THE SILENT ESCAPE by Lena Constante


Three Thousand Days in Romanian Prisons
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 A powerful testament to the uncanny resilience of the human spirit. Constante relates in mesmerizing detail the eight years of solitary confinement that she suffered in Romanian prisons after being convicted in the Stalinist show trials of 1948. After more than three years of ``interrogations,'' she was tried, convicted of treason, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. The hardships that she encountered included nearly constant surveillance, extreme cold in winter and heat during the summer, food deprivation, beatings, the inability to meet her basic requirements for hygiene, lack of basic medical and dental care, sleep deprivation, near total sensory deprivation, and forced adherence to arbitrary rules that controlled every aspect of her daily regimen (``It was forbidden to laugh''). Despite the insanity of her daily existence, Constante develops methods for implementing her ``silent escape''--an escape within. She fills her empty hours with ``work.'' She writes, in her mind, stories, poems, puppet shows, and dramas, which she then memorizes. Her escape becomes most tangible when she learns Morse code and is able to communicate with those in the cells around her. Once she has learned to ``listen to the walls,'' she has indeed escaped from the solitude that is her main torment, and she becomes a member of the prison community. The facility with which Constante describes her imprisonment and her intense awareness of the rhythms of prison life at times seem to transport her narrative into the realm of poetry. Her images are as strikingly clear as a painting by one of the Dutch masters, and her words demand to be read out loud so that one can experience the oppressive repetition created by their meter. It is rare for such an important historical document to be rendered with such profound artistic integrity.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-520-08209-5
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995