Burying the Typewriter: Childhood under the eye of the Secret Police, By Carmen Bugan
Cherishing the keys to freedom in Romania's locked ward
Saturday 09 June 2012
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, life became ever more hellish for the people of Romania, with the Securitate (the very public Secret Police) asserting its malign authority in remote villages, provincial towns and the big cities. Every school or university classroom and every hospital ward had a photograph of Nicolae Ceausescu ("The Little Father") and his wife Elena ("The Famous Scientist"), with a faint smile suggestive of even fainter benevolence on their curled-up lips, prominently displayed. There was no escaping the grisly icon.
Carmen Bugan and her sister Loredana were born into an absurd society, in which typewriters had to be registered with the state and given identification numbers. Their father, Ion, became the owner of an Erika model, made in East Germany. He had bought it secondhand and neglected to have it checked by the authorities. It was on this machine that Ion wrote a series of leaflets, which he distributed in Bucharest, calling Romania's leader a criminal and urging the army, the legal system and the police to defend the rights of man. When he learned that the Securitate was intent on tracking down the offending Erika, he put it in a white plastic box and buried it at night in the back garden of the family home in Draganesti.
This beguiling memoir is reminiscent at times of the wonderful childhood autobiographies of Sergei Aksakov and Maxim Gorki. For Carmen and Loredana were blessed with loving peasant grandparents - one bunicu, Neculai, and two bunici, Anghelina and Floarea - who looked after them when their parents were trying to earn a living by teaching or managing a foodstore. The girls ate polenta, the staple dish of the poor, as well as such local delights as mushrooms and peaches. Neculai kept chickens and a pig to be slaughtered each year. The men and women waiting in line in the capital for stale bread and cheap cuts of meat had long been strangers to this simple luxury.
Before the real horrors began - with Ion being arrested, interrogated and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment - Mioara, his wife, gave birth to a boy to whom they gave the beautiful name Catalin. The Bugans were commanded to divorce and despite their reluctance were bullied into obeying. Hitherto friendly neighbours, hearing that Ion was in prison, insulted the family in the street.
Carmen sought consolation in books, feeling closest to the poets Eminescu and Blaga, both of whom are unashamedly soulful. As is Carmen Bugan, who writes glowingly of her grandparents' simple and principled Orthodox faith and of the religious lore they had inherited over centuries. Burying the Typewriter can be read as a heartfelt indictment of an evil political system, but essentially it is a book touched with grace - the grace of forgiveness, in no small measure, for those who were dragged into that system out of fear for themselves and for their loved ones. It is the more moving and powerful for being so quiet and thoughtful and for celebrating the riches of the natural world that are always there to celebrate.
Paul Bailey's novel 'Chapman's Odyssey' is published by Bloomsbury
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 2 Maisie Williams has an excellent message for one confused fan
- 3 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Tampon tax scrapped in Canada after petition convinces conservative government
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi's sex life
Big Brother 2015 new housemates: Simon Gross returns as stripper Marc O'Neill, model Harry Amelia Martin and X Factor reject Sam Kay join
Burning Man festival revellers accidentally torch prehistoric artefacts in Israel
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'