- Cultural Figures and the Biographical TurnThe Year in Romania
Life writing continues to be published steadily in Romania, although there seems to have been a slight decrease in titles this year. Even with the decrease in printed works, some diaries and biographies were bestsellers and attracted significant attention. In terms of thematic focus, the inquiry into the recent past (mostly the twentieth century, with the turbulent interwar years and the communist era dominating) via auto/biographical work, the lives of cultural figures, past and present, and stories of well-known Romanian exiles represent again, like in the previous years, the leading directions. Such continuity, which at times leads to predictability, is further reinforced by the publishers' portfolios, which feature specialized collections on various auto/biographical acts, or by the publishers' established authors who turn to life writing.
One of the most successful directions in Romanian life writing since 1989 has been the focus on the communist past: memoirs on the Romanian "Gulag," political detention, life during the "Golden Era" (the Ceauşescu years), and coming-of-age stories crossing over the post/communist divide have all been very popular. Evocations of this type are significantly on the rise in novels or theatrical productions these days as well, especially as leading publishing houses have been expanding the series dedicated to contemporary writers. My review maps the 2017–2018 crop by identifying two directions: life writing by cultural figures and the biographical turn, markedly present this year.
The publication of the fourth volume of Mircea Cărtărescu's diary, titled Un om care scrie: Jurnal 2011–2017, was a major literary event this year. Cărtărescu is not only the foremost contemporary Romanian writer but also the winner of numerous [End Page 132] distinguished international prizes, with books translated in over twenty-four languages. A professor at the University of Bucharest, he is also a strong voice on the national political scene, being a constant presence in the "#rezist" movement and the recent protests in Bucharest, for instance. Part of a well-established tradition of intellectuals who record and publish their lives, he acknowledges that his diary represents "pielea mea de rezervă … un înveliș magic, scriptural" [his spare skin … a magic, textual garb] that extends, in its fourth incarnation, to 600 pages. It is a dense read, abundant and heterogeneous, that takes us from a compulsive reader's reflections on countless books to thoughts on his own writing, reflections on Romanian political life, travel notes about book launches at home and abroad, episodes related to his international awards, dreams, writer's block, passing health issues, and much more. For this self-proclaimed addicted writer (394), the journal is not only a second skin, it also gives him direction and sustenance. This is not a sketch of the times he lives in, but rather a very reflective self-portrait—with amusing derisive physical or even intellectual self-depictions—that constantly focuses on his inner struggles. These mostly have to do with his anxieties as a writer—amplified by the condition of the writer who comes from the middle of nowhere—and his inadequacy to the almost apocalyptic present continually encroaching upon him. Having undergone from its very start a process of "literaturizare" (literarization)—because, as he tells us, "sinceritatea e un efect literar, unul dintre cele mai sofisticate şi mai greu de obţinut" [sincerity is one of the most sophisticated and difficult to achieve literary effects]—Cărtărescu's diary was written for publication (Tronaru). It is an aesthetically beautiful text and an integral part of his artistic oeuvre.
Almost at the opposite end from Cărtărescu's rich, lengthy, and meditative diary is Cum am trecut prin communism: Primul sfert de veac, the autobiographical recollections of the most published and successful contemporary historian, Lucian Boia. Boia has dedicated most of his books after 1989 to the demythization of Romanian history, and these have become landmarks in Romanian historiography, as well as bestsellers. An easy and charming read, Boia's autobiographical reminiscences trace his family genealogy and cover 1944 to 1967 (the first quarter of a century announced by the subtitle), i...