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Thread: Norman Manea

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    Default Norman Manea

    Norman Manea: Fi-ISFj [Normalizing subtype (ISFj-INFj or ISFj-INTj) or Harmonizing subtype]; or Gamma NT (INTp or Ni-ENTj); or INFj





    Norman Manea: “Somebody said I’m uprooted, but with many roots. I am Romanian, I am Jewish, I am American . . . . I am a hybrid.”

    “The role of the writer in that [communist Romanian] society . . . was artificially enhanced. The writer was granted privileges and punishments higher than he deserved because the system wanted to buy in the artist and the writer . . . . Here we are in another system. I speak about America . . . . Here in this American society, you have, I think, today some 4 or 5 or even more Nobel laureates in literature here; you have some 40, 50 Nobel laureates in science. You have a lot of very valuable intellectuals. You will not find one taken into television and asked, ‘What do you think about the Iraq war? What’s your opinion about what is happening?’ . . . . And this is a good and bad side of how this society reaches a popular, trivial democracy: The intellectual doesn’t have a special role. He is as everybody is. And the great cultural star is a movie star.”

    “I like more Tolstoy in a way, but there are one or two books by Dostoevsky which are very much my favorite . . . . I also teach Kafka.”





    Norman Manea is the Francis Flournoy Professor in European Studies of Culture and writer-in-residence at Bard College. As a child, Manea was deported to Transnistria by the Romanian fascist government. In 1986, he went into exile from Ceauşescu’s dictatorship. Since arriving in the West he has received many important awards, and his work has been translated into more than twenty langauges.


    - from Captives by Norman Manea; p. 95-98:

    You went on gazing at the stranger—frozen, with his hand on his throat. You pressed your hand against the wall, hoping this could somehow save you, while listening to the galloping of a hostile future—that moved along the length of the cool corridor—the specter of an awaited, unwanted, unknown, beloved executioner from whom you did not know how to flee in time.

    You went on gazing at the stranger. You gazed long and far away, chased back into the mountains that kept refusing refuge.




    You will run toward the glass building. You’ll fling your jacket over the back of a chair. You’ll see if he’s alive, if he’s somehow still there—the man with the bandage around his neck that you spotted from a crowded bus. You were trembling, eyes wide with fright. You looked bewilderedly at the back of a blue shirt, at the wide strips of rustling tracing paper. You wanted to imagine and then absorb an image able to chase away the phantom that had sprouted in the bus window. But the recently hired engineer was there at his drawing board.

    He’ll be there, and you’ll be there on other mornings. You’ll talk and listen. And you’ll receive a ticket to the movies: the danger will come one step closer. You’ll have to comprehend everything that’s incomprehensible, everything that can’t and shouldn’t be understood. And you’ll only ask once, hastily and timidly:

    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    You won’t expect an answer. And there will be a movie theater, a summer afternoon, and on screen, the border area where the wanderer could no longer escape. Daily war stories flow from the movie screen: smokestacks of crematoria, skeletal bodies, nocturnal hunters, barbed wire, sentinels and executions, howls and hatred, beasts, eyes wide with fright: archives against forgetting, films viewed in respectful silence. The average moviegoer doesn’t want to know more about the war. The people who sit in the dark theater all the time want entertainment. There’s a sob, a squeal from a girl with a short skirt. Ravished in the dark hall, tonight she’ll expend the pain in the frenzy of some dance hall … When the girl quiets down, an old man dozing in his seat lets out a smothered cry—woken by the thundering of cannons that remind him of the mud of two forgotten wars.


    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    Blond, thin, and from another era, the boy on the screen looks at himself in the mirror of the well. His mother’s laughter suddenly bursts into the canon peal of water, and long, lonely horses eat apples by the seashore.

    The question went unanswered. Your date only wanted to know as much as those cinephiles of summer afternoons, gladly going to the waters of Lethe to forget. He had seen people buried alive and resurrected, detached from despair and hurled into depravity, impatient to touch each other, to rub against each other, to enter each other.

    Obsessed once, as he’d said—long ago, in an ancient and forgotten adolescence—by his own capacity for alienation, he’d dashed through his youth, inventing dilemmas and disquietudes for himself, gathering obsessions that could occupy his need to understand—what should be and what shouldn’t, what is and what isn’t—and he doesn’t want to know anything more about the war, he doesn’t want to know it. Words travel with difficulty, detouring around him so that nothing can reach him: slave to oblivion—which shames, humiliates, and soothes—its trophy and glory.

    How could he be like the other: the obsessed, the prisoner, and the master of memory, swinging in the past’s vertiginous pendulum, imprisoned by the ravaged waters of impossible forgetting?

    He’ll climb the stairs behind you on a summer evening. The door will remain open. Someone should close it behind him. His hand will seek the handle and he will pull, slowly, fearfully, as though anticipating an ambush. He’ll twist the handle till it can go no farther. The bolt should enter the slot unheard, the door should remain stuck in the frame. Almost closed … pulled slowly, the door nearly flush with the edge … yet powerless to finish the motion, aligned with the door-frame, noiseless, in perfect silence, without disturbing or awaking … tiptoeing, eyes lowered to the ground, fingers gripping the handle … don’t move too suddenly, don’t slam … everything should flow as silently as a dreamless sleep. Closing the door, the same way each time: frightened, cautious, with humility … startling at any sound of a slammed door, shaken by the first loud noise, by any powerful gesture. The humiliation of silence, the humiliation and habit of forgetting, the humiliation driven to the point of forgetting. Noiselessly, the door pulled, slowly, in terror, stuck to the wooden doorframe—an interrupted, unfinished, fearful gesture.

    You were waiting for a sign from the forever departed, still frozen in your memory so that you might be able to break the curse and detach yourself from the cold that belongs to him. Daughter, orphan—abandoned by whom? Unknown sister of which unknown man? Who squeezes his hands around his throat? Which stranger sends such unremitting alarms that pass hastily down the corridor of your expectations?

    You were waiting for a blue shirt. The forgetful passerby, the passenger in permanent haste and change, the wanderer zigzagging across soluble days, without participating and preserving, wandering in a foggy labyrinth and indifferent to where the serpentine pathway leads, docile and foreign to himself, moved by strangers that he’s able to instantly forget, as if he were actually the stranger, the other, elsewhere, in another’s dream … without parents, without brothers, incapable of keeping a sister.

    Your hands descend from the wall and wrap around your body. You belong to no one, and you’re for no one. Orphaned by yourself and by everyone else, you’re a solitary female in a tunnel of silence, crossing paths with them for just one instant. You feel the walls swell, enlarging to the left, to the right, wide enough to allow narrow shoulders through. A dead man’s daughter, prisoner of this death, you’ve delayed absolution, and been terrified by such a useless and drawn-out recovery. Discarded and forced to wait, the dead man is your mirror: he is apparently alive, resembling you and you resembling him, as if the resemblance isn’t another kind of death. Should you all be semblables, the likeness of each other, which is to say made the same, for you (the lone female) to die in the peace of resemblance, in its order, peace, and equality?—the identity frozen, the synchronized howls, a landslide united under the same mask? Let contraries and contradictions perish! Should you remain the daughter of the dead man and the sister of the one not yet alive? Should you draw them closer together under the cover of night? Why should you resemble them when death waits to make us all equal? Unless the dead are somehow trying to call us before the appointed time, unless, in his state of reconciled non-being, the dead coward can’t bear our pride, our living protest, the eulogy of our uniqueness born of solitude.








    - p. 102-5:

    There hadn’t been anyone. Not one person heard the cries of your pitch-dark terror. But day invaded. The illusion broke: light struck your eyes, amazed by this repeated, recognized dawn. You were the same as yesterday, punished by the long wait, the cold and endless corridor.



    Out of the stillness or disquietude of waiting, the red orb will follow the rotating ray. The advance opens purple curves onto the burned sky of stars and lights still-becoming: incandescent trajectories.

    That waiting was just the hesitation at the starting line, a premise that begins with possible death or liberation for other births and other deaths. The moment for movement had to come: for the blood or fire to become a red projection that gives birth to curves, spirals, serpentines, stairs, and steep trails for the hurried traveler heading toward nowhere. It had to come, for YOU are the mate, the partner, the second person who names the living or the dead, the dialog that separates and gives birth, the mobile point, a step away, a rest stop: you are THE OTHER, come to disrupt our sleep, attack our panic, you are isolation or indifference, the confirmation that we exist.

    They would have set out: the rotating spirals on which you must arrive at the moment, YOU, the change, the transition and transaction, the offering from somewhere remote, distant, and unknown, or from the unstable—doubling or dividing—self, from duality, or the choreographed special effects with which we contain ourselves, divide ourselves, make ourselves whole, fragment ourselves, multiply ourselves, and destroy ourselves.



    The one who dealyed would need to be punished in the end.

    He will go downstairs in the morning—the son of the earth will run toward any shelter where he can be alone and free. An ordinary morning: the mannequins, Mişa the comrade spy, then the exchange of calm, cretinous words, the rumble of typewriters, the rotation of upholstered doors, Sebastian Caba’s smile. From the neighboring workstation, you would continue stalking the fugitive, who couldn’t be stopped by you.

    He will meet the rain, crucified on the decayed wall, Christ-like among the ruins, exposed to pedestrians and patrols.

    Smiling, he was running away from your expectations, likeness and light, greedy for a violent and total gesture to shatter reality, the out-of-tune melodies of submission and hypocrisy, the deaf-and-dumb complicity of the suspects—finally ready to kill the grotesque caricature of the fat, needy, puerile dreamer and the places for senile caresses.

    The room of topsy-turvy objects, piano keys yellowed by blunt fingers, solemn candlesticks standing like telephone poles, jam jars near the towel stained with shoe polish, teaspoons choked with grease. Strange little creatures with five eyes and thirteen wings, oozing yellow liquids. In such a cell he will try to remember, but the past is without return. Pencils tipped with marmalade, socks wrapped around sugared rolls, needles perforating the pages of books, scores with sticky covers. He’ll pull a book off the shelf and find a knife blade between his fingers, he’ll move the chair and clay buttons will plop to the ground, he’ll look for the electric outlet and an alarm clock will ring, his hand will be swallowed by dust, and his shoulders will hunch as though weighted down with heavy armor. The fugitive will pound the walls to find out if the fruitless day isn’t just a mistake or some hallucination, if destiny has prepared the right place for crime and salvation.

    You know his story. You see him. You foresee him. You are the shadow that pines for betrothal.

    The stranger—the absent one trapped between the four hundred walls of a random cell (as among four or forty mute winds)—will be refused the answer left behind with the second person, the counterpart from whom he has fled.




    A summer morning, a vast marble staircase, a white screen catching the faintest glimmer of light … somewhere a dark corridor … somewhere, fragile windows continued rotating the light. The girl in the dream leaned on a wall somewhere, just as he had once leaned on the thick, rough tree trunk in the east of the plain. The encounter was announcing itself, finally: there, at the end of some infinite stairs, the victim awaited the end of the summer day. In the sunless tunnel, a hand had clutched the walls. Suddenly, a cheek appeared: impatience illuminated moist eyes. Then the blue shirt gleamed. The familiar rustle, smile, the momentary hesitation. It seemed he was remembering something. He stopped, came closer.

    —Won’t you come with me to the movies this afternoon?

    You understood: it was no longer the customary wandering among books and chimeras and questions without answers; it was no longer the circular residue of coffee in which you looked without the courage to pronounce the name of the expectation, in which you continued your precautionary wandering. You squeezed the ticket stub between your fingers. You were smiling, relaxed, as the chosen of the gods used to await the fulfillment of their foretold deaths. The death sentence should be fingered, fondled, ridiculed, chased away like a phantom, like a false storm, but the victim is smiling, the mistress of fatality. She’s the princess from a fairy tale, from a living and lucid dream whose finale will freeze the readers’ blood.

    You laughed, you joked, you dispatched words—that was the game. The palm of your left hand rubbed against the oily wall. The ticket fluttered between the trembling fingers of the other.

    The summer afternoon halted as the lights came down. Suspended hours, whitewashed air: windows open, the rooms seemed to float in the inertia of the day. In the silent corridor, a thin, elongated being with a white face and wide-open eyes floated freely, until swallowed by thin, aromatic winds.


    The new movie theater’s waiting room was high and long. Because of the burning heat, only a few people attended—many people were at the stadium or dancing in the outdoor cafes. Or perhaps it was because of the obscure Russian title of the film, or because it was about war, and somewhere else they were playing movies with romantic knights and beautiful ladies.


    Words had breathed their last that morning, so you took your seat mutely, glad to have nothing asked of you. Images flowed from the screen, so you couldn’t look at anything else: the mirror of the well, the bucket drenching the boy’s fair cheek, then the powerful, fresh-faced mother, laughing—the two of them momentarily reflected then blown apart by the explosion of water under the smoke of war. Little Ivan passed through the nights to the gentle purling of occupied rivers, his face increasingly fierce and aged. You gave a start without looking at your neighbor, who didn’t seem to react in any way.


    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    Your whispered words came out like a tremor. He didn’t reply. On the screen, the boy’s fair face eclipsed the darkness and silence, along with the long, sad horses eating apples down by the seashore. When the darkness dispersed, the audience rose, reconciled, ready for other stories.










    - p. 37-9:

    The key, the radio broadcast, the text, the tape recorder. The stair, the spiral, the doormat. Typed manuscripts and carbon copies and typewriters, deafening and annihilating, ubiquitous. Sebastian Caba, diplomatically asking the clerk to finish everything quickly. The hand around the throat and “can’t stand anymore”—period. Full stop. Stairs, streets, another room, cell, or birdcage.

    The stranger under the rain, standing on the street corner, with arms crossed—the prisoner of the moment, a challenging deaf-mute, a suspicious person, an outcast dreaded by everyone: the hurried passersby, parents, teachers, wives, lovers, stern mothers, aunts, sisters, neighbors, porters, police informants, office workers, and sadistic detectives. He abandons himself to the streets, hidden on the narrow metal staircase that curls in slow, serpentine spirals; the body follows the spiral of a point that trickles along the arc of a ray, rotated from a torrid center. The room: like the remains of a failed aeronautic expedition. The prisoner confused by the absent inhabitant’s stories. The birds, bird fanciers, forests, and the quail’s blurted chirping. Every gesture demolishes objects, heaps—avalanches; every step provokes crashes, touches sticky streaks, and upsets dust trails. Notebooks, books, scores, curtains, chairs, shoes, jam, cans, notebooks, buttons, books, teaspoons, hats, je suis un petit garcon de belle figure.

    Long limousines snake through the sickly fog, through the wanderer’s mind, and into a square in front of the school, while Miss Monica is invaded by rows of little lunatic barbarians slamming the limousine doors like cruel slaps. Long, official limousines, phantoms of comrades, intellectuals, and solemn, subservient drivers: officials who dizzy her mind like wandering ghosts.

    The guilty party—vagabond, improvised assassin, dime-a-dozen suicide—would have his movements recorded among bedtime stories for kids (tormented by Monica Smânănescu’s piano): three tender bullets, the sob stifled by poison, the death rattle of the strangled, suicide’s requiem, sung in the low voice of the black woman howling at the end of an afternoon.

    She, Monica Smânănescu, traveling the suicide’s mind, embodied, materialized under any mask … the guilty one banishes her now, trying to escape, forget. She, the third person, apt for the burdens of her inventor, is overloaded, used, and defiled every which way; enslaved to her role, subjected to terror, siphoning the burden from any character, the nicknames, the passions, the power—or precariousness, preposterousness, plunge, or promise—she: tenaciously dragging her special effects, her tormented acts of tenderness, encircling unknowns, heedless or caught unaware.

    The third person, inventing her language in columns of typed text, between missives, souvenirs, cries, sufferings aligned in the typewriter, in two or three of Covalschi’s copies. Satisfying her voracity for smells, stenches, colors, and falsettos, little red horns leap out of a word here and there. Her words: pleasantly warm, pleasantly plump, melding, mountains, Tibi, Dănuţ, Tudorica, damaged porcelain, consuming fire—the candy-pink flesh of words goes on multiplying predicates, modifiers, and adjectives in a broken ingestion of the grotesque, half-invented, perverse games, drained juices, the terror of autumn with its torturous classes, and the mute telephone; the trains keep running, letters stray toward one another, and the walls that enclose this space leaven and grow fat. Lady piano-teacher wishes to meet a kindred gentleman: I await a protector, a partner, a passing affair.

    Suddenly, a moment of numbness permits a brief revolt against her role, but the denial of ridiculousness dissimulates into its own acceptance—a double game, counter-rhythms resumed with the old cunning. The red crayon’s tip pecks at the sentences, dilating them, nudging them: the pain should be more pathetic, pedantic, zany, as these chance interlocutors and executioners expect. Her small revenge gives the illusion of momentary freedom as she exaggerates her grimace, sentiments, and stridencies to appear as a poor little girl: an idiot of thirteen or fourteen who has been asleep for twenty years, during which time her hair has grown, and her nails and breasts—all the while preserving the same immaculate heart, the same pure, idiotic, infantile mind.





    - p. 238-44 [Translator’s afterword (by Jean Harris)]:


    Even though Captives was written to appear in communist Romania, even though its characters are Romanian, and even though it passed through Romanian censorship, still, Captives is not only (or primarily) a novel about Romania, or the Holocaust, or communist dictatorships. It is these things, of course, but freed of the explicit by omission, Captives creates its own world and can be read on its own terms. It demands that we experience life in a world of things unsaid, which makes silence one of the “loudest” voices in the book. Deafened by silence, we experience captivity, and silence becomes the gadfly of protest.


    If silence is maddening, so are the implied and the tacit. They play games of “I dare you” and “now you see it, now you don’t.” At the level of conversation, Captives’ language is quicksand.

    The office spy, Misha (who is presumably in the pay of the Securitate), plagues our protagonist with seemingly inoffensive remarks. At one point they engage in the following non-dialogue:


    —I’ve been thinking, everything they’re saying about Kennedy is a bunch of shit. Robert, the brother, is hiding the photographs of the autopsy, and saying they’ll only be revealed in ’71 because they’re horrible?

    Unobtrusive voice, fixed gaze, astonished.

    —What exactly can be so horrible? If it was Oswald who shot him or the other guy, who cares? What’s so horrible?

    He asks and answers, poses and resolves dilemmas meant to provoke his interlocutor.

    —It’s clear that Johnson shot him. Otherwise, there’d be nothing horrible at all.




    What does the informer want his interlocutor to say? Something about the Kremlin’s responsibility for the Kennedy assassination? Whatever Misha says is untrustworthy, not least because it’s incomprehensible. It’s impossible to find the core of his remarks. Silence is the only safe response.


    At another point, the weakened, self-doubting narrator attempts to resign from his office job. His boss, Caba, meets this crisis with apparent cordiality, but Caba’s cordiality seems entirely suspect: “The old games of cordiality would have to be maintained at any price, along with the well-known lines of attack, defense, and encirclement. He knew how to engage the old laws of cordiality.” The most the protagonist can expect of Caba is the entrapping, famously “wooden” language of communist rhetoric: “This formerly eminent colleague should have been the light of his generation. Through what evil, unsupervised game have all those hopes and promising signs come to naught?” To answer these questions with their tacit threat of political risk (and possible prison) would amount to walking deliberately through a minefield. The only answer: silence or flight. Our narrator chooses flight. There’s more than that, though. The unwieldy, wooden question, which the narrator attributes to Caba in the first section of this novel, circumnavigates its true answer, which only becomes clear to the reader in Captives’ third section. The narrator has betrayed his potential to rise inside the system by damaging himself in the course of an initial game of rhetorical circumlocution at the show trial. His rhetorical swoops and dives rescue Caba and result in the destruction of his own mental stability, but the core of the two characters’ relationship remains painfully locked away from discussion. It hovers between them as a closed center around which they revolve.


    Ordinary communications aren’t what they seem either. A bedtime story submitted to a (then real) radio program for children holds fanciful and deliberately idiotic disguised messages about disappointed love. A love letter written in connection with an ad placed in the personal columns is a tissue of lies. Our protagonist’s parents’ communication with their son about a name for his new sister are implicit denials of the Transnistrian past—they insist that the boy cannot remember his murdered sister, whom he remembers perfectly well. The real center of each discussion and interaction is seen and unseen, shut away, so that all talk and action revolve around these “closed centers.” I use this term advisedly. It comes from the novel, and it belongs to a key figure: the trope of the spiral staircase. Romanian cities abound in winding staircases, and Captives’ natives ascend and descend them constantly. Here is the narrator going up stairs:


    The high iron gate strikes its latch; the narrow, serpentine, spiral staircase devours itself. Hand on the cold metal balustrade, the climber coils within himself. One flight up. Again, the steps rotate uniformly again in the shape of a fan: a point flowing at an even rate along the radius of a circle. Rotating evenly, slowly around the circumference, dizzied by the curved trajectories, the climber’s body turns in on itself toward a painfully closed center.



    Just as their feet make their way up and down so many twisting staircases, the denizens of this novel are forced to spiral around truths closed to (or enclosed inside) themselves by trauma, obfuscation, or denial.

    In this sense, Captives is a spiraling dance of sealed-off subjectivities. Although a dark bildungsroman can be dug out of Captives, the novel is actually organized as a chaconne, and indeed Handel’s Chaconne is Captives’ signature piece of music. When the narrator and Monica Smântănescu meet for the first time (on a boat or in a train), music pours from a portable radio, and Monica announces her presence by saying, “Handel’s Chaconne in G Major.” A dance in moderate triple meter form, the chaconne is based on the continuous variation of a series of chords. The musical definition describes the novel very well. Organized as a set of multifarious and evolving variations on a theme, Captives is composed of three chapters—“She,” “You,” and “I”—and follows a series of thematic modifications that includes (but isn’t limited to) its narrator’s resignation, differing versions of the narrator’s encounter with Monica Smântănescu, ruminations on the narrator’s obsessive relationship with Captain Zubcu’s daughter, as well as his preoccupation with both his own childhood loss of his sisters and his decision to save Sebastian Caba, the defendant at the show trial who becomes his boss. The She of these variations is, of course, Monica Smântănescu. You is the Captain’s daughter as a revenant of the narrator’s lost sister, Dona. I is the narrator. As for sealed-off subjectivities: to qualify as a main character in Captives, you must have your “I” / ego hermitically locked away, and this is not just a matter of a sensation felt on climbing stairs or comparing oneself to a jar in a novel by Thomas Mann. For the translator, the most striking feature of Manea’s three characters is signaled by their frequent lack of subject pronouns.

    While sparing subject pronouns in general, Captives is especially chary of the words she, you, and I. It should be said here that a lack of subject pronouns is both easier to accomplish and much less jarring to read in Romanian than it is in English because Romanian is a highly inflected language. Whereas English present tense verbs, for example, tend to inflect only in the third person singular (I go, you go, he/she/it goes, we go, you go, they go), Romanian verbs feature personal endings. The Romanian for the present tense of the verb “to go” (Eu merg, to mergi, el/ea merge, noi mergem, voi mergeti, ei/ele merg) has five forms for six “persons.” This means, in practice, that, thanks to the signal value of the verb endings, standard Romanian can be spoken without too many pronouns, and it can be written without them as well.

    The absence of pronouns ordinarily presents no special challenge for the translator. When translating standard Romanian into standard English, the translator simply supplies pronouns when necessary. Captives, however, presents a particular challenge. Manea’s narrator tends to reserve the subject pronouns she, you, and I for climactic moments when identity is an issue. At other times he takes advantage of Romanian’s ability to do without subject pronouns or finds ojective correlatives like “the professor of French and piano” or “the wandering son of earth” to substitute for the mysterious subjectivity condensed into an asserted she or I. In a similar way, the narrator tends to slip into the third person and to use objective correlatives—“the visitor,” “the orphan girl,” “that girl”—to avoid words like I and you.

    In this translation I have tried to cope with the author’s use and avoidance of pronouns on a case-by-case basis. In a few instances phrases have been rearranged to avoid awkwardness. A Romanian sentence that reads “In vain had [she] arranged her class schedule in order to avoid this insufferable courtyard motorcade,” has become “It was a matter of vainly having arranged her class schedule in order to avoid this insufferable courtyard motorcade.” In one case I followed the pronounless Romanian telegraphese to emphasize the narrator’s frenzied madness:


    Let him rattle for a moment or two. The visitor evidently feared a trap. What fun to watch him deal with Madam Professor’s husband! Farces leapt to mind: all equally good. It was hard to choose.

    —My sister told me about you, the madman finally remarked. Personally, I don’t live here.

    —Mhm. She didn’t write anything about having a brother.

    Should have seen that one coming. The end of the letter had been clear.

    —Make yourself comfortable. Perhaps you’d like to wait. Have a seat.

    Proceeded to pick a pile of the chair. Miscellaneous trash. Couldn’t find a place for it. Threw it on the bed.



    There is no way to write the English second person without using the word you, however, and I have simply used it when the narrator’s prose apostrophizes Captain Zubcu’s daughter.

    Readers not preoccupied with the blood and guts of translation and the differences between languages may see these final notes as technical details, and that’s as it should be. For any translator, what really matters is bringing the spirit of the writing into the new language. In this case, the language is swirling and mysterious, for Captives does not aspire to be a traditional novel. It expresses the dementia induced by the captive state. Part novel (verging on roman-fleuve), part musically inspired composition, Captives leads the translator to grapple with the text as fluid, polyphonic writing, for it includes many kinds of speech, nearly all of them unstable.


    JEAN HARRIS

    AUGUST 2014


    - p. 234:

    The characters’ chameleon-like self-invention and apparent lack of inner solidity comes of their having lived through the novel’s implicit backstory. Like Captives’s first readers, the people in this novel live in the knowledge that having been scorned by the Allies, Romania joined the Axis Powers and fought on the fascist side until August 23, 1944, when Romania’s young King Michael staged a coup that overthrew Marshal Antonescu, the fascist-allied leader. Disaster (and, for some, opportunity) came on the heels of heroism. The communists quickly ousted King Michael.



    - p. vii-ix [“Instead of an introduction” (by Norman Manea)]:

    Captives is of another place and time. It was published in the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1970, when the provisional so-called “liberalization period” was still confusing and misleading, and yet often encouraging to many artists and intellectuals. At about that time, unfortunately, Ceauşescu visited China and North Korea, where he became fascinated by the enthusiastic obedience of the “masses,” and upon his return he tried to impose a harsher totalitarian atmosphere back at home. Yet the hedonistic and self-centered nature of the people, as well as external evolution, slowly subverted his nationalistic socialism until its eventual collapse in 1989.

    Captives, my first novel, expresses a radical separation from official ideology, drastically departing from all that was heavily promoted and praised by the Party. And although many pages were cut by the censors, it still, by some miracle, appeared in print.

    The book’s three main characters are vulnerable, weak, and defeated individuals: the complete opposites of the heroes and heroines of the system’s exemplary novels. Thomas Mann’s statement in Death in Venice about weakness—“one might well wonder whether the only possible heroism was the heroism of the weak”—resonated powerfully with me at that time, in our suffocating impasse. These protagonists, connected through a spiral that weaves through three parts, represent complementary faces of captivity: the quasi-burlesque energy of a frustrated schoolteacher, never tiring of her hunt for new illusions despite their humiliating ends; the sensitive and lonely daughter of a suspected war criminal who has committed suicide; and her young colleague, an engineer who—seeing in her the ghost of his lost sister who perished during the Holocaust—brutally ends their brief affair. This young engineer who slowly comes to understand the perversity of this socialist paradise, becomes one of its wounded outsiders, just as the young woman has.

    To create this enterprise, I had to find an adequately unconventional and experimental literary form, and so I propelled these characters through spiraling, self-sufficient, minimalist narratives, each one as larval as our own lives spent pushing our ways through a police state of suspicion, reticence, and submission. I was deeply aware of the political and aesthetic risks such a book might pose: the novel offered a multidimensional contract to the Party’s leadership’s cosmetic image of the dynamic social “progress.” The book was a challenge to authority, to myself, and to the reader, but didn’t Faulkner say that a writer should be judged by the risks he takes, even if risks are conducive to failure?


    Sometimes adopting the heavily descriptive methods of the so-called nouveau roman, Captives also serves as a document of the epoch, depicting the manner in which a self perceives itself in language and is organized by language. How else can anyone escape from the wooden discourse of an ideological system?

    The passive voice, so important to understanding the book, is not routine in English, and the novel’s “hermeticism” was an imposing constraint, whereby the object of an action is influenced or even changed, without the voice necessarily pointing to a certain subject that has caused the action. The broken characters are subdued, suspected, and distorted by obscure forces.

    I strove to push the reader into a kind of implicit solidarity with my characters, through a labyrinth of twisted narratives, still organic to life in an oppressive environment. As usually happens in a suppressed society, the hidden sides of reality are decoded slowly, displaying their meaning only toward the end of the book, where—I hope—the connections and enigmas open up. Lack of freedom of choice in a country where the State is the only employer, and where citizens are owned by it, endangers any individual refuge. My world here is a kind of Kafkaesque “penal colony” with additional local ambiguities, corruption, double-talk, and double-dealing.

    By now it must be obvious why I have been somewhat reluctant to publish this book here. Already more than twenty years have passed since my friends Barbara Epler and Griselda Ohannessian decided to bring out Captives at the earliest possible convenience of the author, and in the meantime New Directions has remained admirably convinced about the project (or perhaps about the essential and heroic role of a good publisher, ready for “difficult” books, even in a time when writing and publishing seem quite endangered everywhere in the world). In my newly published twenty-five-volume Collected Works in Romania, I found the opportunity to revisit this novel, making some minor changes and cuts in order to—at least partially—decode the sometimes overwhelmingly puzzling text, with its allusions and tricks, and its specific blind alleys. I have tried to help today’s readers, in the West and even in Romania, to thread the maze of a narrative placed in a closed, totalitarian setting. This English translation follows the second edition of Captives.

    Aware of the new risks this book faces, now, in my new country and in this troubled time of ours, I can only be grateful to my consistently supportive publisher, and also to Tynan Kogane, my editor, to my excellent translator, Jean Harris, and to my collaborator Carla Baricz.

    Let’s also trust the patient reader, our peerless peer, who might discover in these pages a reason to think about the strange topics as well as the curious shapes of such a literary adventure.


    NORMAN MANEA

    BARD COLLEGE, AUGUST 23, 2014




    - from book flap:

    Captives, the acclaimed writer Norman Manea’s first novel, is a fascinating, kaleidoscopic, and imaginative look into postwar Romania. Divided into three sections—narrated in first-, second-, and third-person voices—Captives explores the lives of several defeated characters as they become almost too much to bear under the weight of endless humiliations: loss of identity, trauma of having survived the Second World War, and submission to the totalitarian state.

    This is a moving account of a country shaken by communism and anti-Semitism and haunted by recent atrocities, from “a distinguished writer whose vision of totalitarianism is close to Kafka’s cloudy menace, universal, yet internalized” (Richard Eder, The New York Times).
















    Norman Manea: “Somebody said I’m uprooted, but with many roots. I am Romanian, I am Jewish, I am American . . . . I am a hybrid.”

    “The role of the writer in that [communist Romanian] society . . . was artificially enhanced. The writer was granted privileges and punishments higher than he deserved because the system wanted to buy in the artist and the writer . . . . Here we are in another system. I speak about America . . . . Here in this American society, you have, I think, today some 4 or 5 or even more Nobel laureates in literature here; you have some 40, 50 Nobel laureates in science. You have a lot of very valuable intellectuals. You will not find one taken into television and asked, ‘What do you think about the Iraq war? What’s your opinion about what is happening?’ . . . . And this is a good and bad side of how this society reaches a popular, trivial democracy: The intellectual doesn’t have a special role. He is as everybody is. And the great cultural star is a movie star.”

    “I like more Tolstoy in a way, but there are one or two books by Dostoevsky which are very much my favorite . . . . I also teach Kafka.”






    Norman Manea is the Francis Flournoy Professor in European Studies of Culture and writer-in-residence at Bard College. As a child, Manea was deported to Transnistria by the Romanian fascist government. In 1986, he went into exile from Ceauşescu’s dictatorship. Since arriving in the West he has received many important awards, and his work has been translated into more than twenty langauges.






    - from Captives by Norman Manea; p. 95-98:

    You went on gazing at the stranger—frozen, with his hand on his throat. You pressed your hand against the wall, hoping this could somehow save you, while listening to the galloping of a hostile future—that moved along the length of the cool corridor—the specter of an awaited, unwanted, unknown, beloved executioner from whom you did not know how to flee in time.

    You went on gazing at the stranger. You gazed long and far away, chased back into the mountains that kept refusing refuge.




    You will run toward the glass building. You’ll fling your jacket over the back of a chair. You’ll see if he’s alive, if he’s somehow still there—the man with the bandage around his neck that you spotted from a crowded bus. You were trembling, eyes wide with fright. You looked bewilderedly at the back of a blue shirt, at the wide strips of rustling tracing paper. You wanted to imagine and then absorb an image able to chase away the phantom that had sprouted in the bus window. But the recently hired engineer was there at his drawing board.

    He’ll be there, and you’ll be there on other mornings. You’ll talk and listen. And you’ll receive a ticket to the movies: the danger will come one step closer. You’ll have to comprehend everything that’s incomprehensible, everything that can’t and shouldn’t be understood. And you’ll only ask once, hastily and timidly:

    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    You won’t expect an answer. And there will be a movie theater, a summer afternoon, and on screen, the border area where the wanderer could no longer escape. Daily war stories flow from the movie screen: smokestacks of crematoria, skeletal bodies, nocturnal hunters, barbed wire, sentinels and executions, howls and hatred, beasts, eyes wide with fright: archives against forgetting, films viewed in respectful silence. The average moviegoer doesn’t want to know more about the war. The people who sit in the dark theater all the time want entertainment. There’s a sob, a squeal from a girl with a short skirt. Ravished in the dark hall, tonight she’ll expend the pain in the frenzy of some dance hall … When the girl quiets down, an old man dozing in his seat lets out a smothered cry—woken by the thundering of cannons that remind him of the mud of two forgotten wars.


    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    Blond, thin, and from another era, the boy on the screen looks at himself in the mirror of the well. His mother’s laughter suddenly bursts into the canon peal of water, and long, lonely horses eat apples by the seashore.

    The question went unanswered. Your date only wanted to know as much as those cinephiles of summer afternoons, gladly going to the waters of Lethe to forget. He had seen people buried alive and resurrected, detached from despair and hurled into depravity, impatient to touch each other, to rub against each other, to enter each other.

    Obsessed once, as he’d said—long ago, in an ancient and forgotten adolescence—by his own capacity for alienation, he’d dashed through his youth, inventing dilemmas and disquietudes for himself, gathering obsessions that could occupy his need to understand—what should be and what shouldn’t, what is and what isn’t—and he doesn’t want to know anything more about the war, he doesn’t want to know it. Words travel with difficulty, detouring around him so that nothing can reach him: slave to oblivion—which shames, humiliates, and soothes—its trophy and glory.

    How could he be like the other: the obsessed, the prisoner, and the master of memory, swinging in the past’s vertiginous pendulum, imprisoned by the ravaged waters of impossible forgetting?

    He’ll climb the stairs behind you on a summer evening. The door will remain open. Someone should close it behind him. His hand will seek the handle and he will pull, slowly, fearfully, as though anticipating an ambush. He’ll twist the handle till it can go no farther. The bolt should enter the slot unheard, the door should remain stuck in the frame. Almost closed … pulled slowly, the door nearly flush with the edge … yet powerless to finish the motion, aligned with the door-frame, noiseless, in perfect silence, without disturbing or awaking … tiptoeing, eyes lowered to the ground, fingers gripping the handle … don’t move too suddenly, don’t slam … everything should flow as silently as a dreamless sleep. Closing the door, the same way each time: frightened, cautious, with humility … startling at any sound of a slammed door, shaken by the first loud noise, by any powerful gesture. The humiliation of silence, the humiliation and habit of forgetting, the humiliation driven to the point of forgetting. Noiselessly, the door pulled, slowly, in terror, stuck to the wooden doorframe—an interrupted, unfinished, fearful gesture.

    You were waiting for a sign from the forever departed, still frozen in your memory so that you might be able to break the curse and detach yourself from the cold that belongs to him. Daughter, orphan—abandoned by whom? Unknown sister of which unknown man? Who squeezes his hands around his throat? Which stranger sends such unremitting alarms that pass hastily down the corridor of your expectations?

    You were waiting for a blue shirt. The forgetful passerby, the passenger in permanent haste and change, the wanderer zigzagging across soluble days, without participating and preserving, wandering in a foggy labyrinth and indifferent to where the serpentine pathway leads, docile and foreign to himself, moved by strangers that he’s able to instantly forget, as if he were actually the stranger, the other, elsewhere, in another’s dream … without parents, without brothers, incapable of keeping a sister.

    Your hands descend from the wall and wrap around your body. You belong to no one, and you’re for no one. Orphaned by yourself and by everyone else, you’re a solitary female in a tunnel of silence, crossing paths with them for just one instant. You feel the walls swell, enlarging to the left, to the right, wide enough to allow narrow shoulders through. A dead man’s daughter, prisoner of this death, you’ve delayed absolution, and been terrified by such a useless and drawn-out recovery. Discarded and forced to wait, the dead man is your mirror: he is apparently alive, resembling you and you resembling him, as if the resemblance isn’t another kind of death. Should you all be semblables, the likeness of each other, which is to say made the same, for you (the lone female) to die in the peace of resemblance, in its order, peace, and equality?—the identity frozen, the synchronized howls, a landslide united under the same mask? Let contraries and contradictions perish! Should you remain the daughter of the dead man and the sister of the one not yet alive? Should you draw them closer together under the cover of night? Why should you resemble them when death waits to make us all equal? Unless the dead are somehow trying to call us before the appointed time, unless, in his state of reconciled non-being, the dead coward can’t bear our pride, our living protest, the eulogy of our uniqueness born of solitude.








    - p. 102-5:

    There hadn’t been anyone. Not one person heard the cries of your pitch-dark terror. But day invaded. The illusion broke: light struck your eyes, amazed by this repeated, recognized dawn. You were the same as yesterday, punished by the long wait, the cold and endless corridor.



    Out of the stillness or disquietude of waiting, the red orb will follow the rotating ray. The advance opens purple curves onto the burned sky of stars and lights still-becoming: incandescent trajectories.

    That waiting was just the hesitation at the starting line, a premise that begins with possible death or liberation for other births and other deaths. The moment for movement had to come: for the blood or fire to become a red projection that gives birth to curves, spirals, serpentines, stairs, and steep trails for the hurried traveler heading toward nowhere. It had to come, for YOU are the mate, the partner, the second person who names the living or the dead, the dialog that separates and gives birth, the mobile point, a step away, a rest stop: you are THE OTHER, come to disrupt our sleep, attack our panic, you are isolation or indifference, the confirmation that we exist.

    They would have set out: the rotating spirals on which you must arrive at the moment, YOU, the change, the transition and transaction, the offering from somewhere remote, distant, and unknown, or from the unstable—doubling or dividing—self, from duality, or the choreographed special effects with which we contain ourselves, divide ourselves, make ourselves whole, fragment ourselves, multiply ourselves, and destroy ourselves.



    The one who dealyed would need to be punished in the end.

    He will go downstairs in the morning—the son of the earth will run toward any shelter where he can be alone and free. An ordinary morning: the mannequins, Mişa the comrade spy, then the exchange of calm, cretinous words, the rumble of typewriters, the rotation of upholstered doors, Sebastian Caba’s smile. From the neighboring workstation, you would continue stalking the fugitive, who couldn’t be stopped by you.

    He will meet the rain, crucified on the decayed wall, Christ-like among the ruins, exposed to pedestrians and patrols.

    Smiling, he was running away from your expectations, likeness and light, greedy for a violent and total gesture to shatter reality, the out-of-tune melodies of submission and hypocrisy, the deaf-and-dumb complicity of the suspects—finally ready to kill the grotesque caricature of the fat, needy, puerile dreamer and the places for senile caresses.

    The room of topsy-turvy objects, piano keys yellowed by blunt fingers, solemn candlesticks standing like telephone poles, jam jars near the towel stained with shoe polish, teaspoons choked with grease. Strange little creatures with five eyes and thirteen wings, oozing yellow liquids. In such a cell he will try to remember, but the past is without return. Pencils tipped with marmalade, socks wrapped around sugared rolls, needles perforating the pages of books, scores with sticky covers. He’ll pull a book off the shelf and find a knife blade between his fingers, he’ll move the chair and clay buttons will plop to the ground, he’ll look for the electric outlet and an alarm clock will ring, his hand will be swallowed by dust, and his shoulders will hunch as though weighted down with heavy armor. The fugitive will pound the walls to find out if the fruitless day isn’t just a mistake or some hallucination, if destiny has prepared the right place for crime and salvation.

    You know his story. You see him. You foresee him. You are the shadow that pines for betrothal.

    The stranger—the absent one trapped between the four hundred walls of a random cell (as among four or forty mute winds)—will be refused the answer left behind with the second person, the counterpart from whom he has fled.




    A summer morning, a vast marble staircase, a white screen catching the faintest glimmer of light … somewhere a dark corridor … somewhere, fragile windows continued rotating the light. The girl in the dream leaned on a wall somewhere, just as he had once leaned on the thick, rough tree trunk in the east of the plain. The encounter was announcing itself, finally: there, at the end of some infinite stairs, the victim awaited the end of the summer day. In the sunless tunnel, a hand had clutched the walls. Suddenly, a cheek appeared: impatience illuminated moist eyes. Then the blue shirt gleamed. The familiar rustle, smile, the momentary hesitation. It seemed he was remembering something. He stopped, came closer.

    —Won’t you come with me to the movies this afternoon?

    You understood: it was no longer the customary wandering among books and chimeras and questions without answers; it was no longer the circular residue of coffee in which you looked without the courage to pronounce the name of the expectation, in which you continued your precautionary wandering. You squeezed the ticket stub between your fingers. You were smiling, relaxed, as the chosen of the gods used to await the fulfillment of their foretold deaths. The death sentence should be fingered, fondled, ridiculed, chased away like a phantom, like a false storm, but the victim is smiling, the mistress of fatality. She’s the princess from a fairy tale, from a living and lucid dream whose finale will freeze the readers’ blood.

    You laughed, you joked, you dispatched words—that was the game. The palm of your left hand rubbed against the oily wall. The ticket fluttered between the trembling fingers of the other.

    The summer afternoon halted as the lights came down. Suspended hours, whitewashed air: windows open, the rooms seemed to float in the inertia of the day. In the silent corridor, a thin, elongated being with a white face and wide-open eyes floated freely, until swallowed by thin, aromatic winds.


    The new movie theater’s waiting room was high and long. Because of the burning heat, only a few people attended—many people were at the stadium or dancing in the outdoor cafes. Or perhaps it was because of the obscure Russian title of the film, or because it was about war, and somewhere else they were playing movies with romantic knights and beautiful ladies.


    Words had breathed their last that morning, so you took your seat mutely, glad to have nothing asked of you. Images flowed from the screen, so you couldn’t look at anything else: the mirror of the well, the bucket drenching the boy’s fair cheek, then the powerful, fresh-faced mother, laughing—the two of them momentarily reflected then blown apart by the explosion of water under the smoke of war. Little Ivan passed through the nights to the gentle purling of occupied rivers, his face increasingly fierce and aged. You gave a start without looking at your neighbor, who didn’t seem to react in any way.


    —You were a child during the war, weren’t you?

    Your whispered words came out like a tremor. He didn’t reply. On the screen, the boy’s fair face eclipsed the darkness and silence, along with the long, sad horses eating apples down by the seashore. When the darkness dispersed, the audience rose, reconciled, ready for other stories.










    - p. 37-9:

    The key, the radio broadcast, the text, the tape recorder. The stair, the spiral, the doormat. Typed manuscripts and carbon copies and typewriters, deafening and annihilating, ubiquitous. Sebastian Caba, diplomatically asking the clerk to finish everything quickly. The hand around the throat and “can’t stand anymore”—period. Full stop. Stairs, streets, another room, cell, or birdcage.

    The stranger under the rain, standing on the street corner, with arms crossed—the prisoner of the moment, a challenging deaf-mute, a suspicious person, an outcast dreaded by everyone: the hurried passersby, parents, teachers, wives, lovers, stern mothers, aunts, sisters, neighbors, porters, police informants, office workers, and sadistic detectives. He abandons himself to the streets, hidden on the narrow metal staircase that curls in slow, serpentine spirals; the body follows the spiral of a point that trickles along the arc of a ray, rotated from a torrid center. The room: like the remains of a failed aeronautic expedition. The prisoner confused by the absent inhabitant’s stories. The birds, bird fanciers, forests, and the quail’s blurted chirping. Every gesture demolishes objects, heaps—avalanches; every step provokes crashes, touches sticky streaks, and upsets dust trails. Notebooks, books, scores, curtains, chairs, shoes, jam, cans, notebooks, buttons, books, teaspoons, hats, je suis un petit garcon de belle figure.

    Long limousines snake through the sickly fog, through the wanderer’s mind, and into a square in front of the school, while Miss Monica is invaded by rows of little lunatic barbarians slamming the limousine doors like cruel slaps. Long, official limousines, phantoms of comrades, intellectuals, and solemn, subservient drivers: officials who dizzy her mind like wandering ghosts.

    The guilty party—vagabond, improvised assassin, dime-a-dozen suicide—would have his movements recorded among bedtime stories for kids (tormented by Monica Smânănescu’s piano): three tender bullets, the sob stifled by poison, the death rattle of the strangled, suicide’s requiem, sung in the low voice of the black woman howling at the end of an afternoon.

    She, Monica Smânănescu, traveling the suicide’s mind, embodied, materialized under any mask … the guilty one banishes her now, trying to escape, forget. She, the third person, apt for the burdens of her inventor, is overloaded, used, and defiled every which way; enslaved to her role, subjected to terror, siphoning the burden from any character, the nicknames, the passions, the power—or precariousness, preposterousness, plunge, or promise—she: tenaciously dragging her special effects, her tormented acts of tenderness, encircling unknowns, heedless or caught unaware.

    The third person, inventing her language in columns of typed text, between missives, souvenirs, cries, sufferings aligned in the typewriter, in two or three of Covalschi’s copies. Satisfying her voracity for smells, stenches, colors, and falsettos, little red horns leap out of a word here and there. Her words: pleasantly warm, pleasantly plump, melding, mountains, Tibi, Dănuţ, Tudorica, damaged porcelain, consuming fire—the candy-pink flesh of words goes on multiplying predicates, modifiers, and adjectives in a broken ingestion of the grotesque, half-invented, perverse games, drained juices, the terror of autumn with its torturous classes, and the mute telephone; the trains keep running, letters stray toward one another, and the walls that enclose this space leaven and grow fat. Lady piano-teacher wishes to meet a kindred gentleman: I await a protector, a partner, a passing affair.

    Suddenly, a moment of numbness permits a brief revolt against her role, but the denial of ridiculousness dissimulates into its own acceptance—a double game, counter-rhythms resumed with the old cunning. The red crayon’s tip pecks at the sentences, dilating them, nudging them: the pain should be more pathetic, pedantic, zany, as these chance interlocutors and executioners expect. Her small revenge gives the illusion of momentary freedom as she exaggerates her grimace, sentiments, and stridencies to appear as a poor little girl: an idiot of thirteen or fourteen who has been asleep for twenty years, during which time her hair has grown, and her nails and breasts—all the while preserving the same immaculate heart, the same pure, idiotic, infantile mind.





    - p. 238-44 [Translator’s afterword (by Jean Harris)]:


    Even though Captives was written to appear in communist Romania, even though its characters are Romanian, and even though it passed through Romanian censorship, still, Captives is not only (or primarily) a novel about Romania, or the Holocaust, or communist dictatorships. It is these things, of course, but freed of the explicit by omission, Captives creates its own world and can be read on its own terms. It demands that we experience life in a world of things unsaid, which makes silence one of the “loudest” voices in the book. Deafened by silence, we experience captivity, and silence becomes the gadfly of protest.


    If silence is maddening, so are the implied and the tacit. They play games of “I dare you” and “now you see it, now you don’t.” At the level of conversation, Captives’ language is quicksand.

    The office spy, Misha (who is presumably in the pay of the Securitate), plagues our protagonist with seemingly inoffensive remarks. At one point they engage in the following non-dialogue:


    —I’ve been thinking, everything they’re saying about Kennedy is a bunch of shit. Robert, the brother, is hiding the photographs of the autopsy, and saying they’ll only be revealed in ’71 because they’re horrible?

    Unobtrusive voice, fixed gaze, astonished.

    —What exactly can be so horrible? If it was Oswald who shot him or the other guy, who cares? What’s so horrible?

    He asks and answers, poses and resolves dilemmas meant to provoke his interlocutor.

    —It’s clear that Johnson shot him. Otherwise, there’d be nothing horrible at all.




    What does the informer want his interlocutor to say? Something about the Kremlin’s responsibility for the Kennedy assassination? Whatever Misha says is untrustworthy, not least because it’s incomprehensible. It’s impossible to find the core of his remarks. Silence is the only safe response.


    At another point, the weakened, self-doubting narrator attempts to resign from his office job. His boss, Caba, meets this crisis with apparent cordiality, but Caba’s cordiality seems entirely suspect: “The old games of cordiality would have to be maintained at any price, along with the well-known lines of attack, defense, and encirclement. He knew how to engage the old laws of cordiality.” The most the protagonist can expect of Caba is the entrapping, famously “wooden” language of communist rhetoric: “This formerly eminent colleague should have been the light of his generation. Through what evil, unsupervised game have all those hopes and promising signs come to naught?” To answer these questions with their tacit threat of political risk (and possible prison) would amount to walking deliberately through a minefield. The only answer: silence or flight. Our narrator chooses flight. There’s more than that, though. The unwieldy, wooden question, which the narrator attributes to Caba in the first section of this novel, circumnavigates its true answer, which only becomes clear to the reader in Captives’ third section. The narrator has betrayed his potential to rise inside the system by damaging himself in the course of an initial game of rhetorical circumlocution at the show trial. His rhetorical swoops and dives rescue Caba and result in the destruction of his own mental stability, but the core of the two characters’ relationship remains painfully locked away from discussion. It hovers between them as a closed center around which they revolve.


    Ordinary communications aren’t what they seem either. A bedtime story submitted to a (then real) radio program for children holds fanciful and deliberately idiotic disguised messages about disappointed love. A love letter written in connection with an ad placed in the personal columns is a tissue of lies. Our protagonist’s parents’ communication with their son about a name for his new sister are implicit denials of the Transnistrian past—they insist that the boy cannot remember his murdered sister, whom he remembers perfectly well. The real center of each discussion and interaction is seen and unseen, shut away, so that all talk and action revolve around these “closed centers.” I use this term advisedly. It comes from the novel, and it belongs to a key figure: the trope of the spiral staircase. Romanian cities abound in winding staircases, and Captives’ natives ascend and descend them constantly. Here is the narrator going up stairs:


    The high iron gate strikes its latch; the narrow, serpentine, spiral staircase devours itself. Hand on the cold metal balustrade, the climber coils within himself. One flight up. Again, the steps rotate uniformly again in the shape of a fan: a point flowing at an even rate along the radius of a circle. Rotating evenly, slowly around the circumference, dizzied by the curved trajectories, the climber’s body turns in on itself toward a painfully closed center.



    Just as their feet make their way up and down so many twisting staircases, the denizens of this novel are forced to spiral around truths closed to (or enclosed inside) themselves by trauma, obfuscation, or denial.

    In this sense, Captives is a spiraling dance of sealed-off subjectivities. Although a dark bildungsroman can be dug out of Captives, the novel is actually organized as a chaconne, and indeed Handel’s Chaconne is Captives’ signature piece of music. When the narrator and Monica Smântănescu meet for the first time (on a boat or in a train), music pours from a portable radio, and Monica announces her presence by saying, “Handel’s Chaconne in G Major.” A dance in moderate triple meter form, the chaconne is based on the continuous variation of a series of chords. The musical definition describes the novel very well. Organized as a set of multifarious and evolving variations on a theme, Captives is composed of three chapters—“She,” “You,” and “I”—and follows a series of thematic modifications that includes (but isn’t limited to) its narrator’s resignation, differing versions of the narrator’s encounter with Monica Smântănescu, ruminations on the narrator’s obsessive relationship with Captain Zubcu’s daughter, as well as his preoccupation with both his own childhood loss of his sisters and his decision to save Sebastian Caba, the defendant at the show trial who becomes his boss. The She of these variations is, of course, Monica Smântănescu. You is the Captain’s daughter as a revenant of the narrator’s lost sister, Dona. I is the narrator. As for sealed-off subjectivities: to qualify as a main character in Captives, you must have your “I” / ego hermitically locked away, and this is not just a matter of a sensation felt on climbing stairs or comparing oneself to a jar in a novel by Thomas Mann. For the translator, the most striking feature of Manea’s three characters is signaled by their frequent lack of subject pronouns.

    While sparing subject pronouns in general, Captives is especially chary of the words she, you, and I. It should be said here that a lack of subject pronouns is both easier to accomplish and much less jarring to read in Romanian than it is in English because Romanian is a highly inflected language. Whereas English present tense verbs, for example, tend to inflect only in the third person singular (I go, you go, he/she/it goes, we go, you go, they go), Romanian verbs feature personal endings. The Romanian for the present tense of the verb “to go” (Eu merg, to mergi, el/ea merge, noi mergem, voi mergeti, ei/ele merg) has five forms for six “persons.” This means, in practice, that, thanks to the signal value of the verb endings, standard Romanian can be spoken without too many pronouns, and it can be written without them as well.

    The absence of pronouns ordinarily presents no special challenge for the translator. When translating standard Romanian into standard English, the translator simply supplies pronouns when necessary. Captives, however, presents a particular challenge. Manea’s narrator tends to reserve the subject pronouns she, you, and I for climactic moments when identity is an issue. At other times he takes advantage of Romanian’s ability to do without subject pronouns or finds ojective correlatives like “the professor of French and piano” or “the wandering son of earth” to substitute for the mysterious subjectivity condensed into an asserted she or I. In a similar way, the narrator tends to slip into the third person and to use objective correlatives—“the visitor,” “the orphan girl,” “that girl”—to avoid words like I and you.

    In this translation I have tried to cope with the author’s use and avoidance of pronouns on a case-by-case basis. In a few instances phrases have been rearranged to avoid awkwardness. A Romanian sentence that reads “In vain had [she] arranged her class schedule in order to avoid this insufferable courtyard motorcade,” has become “It was a matter of vainly having arranged her class schedule in order to avoid this insufferable courtyard motorcade.” In one case I followed the pronounless Romanian telegraphese to emphasize the narrator’s frenzied madness:


    Let him rattle for a moment or two. The visitor evidently feared a trap. What fun to watch him deal with Madam Professor’s husband! Farces leapt to mind: all equally good. It was hard to choose.

    —My sister told me about you, the madman finally remarked. Personally, I don’t live here.

    —Mhm. She didn’t write anything about having a brother.

    Should have seen that one coming. The end of the letter had been clear.

    —Make yourself comfortable. Perhaps you’d like to wait. Have a seat.

    Proceeded to pick a pile of the chair. Miscellaneous trash. Couldn’t find a place for it. Threw it on the bed.



    There is no way to write the English second person without using the word you, however, and I have simply used it when the narrator’s prose apostrophizes Captain Zubcu’s daughter.

    Readers not preoccupied with the blood and guts of translation and the differences between languages may see these final notes as technical details, and that’s as it should be. For any translator, what really matters is bringing the spirit of the writing into the new language. In this case, the language is swirling and mysterious, for Captives does not aspire to be a traditional novel. It expresses the dementia induced by the captive state. Part novel (verging on roman-fleuve), part musically inspired composition, Captives leads the translator to grapple with the text as fluid, polyphonic writing, for it includes many kinds of speech, nearly all of them unstable.


    JEAN HARRIS

    AUGUST 2014


    - p. 234:

    The characters’ chameleon-like self-invention and apparent lack of inner solidity comes of their having lived through the novel’s implicit backstory. Like Captives’s first readers, the people in this novel live in the knowledge that having been scorned by the Allies, Romania joined the Axis Powers and fought on the fascist side until August 23, 1944, when Romania’s young King Michael staged a coup that overthrew Marshal Antonescu, the fascist-allied leader. Disaster (and, for some, opportunity) came on the heels of heroism. The communists quickly ousted King Michael.



    - p. vii-ix [“Instead of an introduction” (by Norman Manea)]:

    Captives is of another place and time. It was published in the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1970, when the provisional so-called “liberalization period” was still confusing and misleading, and yet often encouraging to many artists and intellectuals. At about that time, unfortunately, Ceauşescu visited China and North Korea, where he became fascinated by the enthusiastic obedience of the “masses,” and upon his return he tried to impose a harsher totalitarian atmosphere back at home. Yet the hedonistic and self-centered nature of the people, as well as external evolution, slowly subverted his nationalistic socialism until its eventual collapse in 1989.

    Captives, my first novel, expresses a radical separation from official ideology, drastically departing from all that was heavily promoted and praised by the Party. And although many pages were cut by the censors, it still, by some miracle, appeared in print.

    The book’s three main characters are vulnerable, weak, and defeated individuals: the complete opposites of the heroes and heroines of the system’s exemplary novels. Thomas Mann’s statement in Death in Venice about weakness—“one might well wonder whether the only possible heroism was the heroism of the weak”—resonated powerfully with me at that time, in our suffocating impasse. These protagonists, connected through a spiral that weaves through three parts, represent complementary faces of captivity: the quasi-burlesque energy of a frustrated schoolteacher, never tiring of her hunt for new illusions despite their humiliating ends; the sensitive and lonely daughter of a suspected war criminal who has committed suicide; and her young colleague, an engineer who—seeing in her the ghost of his lost sister who perished during the Holocaust—brutally ends their brief affair. This young engineer who slowly comes to understand the perversity of this socialist paradise, becomes one of its wounded outsiders, just as the young woman has.

    To create this enterprise, I had to find an adequately unconventional and experimental literary form, and so I propelled these characters through spiraling, self-sufficient, minimalist narratives, each one as larval as our own lives spent pushing our ways through a police state of suspicion, reticence, and submission. I was deeply aware of the political and aesthetic risks such a book might pose: the novel offered a multidimensional contract to the Party’s leadership’s cosmetic image of the dynamic social “progress.” The book was a challenge to authority, to myself, and to the reader, but didn’t Faulkner say that a writer should be judged by the risks he takes, even if risks are conducive to failure?


    Sometimes adopting the heavily descriptive methods of the so-called nouveau roman, Captives also serves as a document of the epoch, depicting the manner in which a self perceives itself in language and is organized by language. How else can anyone escape from the wooden discourse of an ideological system?

    The passive voice, so important to understanding the book, is not routine in English, and the novel’s “hermeticism” was an imposing constraint, whereby the object of an action is influenced or even changed, without the voice necessarily pointing to a certain subject that has caused the action. The broken characters are subdued, suspected, and distorted by obscure forces.

    I strove to push the reader into a kind of implicit solidarity with my characters, through a labyrinth of twisted narratives, still organic to life in an oppressive environment. As usually happens in a suppressed society, the hidden sides of reality are decoded slowly, displaying their meaning only toward the end of the book, where—I hope—the connections and enigmas open up. Lack of freedom of choice in a country where the State is the only employer, and where citizens are owned by it, endangers any individual refuge. My world here is a kind of Kafkaesque “penal colony” with additional local ambiguities, corruption, double-talk, and double-dealing.

    By now it must be obvious why I have been somewhat reluctant to publish this book here. Already more than twenty years have passed since my friends Barbara Epler and Griselda Ohannessian decided to bring out Captives at the earliest possible convenience of the author, and in the meantime New Directions has remained admirably convinced about the project (or perhaps about the essential and heroic role of a good publisher, ready for “difficult” books, even in a time when writing and publishing seem quite endangered everywhere in the world). In my newly published twenty-five-volume Collected Works in Romania, I found the opportunity to revisit this novel, making some minor changes and cuts in order to—at least partially—decode the sometimes overwhelmingly puzzling text, with its allusions and tricks, and its specific blind alleys. I have tried to help today’s readers, in the West and even in Romania, to thread the maze of a narrative placed in a closed, totalitarian setting. This English translation follows the second edition of Captives.

    Aware of the new risks this book faces, now, in my new country and in this troubled time of ours, I can only be grateful to my consistently supportive publisher, and also to Tynan Kogane, my editor, to my excellent translator, Jean Harris, and to my collaborator Carla Baricz.

    Let’s also trust the patient reader, our peerless peer, who might discover in these pages a reason to think about the strange topics as well as the curious shapes of such a literary adventure.


    NORMAN MANEA

    BARD COLLEGE, AUGUST 23, 2014




    - from book flap:

    Captives, the acclaimed writer Norman Manea’s first novel, is a fascinating, kaleidoscopic, and imaginative look into postwar Romania. Divided into three sections—narrated in first-, second-, and third-person voices—Captives explores the lives of several defeated characters as they become almost too much to bear under the weight of endless humiliations: loss of identity, trauma of having survived the Second World War, and submission to the totalitarian state.

    This is a moving account of a country shaken by communism and anti-Semitism and haunted by recent atrocities, from “a distinguished writer whose vision of totalitarianism is close to Kafka’s cloudy menace, universal, yet internalized” (Richard Eder, The New York Times).
    Last edited by HERO; 07-19-2015 at 12:04 PM.

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