Saturday, 31 August 2013

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood under the eye of the secret police by Carmen Bugan

This is a memoir that lives up to all its publicity. Bugan is a poet and her writing transcends the two genres to create a lyrical account of her family’s life under constant surveillance in Ceausescu’s Romania.

There’s a chapter in the book called ‘The angel in bunica’s dream’ which describes the autumn day when the grapes had turned purple-plum-red and the author’s grandmother has a severe stroke. Bugan and her sister beg her to wake up – “Bunicuta mea, bunicuta mea – please come back to us, please come back to us.” The priest makes circles around bunica with the censer, anoints her with holy oil, blesses her with basil and holy water, and opens the book. He reassures the sisters that bunica Anghelina will wake up because the book has opened on the red writing. Bunica is in a coma for thirty days and does, indeed, awaken. When she does, she has a story to tell.

Sadly, the old ways that cling on, in the form of bunica and bunicu, are an anathema to the communist-era State that Bugan grows up in. At school, the children are taught the meaning of community. Sometimes, this means that, if one child is naughty, the whole class will get a beating. Other methods include alarming stories enriched with a moral purpose and compulsory ‘volunteer’ work after school. History is re-written to match the official version, as is the reality of their daily lives.

Bugan’s parents run a grocery store for a time and her knowledge of the inconvenient economic deprivations can’t be completely obviated by the regime – especially when you’ve got a father like hers. Although a loving parent, Ion Bugan has a long acquaintance with Ceausescu’s security services and prisons. He listens to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. Every night, he digs up a typewriter in his backyard and reburies it before morning. He goes for long drives and then, one day, he just can’t remain silent any longer. The consequences for himself and his family test the strength of all.

Burying the Typewriter manages to recall the dark days of the Eastern Bloc whilst simultaneously exuding the charm of childhood and the carefully sifted wisdom of an adult’s reflection on family. Being a talented poet, no review can adequately convey the beauty of Bugan’s writing – best you read it yourself.

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link:  Burying the Typewriter

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