Communist prohibition focused on specific
Hillgruber, Hitler, King Charles (11), and Marshall books such as Mihail Sebastian's For Two
Antonescu [Hitler, Regele Carol $i Mare$alul
Antonescu], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1994 (the original Thousand Years [De doua mii de ani] (1935).
edition: Andreas Hillgruber, Hitler, Konig Carol und
Marschall Antonescu, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993 (the original edition: Francisco Veiga, La
Wiesbaden, 1965); Francisco Veiga, The History of mistica del ultranacionalismo (Historia de la Guardia
the Iron Guard 1919-1941. The Mystics of de Hierro) Rumanfa, 1919-1941 , Bellatcrra.
Ultranationalism [Istoria Giirz1i de Fier 1919- 1941. Publicaciones de la Universidad Aut6noma de
Mistica ultranafionalismului], Humanitas, Bucure~ti , Barcelona, 1989).
102
103
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

The book was prohibited before 1990 because Andreescu, authors of critical analyses of
it was openly discussing the Jewish problem, Communist Romania, were ·by no means
although other books by Sebastian, who was a permitted to go public with their essays or
1
well known representative of Romanian statements. They all did after 1990 • As well , a
literature between the two World \Vars, book like M. Nitescu's Sub zodia
continued to be circulated during the proletcultismului. Under the Sign of the
Communist decades. Since 1990, De douii mii Proletcult. The Dialectics of Power
de ani was reprinted two times 1• A similar case [Dialectica puterii] 2 , a study on intellectual
is that of Gib Mihaescu' s The Russian Young compromises with the Communist system
Woman [Rusoaica] (1933), a novel that turns written in 1975, . 1979, and 1988. It was
the image of a young Russian woman into an published only in 1995 . The author never saw
immaterial symbol. After having enjoyed six his manuscript turn into a book: he died in
editions until 1935, when Gib Mihaescu died, 1989, eight months before the fall of the
it was not allowed to be published at all under Communist regime.
the Communist regime. Since 1990, Rusoaica
was also reprinted several times 2 . In close connection with the preceeding
Banned were contemporary authors and category is the fourth type of texts in my
books as well. When they fell out of favour
with official government policy, professional 1 Gabriel Andreescu, Toward a Philosophy of
writers like Mircea Dinescu could no longer Dissidence [Spre o filozofie a disidenfei] , Bucure~ti ,
see their books published. Similarly, political Litera, 1992; Mihai Botez, Romanians about
Themselves {Romanii despre ei in$i$i} , Bucure~ti ,
dissidents like Mihai Botez or Gabriel Litera, 1992; Doina Cornea, Open Letters and Other
Texts [Scrisori deschise $i alte texte], Bucure~ti ,
Humanitas, 1991 ; Mircea Dinescu, Death Reads the
1
Mihail Sebastian, For Two Thousand Years. How I Newspaper [Moartea cite$le ziarul] , Bucure~ti ,
became a hooligan [De doua mii de ani. Cum am Cartea Romaneasca, 1990; etc.
devenit huligan], Bucure~ti , Humanitas, 1990; etc . 2 M. Nitescu, Under the Sign of the Proletcult. The
2
Gib Mihaescu, The Russian Young Woman Dialectics of Power [Sub zadia proletcultismului.
{Rusoaica] , Cluj, Echinox, 1990; etc. Dialectica puterii}, Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1995.
104 105
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFIER

schemata of contemporary Romanian culture. stations broadcasting in Romanian, especially


This type consists of works of exiled authors. the American Radio Free Europe.
A huge list of titles of this sort published since The links between exiled authors and their
1990 could easily cover many pages. Like all home public could therefore not be completely
Communist regimes - but tougher than most cut off. But the official interdiction to publish
of them in the rest of East-Central Europe - and even quote them in print nevertheless
the one in Romania automatically banned from produced a "forbidden zone", an important
publication each and every writer who left the absence in Romanian culture, a frustration and,
country for good. Even mentioning - simply in fact, a deep separation between the
mentioning - an exiled author in a critical Romanian literature within Romania and the
essay was not allowed. From the official point Romanian literature abroad. The gap was
of view, those who were leaving Romania frantically filled in after 1990 by an avalanche
were at first "traitors", and then ceased to of books by authors - literary and others - in
exist: their old books were taken out of public the "diaspora". First of all by Eugen Ionescu
libraries, their new ones were never published {tugene Ionesco), Mircea Eliade and E.M.
in their home country, and even their names Cioran, the best known Romanian writers in
were carefully kept out of the circuit, which the world, who emigrated before the
meant that - simbolically speaking - they were establishment of the Communist regime in
"thrown out" of their home literature and Romania; then by Paul Goma, known in
culture. Some - if not all - of them still Western countries as "the Romanian
enjoyed a wide popularity at home, if not Solzhenitsyn", Monica Lovinescu, Virgil
among the general public, then at least within lerunca, Dorin Tudoran, Virgil Nemoianu,
intellectual circles owing to their fame, be it Matei Calinescu, Toma (Thomas) Pavel, Ion
from either before or after exiling themselves. Negoitescu, Dumitru Tepeneag, Gabriela
And, in many cases, also owing to the cultural Melinescu, Lucian Raicu, Gelu Ionescu,
and political impact of their addresses to the Rodica Iulian, Oana Orlea, Bujor Nedelcovici,
Romanian people by means of foreign radio Vladimir Tismaneanu, loan Petru Culianu,
Emil Hurezeanu and many more. As far as
106 107
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Jon Bogdan LEFTER

their readership is concerned, their books sold the public needed very much in order to make
well in post-Communist Romania. Th~ works sense of what happened to them and to their
of Ionescu, Eliade, and Cioran were country. A remarcable reception in intellectual
extensively published by the same Humanitas circles was enjoyed by an American study of
house (which won their exclusive copyrights this type recently translated into Romanian -
for Romania): eight titles by Ionescu appeared Katherine Verdury's Compromise and
between 1990 and 1995, fifteen by Eliade, and Resistance. The Romanian Culture under
Ceau~escu •
1
eighteen by Cioran (plus reprints). Numerous
novels by Paul Goma, most of them based on
his experience as a political detainee in
Communist prisons and later on a dissident,
many of them previously published in France,
Germany, Holland, etc., revealed the rich work Contemporary Posterity. Short Waves III [ Poste-
ritatea contemporanii. Unde scurte lll] , Bucure~ti ,
of an excellent prose writer. A significant Humanitas, 1994; Monica Lovinescu, East-Ethics.
impact · was created by political essays Short Waves IV [Est-Etice. Unde scurte IV],
focusing either on the Communist regime as Bucure~ti , Humanitas, 1994; Vladimir Tismaneanu,
such, or on society and culture in a broad Condamned to Happiness: the Communist
sense 1• They were offering something which Experiment in Romania [Condamnafi la fericire:
experimentul comunist In Romdnia], Bra~ov, ASTRA
& EXO, 1991; Vladimir Tismaneanu, The Guillotine
1
Virgil Ierunca, The Pile$1i Phenomenon [Fenomenul Turned into Ashes [Ghilotina de scrum], Timi~oara,
Pite$li], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1990; Virgil Ierunca, Editura de Vest, 1992; Vladimir Tismaneanu, The
Romanian [Romane$le], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1991; Archaeology of Terror [Arheologia terorii],
Virgil Ierunca, Subject and predicate [Subiect $i Bucure~ti , Eminescu, 1992; Vladimir Tismaneanu,
predicat], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1993; Virgil lerunca, The Ghost of · Gheorghiu-Dej [Fantoma Lui
On the Contrary [Dimpotrivii], Bucure~ti, Gheorghiu-Dej], Albatros, Bucure~ti, 1995; etc.
Humanitas, 1994; Monica Lovinescu, Short Waves 1 Katherine Verdury, Compromise and Resistance. The
[Unde scurte], Bucure~ti, Humanitas, 1990; Monica Romanian Culture under Ceau$escu [Compromis $i
Lovinescu, Seismograms. Short Waves II
rezistenfa. Cultura romanii sub Ceau$escu],
[Seismograme. Unde scurte !I], Bucure~ti,
Bucure~ti , Humanitas, 1994.
Humanitas, 1993; Monica Lovinescu, The
109
108
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

3. Do thematic changes bring about distribution institutions and the quick "natural"
growth of private companies was the
new styles? immediate consequence of a new political
system which denounced any kind of
censorship and stated the absoluteness of
The whole cultural landscape (literary, freedom of expression. In addition to this
institutional, publishing) briefly described so development, the question I am interested in is
far takes into consideration only institutional whether literature itself, specifically poetry
changes within the Romanian post-1989 and fiction, underwent any similar change of
culture'. From this point of view, the year of discourse properties.
1989 is a clear landmark: everything that came According to appearances it did. The topics
after no longer resembled what was before. A and themes of some fiction considered to be
centralized and officially controlled domain representative of post-1989 Romanian
turned into a flourishing decentralized one literature read differently than those before.
based on private initiative and on competition. For instance, Ion D. Slrbu's novels, Farewell,
"Institutionalized" categories of books invaded Europe! [Adio, Europa!] and The Wolf and
the new market: more than anything else - the Cathedral [Lupul $i catedrala} (written
popular genres, thrillers etc.; but also political during the 1980s ), speak of the Communist
books, exiled authors a.s.o. Still , all these society in sharply critical ways (the author also
changes belong to or result from history. The died several months before the end of 1989) 1•
sudden fall of the old central publishing and So do novels by younger writers who tend to
be ironical and make a parody of what
1 happened under Communism, such as Caius
Also see English and American references like: Matei
Calinescu, Romanian Literature: Dealing with the
Totalitarian Legacy, in "World Literature T oday",
1
The University of Oklahoma, Spring 1991 , p. 244- Ion D . Slrbu, Farewell, Europe! [Adio, Europa!], 2
248; Virgil Nemoianu, Rebuilding an ethos , in "The vols., Bucure~ti, Cartea Romiineasca, 1992- 1993; Ion
Times Literary Supplement", No . 4650 , May 15 , D. Slrbu, The Wolf and the Cathedral [Lupul $i
1992, p. 8; etc. catedrala], Bucure~ti, Casa ~coalelor, 1995.
110 111
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

Dobrescu's Madhouse [Balamuc], Radu state of Romanian literature and the rethorical
Aldulescu's Accordion Sonata [Sonata pentru structure of its texts. The transformation of
acordeon} and The Lover of the Woman Who Romanian literature already happened during
Cooked the Funeral Wheat Porridge the 1980s, when a young, gifted, and critical
[Aman tu/ colivaresei], or Daniel Banulescu' s I generation of writers proclaimed the entrance
Kiss your Ass, Beloved Leader! [Te pup fn into a new cultural era of postmodernism.
fund, conducator iubit!j 1• They also break Tired of the neo-modernist formula still active
former taboos and use dirty colloquial at that time, they aimed at profound changes in
language or sexual descriptions. Even more poetry, prose, and essay genres toward free,
innovative seems to be Mircea Cartarescu's colloquial styles, often coloured by ironical
Travesty [Travesti], a short novel focused on a and parodical devices, with a multicultural
fictional experience of bisexuality 2 . perspective, and a predominance of subtle
textual constructions, therefore mixing popular
However, the fact remains that these texts and elite literary structures. At the same time,
and others of similar content and textual this powerful mutation had not yet completed
representation did not significantly change the its course when history intervened at the end
of 1989. Another deep transformation of
1
Radu Aldulescu, Accordion Sonata [Sonata pentru literary structures could not occur so soon.
acordeon], Bucure~ti, Albatros, 1993 ; Radu This explains why, on the one hand, most of
Aldulescu, The Lover of the Woman Who Cooked the remarkable books published during the last
the Funeral Wheat Porridge [Amantul colivi'iresei] ,
Bucure~ti, Nemira, l 994; Daniel Banulescu, I Kiss
six years were written by those authors who
your Ass, Beloved Leader! [Te pup In fund, had established Romanian postmodern
conduci'itor iubit!], Bucure~ti , Nemira, 1994; Caius literature during the 1980s, such as the poets
Dobrescu, Madhouse or The Pioneers of Space Mircea Cartarescu, Magda Cameci, Florin
[Balamuc sau Pionierii spafiului] , Bucure ~ti , Nemira, Iaru, Traian T. Co~ovei, Ion Mure~an, Marta
1994.
Petreu, Romulus Bucur, Alexandro Mu~ina,
2
Mircea Cartarescu, Travesty [Travesti] , Bucure~ti ,
Nichita Danilov, Mariana Codrut, Lucian
Humanitas, 1994.
Vasiliu, Calin Vlasie, Dan Stanciu, Gheorghe
112 113
The Romanian Novel A Guide to Romanian Literature - Ion Bogdan LEFTER

Iova, Gheorghe Ene, Cristian Popescu, fiction 1990s. They all belong to the same wide
writers such as Mircea Nedelciu, Gheorghe postmodern generation who started their
Craciun, Alexandro Vlad, Stefan Agopian, "revolutionary" work some time before the
Radu Tuculescu, loan Gro~an, Viorel political revolution of 1989 and have
Marineasa, Ioan-Mihai Cochinescu, Vasile continued their work ever since. However
Gogea, Mircea Pora, Bedros Horasangian and important the historical changes, they did not
Mircea Cartarescu again, critics and essayists in this case change literary discourses. This is
Andrei Cornea, Andrei Corbea, Luca Pitu, what I postulate as a case of asymmetry
Sorin Antohi, Dan Petrescu, Liviu Antonesei, between history and rhetoric. Political turning
Cristian Moraru, Monica Spiridon, Ion Simut, points may sometimes be cultural landmarks,
Mihai Dragolea, Radu G. Teposu, Stefan but not always. We may therefore state that the
Borbely, Mircea Mihaie~, and many others. links between history and rhetoric are loose
The youngest Romanian writers, now in their and unpredictable, which neither excludes, nor
late twenties and thirties, who published their necessarily implies a direct consequential
first books during the 1990s, have continued to relation. Asymmetries are always possible and
explore postmodern structures but did not it may well happen that a profound asymmetry
produce any spectacular changes of attitudes - like the one described in this quick panorama
and styles. This is the case with poets such as of six years of Romanian literature - were
Andrei Bodiu, Caius Dobrescu again, Simona "disguised" in a flourishing institutional
Popescu, Doina Tudorovici, Judith Meszaros, transformation provided by a post-totalitarian
loan es. Pop, Iustin Panta, as well as with cultural effervescence ...
fiction writers such as Ion Manolescu (author
of a funny book parodying the genre of the
American short story), Marian Ilea, Razvan
Petrescu, Rasvan Popescu, etc.
The number of writers mentioned above
suggests that a rich variation was brought to
the Romanian literature of the 1980s and
114 115
CONTENTS

Preface ......... . ............................ 5

The Romanian Novel. An Introduction .......... 9

Literature in the '60s and '70s.


The Experiment: A Separation from
Nee-Modernism (a typological
outline and a brief inventory) ........................ 55

Romanian Literature and the Publishing


Industry since 1989: Asymmetries between
History and Rhetoric ..................................... 85
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