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  • Life Writing in Full BloomThe Year in Romania
  • Ioana Luca (bio)

THE ROMANIAN POST-1989 LIFE WRITING CONTEXT

The recent literary scene in Romania has been characterized as swept by “an avalanche of biographies, journals, and memoirs” (Mihăieș 7), with this “spectacular resurgence” of personal diaries, journals, memoirs, and confessions “tending to take over the market” (Manolescu 7–8). Although Romanian confessional literature dates back to the early chronicles in the seventeenth century and the nineteenth century saw it flourish, traditionally life writing as a genre has been castigated (G. Călinescu), seen as a minor type, and defined as “frontier literature” (Iosifescu). However, in 2001, one of Romania’s most established literary critics dedicated a three-volume monograph to the topic, signaling renewed critical interest, while also stating that “for the time being … the personal diary still surprises us … and Romanian archives continue to offer important secrets as far as the biographic genres are concerned” (Simion 9, emphasis mine).

One could say that such a situation is very much in line with the international “memoir boom”; however, a more accurate understanding of the Romanian phenomenon points to the aftermath of communism (the early 1990s) as a watershed moment. This is when major publishing houses initiated book collections on the topic and engaged in a systematic “retrieval” of the past. As in other countries in the former communist bloc, the need for testimonial writing on suffering and injustice, a personal and/or collective urge to talk about a forcefully silenced past, as well as a need to reassess political figures or events, characterize post-1989 life narratives. As critics note: “First it was the retrieval of the censored past, [which was] either totally forbidden or truncated, distorted. This was followed by our terrible hunger for model biographies, [End Page 656] the hunger for [learning about] failed or fulfilled destinies—whether at the center, the margin or just in the hidden corners of history” (D. Mihăilescu, Literatura 10–11). Not surprisingly, the first volume of Romanian literature after Ceauşescu is dedicated to autobiographical writing or the past as rehumanization. In the introduction, Dan C. Mihăilescu, a well-known literary critic, states that when “trying to select some paradigmatic categories from the plethora of confessional books I have reviewed since 1990, the sheer number of titles and authors simply left me staggered” (11, emphasis mine). In light of the large number of studies on the topic, such a task is less daunting today than it was more than ten years ago; still, the amount of books or publications released on a yearly basis, as well as their wide variety, are definitely striking.

While translations of previously unavailable titles by foreign writers (fiction in particular) have dominated Romania’s book scene at large, it is texts by Romanian authors—past and present, at home or abroad—that have been in the foreground in relation to life writing in the last twenty-five years. The early 90s witnessed the publication of journals, memoirs, correspondence, or personal essays by previously banned personalities like Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Eugen Ionescu, Mihail Sebastian, or Constantin Noica; texts by these interwar intellectuals were joined by works of political prisoners (Nicolae Steinhardt, Ion Ioanid, Anița Nandriș-Cudla) or life narratives related to Romanian royalty. Forced or voluntary exiles like Monica Lovinescu (well-known from Radio Free Europe), leading contemporary intellectuals, former dissidents, as well as former party nomenklatura all took to writing autobiographical narratives and/or having their older personal diaries published. Thus, the first decade post-1989 focused mostly on the communist period and the interwar years, and offered the public much-needed texts, voices, and perspectives on Romanian culture unavailable before.

The early 2000s saw a slight change of direction, as both the time span and the autobiographical voices expanded. The lived present also became a subject of autobiographical narratives, and numerous texts started to straddle the post/communist divide and meticulously recorded “the transition.” While the life writing scene of the 1990s was mostly the turf of writers, philosophers, religious figures, and prominent public intellectuals, it became the turf of actors, directors, academics, musicians, journalists, and media personalities to reminisce...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 656-666
Launched on MUSE
2017-02-28
Open Access
No
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