Our Romanian Riveter has a strong focus on a particular geographic location and is designed to celebrate Timişoara’s and the surrounding region’s prodigious literary output and great festivals. But in commissioning and editing the magazine’s content, I have developed a strong sense that location is a powerful influence on all the contemporary Romanian writing we cover in this edition.
I do mean location in terms of a sense of place – the way these writers communicate the atmosphere, and land- and cityscapes in which they live and create; but I also mean location in terms of the people that inhabit a place. The reasons why people live somewhere, the culture they bring to that place and, importantly, the places they have left, all leave their mark on the Romanian literature we present to you here.
As Andreea Scridon (herself a Romanian writer and translator) and Stephen Watts (the British poet and translator) discuss in their essays about our selection of poetry and prose from Timişoara, the city and the Banat region around it are a melting pot of languages and cultures, a place of shifting borders and mobile peoples. Herta Müller, Romania’s only Nobel Laureate for literature, is from the region’s Swabian, German-speaking population, whose history of migration, state-making attempts and subsequent deracination is shared with groups across the country. As we are ominously told in ‘Draft of a Requiem’ by Viorel Marineasa and Daniel Vighi, which relates the story of a family being forced off their land, ‘What happened to everybody happened to them too’.
While writing my review for the magazine of Herta Müller’s most recent novel in English translation, The Fox Was Ever the Hunter, I was struck by some- thing that has been articulated by our own Rosie Goldsmith in her poignant diaries from the revolution. The novel takes place in the city, Timişoara, but the countryside seems ever-present, and memories seem linked to rural locations. As Rosie discovered in the winter of 1989–1990: ‘Romanians [were] forcibly evicted from their farms and villages by HIM to live in concrete blocks in the city … they miss their cattle and chickens. It has ruined their lives.’
Indeed forcible eviction, exile and deportation mark several of the writers we cover in this edition. Playwright Matéi Vişniec claimed asylum in France, but his work, as demonstrated here by a play set in a Romanian ‘re-education prison’, still focuses on the reasons he had to leave his home country. The story of Ludovic Bruckstein is perhaps the most sharply marked of these dislocation tales. Bruckstein was a Romanian Jew, who survived Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and was then de-recognised by Romania as a writer because he moved to Israel. His later work might now reach Romania for the first time through the English translations being published by Istros Books.
There are other expatriate Romanians in the magazine, of course: Mihail Sebastian lived in Paris, poet Andrei Codrescu lives in the US and often writes in English, while crime writer E.O. Chirovici also wrote his bestseller, The Book of Mirrors, in English.
But with this magazine we hope we have taken you, our readers, on a journey too; a positive and productive one. The core of the magazine is the work of poets and prose writers from Timişoara itself. For many this is the first time their work has been published in English, despite being long-established and highly regarded in Romania. At a time when travelling is nigh-on impossible for most in the English-speaking world, we hope you have enjoyed your trip to Timişoara and to Romania as a whole, have feasted on the wealth of literature this city and this country have to offer, and will take home and cherish this Riveter as a souvenir of your Romanian tour.
By West Camel
Read The Romanian Riveter in its entirety here.