An outstanding literary testimony: Memories or the path to ourselves

Gabriel Dimisianu’s book “Memories and literary portraits[1]” captivated me completely. This is the reason of writing this article in order to keep the book essence fresh in my notes. A pleasant reading is well preserved as soon as one writes down some relevant notes and comments. In the forthcoming years I could revisit these notes hoping to enjoy the same pleasure as I did while reading the book.


I discovered the book just by chance. Its title clearly suggested me, from the outset that it is not a book of literary studies, but rather a series of memories about contemporary Romanian writers, the author met and worked with them. Dimisianu uses plain language to portrait his fellow writers. The portraits certainly bear authenticity and convey a certain perfume of those years. The portraits, along with his memories, have embedded a certain amount of humour, which makes the stories more credible and genuine.

I recall Dimisianu’s name from the literary magazines of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Certainly the book does not have the magazine’s style as it features a certain flavour of memories, with an obvious colouring vibrato like in music.

I read the book easy as the text has got a personal touch with the emotions of the time and a sort of energy, which one can feel in Dimisianu’s narratives. The portraits have personal touches, built with stronger or more fragile images, which all in all communicate about people and events happening in a certain period of time, the years when I studied and worked before leaving my home country.

The author’s tone is balanced. I noticed his care to remain neutral and not give any verdicts or judge the people portrayed in the book. If other critics of his generation are famous for a certain degree of “aggressiveness”, Dimisianu have found the right way to build stories, to preserve a certain “storyteller” discretion in his narrative flow and style. He actually lets the reader to judge, classify and order the portrayed writers in a gallery the reader feels or chooses.

Reading the book proved compelling for two reasons. The first reason is that the book helped me reflect on the time period covered by Dimisianu, from his early start as a journalist to around 2000. I completed my own image about the contemporary Romanian literature I had in my school years. I also enhanced this image with unknown details showing that the writers were or are normal people who suffered as we did during the communist years. The second reason is that I got the synthesis I needed at this age about a sad, but rich period in the history of the Romanian literature.

It was hard to resist the political regime of Ceausescu. Whoever was against the regime suffered from the political pressure, being isolated and having the rights very limited. On top of everything the people showing any resistance were jailed or checked and placed under surveillance by the secret police agency (securitate).

Dimisianu explains in detail that there were professional conflicts between older and younger writers and the literary movements they represented. One should not have judged any weaknesses of certain writers. It would have been wiser to think of those times with their particular settings when it was difficult to publish without reflecting the ideology of the time.

The writer evokes three key moments with Tudor Vianu, who was his professor at the University of Bucharest. The moments are described with the emotion of being a student of a key figure of the Romanian culture. Dimisianu also mentions Eugen Lovinescu, who drew attention to the dangers of writing memories and journals. One of the person witnessing a scene with Vianu came to Dimisianu saying that she does not recognise herself in the context of the narrative because she never cries. Dimisianu concludes that: “it only remains for me to accept that it is my memory which is inevitably subjective.”

The book also includes portraits of forgotten writers such as Benador Ury, Georgeta Mircea Cancicov, Marcel Mihalaș și Mihail Crama. I must admit that I never heard of them, but it is Dimisianu’s book which helped me discover them and get more details on their literary work.

Tudor Arghezi is also part of the portrait gallery. A particular emotion comes out from the text when the author evoked some moments that defined Arghezi as a man and as a poet. Arghezi was not in good terms with its neighbour, George Ivascu, a famous Romanian critic, journalist and communist militant. Arghezi even confessed that “… what binds me now to Ivascu it is only the sidewalk”.

Dimisianu also pointed out that: “Arghezi seemed to be a dreadful man, but incredibly vital, aggressive, sarcastic from too much vitality, at 80 years old, an age he prepared to turn in the forthcoming days.”

Zaharia Stancu, one of the titans of the Romanian literature is portrayed as someone who “appears anywhere … creates a strong impression and I even saw Ceausescu intimidated in his presence.” Quoting Manolescu, Dimisianu says that Stancu “embodies, as Goga, the old finesse of the Romanian peasant.”

Dimisianu also recalls Stancu’s official reaction to an article published in “Literary Romania”, an article that summarised an interview with Salvador Dali, which was published abroad. What bothered the communist censorship was one of the great artist’s remarks about the future of European states. Dali said that the future should belong to monarchies. After the official tirade, sprinkled with many of the era wooden language words, Stancu whispered:

“- You should know that I met the late King, Michael … and he was a good guy, a good man. Stancu’s hostile speech epilogue proved his twisted nature…“.

Ov. S. Crohmălniceanu “redeemed for the concessions to the pressures of the political power – because there were such pressures – through everything he did in the coming years and in all that he had to live.” Crohmălniceanu’s main merits consisted of giving us back two major names of the Romanian literature, Arghezi and Blaga, after they were banned by the regime. And his masterpiece, a critical review of the literature, namely “Romanian literature between the two World Wars”, is the book I worn my elbows long enough during my studies.

Crohmălniceanu had the courage to confront Ceausescu directly by expressing his disapproval about the cult of personality and cultural degradation practiced by the former regime. This episode is detailed in “Tales disguised” by Crohmălniceanu.

Why does Dimisianu evoke this episode? He was impressed seeing his name in the book mentioned above, in the context of a testimonial about confronting Ceausescu directly:

“I sat down with cheeks girded. Dimisianu, beside me, touched my arm discreetly. ”

Nichita Stanescu’s portrait is of an informative nature and it does not, in any way, aim to add a new critical look at Stanescu’s work. In his earlier years, Dimisianu and his wife lived with Stanescu, Nicolae Velea, Ioana Bantaş and Cezar Baltag in a house located in Rahova, a suburb of Bucharest.

Fanus Neagu is also present in this series of evocations, in amid humorous stories. Neagu published even from his early studying years and rarely came to the courses. But he never missed the courses of Tudor Vianu.

Nicolae Manolescu is evoked as an “art seducer”, an art, which helped him earn a reputation as a serious and impartial critic since the sad times of the communist dictatorship. Manolescu was and remains an optimistic nature.

At the end of his book the author places an evocation of his hometown, Brăila, and about its cultural life, from the time of his childhood and adolescence. Dimisianu explains why he was an avid reader of magazines for children and how he learned to cherish and read his first books while helping a famous bookseller.

Dimisianu regrets that many of his memories melted into the mists of time, with the destruction of a number of diaries he thought were insignificant and childish.

This remark prompted me to write these lines, so that I may later review the book, maybe with different eyes.

I had seen somewhere on the Web a rating score of this book, which was 7 out of 10. It seemed strange to me. I consider a book a personal project, built with purely personal opinions and emotions, which cannot be scored for the sake of ratings.

[1] Gabriel Dimisianu, Amintiri şi portrete literare, Humanitas, 2013

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