A memoir of repression in Romania from a child’s perspective, focusing on familial sacrifice rather than political ideals.
Though Bugan (Crossing the Carpathians, 2005) has become an accomplished poet since moving with her family to America in 1989, she generally abstains from literary flourish here as she recounts the consequences of her father’s rebellion and imprisonment. He may be the hero of his own story, but the author is “just at the edge, a ghost” within the official account. What she remembers is that “he left us to God’s will and the secret police,” the family reviled within a society of informers, her life in peril whenever she left the house, under constant surveillance when at home. “I never wanted to be part of your vision,” she told her father after his release, when he claimed that the family needed to pay a price for the greater good. Bugan’s mother, whom the state ordered to divorce her husband, “always fought with him about…his selfishness to think that it’s all right to sacrifice his family for a pointless political ideal.” Is it “pointless” and “selfish” to show resistance in the face of dehumanizing totalitarianism? Should only those without families rebel? Is such rebellion inevitably futile? These are key questions that the memoir doesn’t really address from the author’s more mature perspective and certainly couldn’t answer from a child’s perspective. In her afterword, Bugan writes of her belated access to files about her family’s life and her father’s imprisonment, information that puts their suffering in fresh light. “I will never know the whole story,” she writes. “Had I had this knowledge before I wrote this book, perhaps the voice of the child would have been strangled.”
Balancing what the child experienced then, which was frequently devastating, with what the author knows now might have resulted in even richer revelation.