Tag Archives: Curtea Veche Publishing

Chance by Razvan Petrescu

Rubato, by Razvan Petrescu

Rubato, by Razvan Petrescu

Chance, by Razvan Petrescu

translated from Romanian by Claudia Moscovici

The hollow noise of the spades got lost in the sound of the rain. The three

men worked without verve, quietly, sloshing through the mud. The ditch deepened

and they disappeared, little by little, in its midst. From the street one could

only see the flaps of their hats, soaked by the rain. Shovelfuls of black earth

were constantly hoisted in the air, deepening the hole in the ground. The smaller

bits of earth would roll unto the asphalt. After awhile, the conductor appeared.

From adistance it resembled the stomach of an enormous fish, buried there since

God knows when. The crack could be seen clearly, stretching for approximately

half a meter. What a hole… Go see if we have what we need, in the car. Don’t

forget the bolts. Laur hoisted himself out of the hole and started walking

to the truck. The windshield was shinny, covered by round raindrops. He opened

the trunk and started looking through the tool box. After a few  seconds, he

checked his watch. Boys, it’s time that we grab something to eat. It’s ten after

three. The other two raised their heads. What time did you say? Three? Well I’ll

be darned, we were so busy we lost track of time… Then leave all that and

let’s get the lunch bags. They’re under the bench. Laur leaned down, felt them,

smelled them, his mouth started watering. He returned with the lunch bags

underarm and sat down on the rim. Did you bring the bottle? Of course! Here it

is. He sniffed it. Sighed. What stupid drizzle. It’s okay, it will stop.

Begonie rubs his numb hands. After a few minutes, the rain stopped. Their wet

windbreakers were stuck to their backs. With impatient gestures they opened the

newspapers in which their food was wrapped. The noise of wet, torn paper.

Cracked and dirty fingers, avid, grabbing. Where’s the onion? Aha! It’s damn

spicy! Be quiet and take some cheese. It soothes your heart, doesn’t it? The food

disappeared fast, leaving greasy traces in their beards. Little long stains that

shone dimly. Come on man, hurry up. Trandafir removed the bottlecap with his

teeth, took a gulp and handed the bottle to the others. Their veiny necks moved

up and down, like pistons. Now it’s raining on the inside, even harder, Begonie

laughed. Cheers! From time to time a car would pass by fast by the three men

perched on the little mound of earth. They stared blankly ahead and chewed their

food. Wrinkled, jaundiced faces, stained around the mouth. The sky was purple.

It had darkened gradually, like the cheek of a giant dead man. Goddamned life!

Trandafir swore looking up. Who the heck wants to work in this kind of weather?

The team with similar names; men with the names of flowers. This lucky bouquet

that smells like… Listen, forget the poetry and tell me where you put

the hammer. Because I don’t see it. It’s there in the ditch. Don’t worry, nobody

will steal it. You’d better take a swig too. That’s right. Thin vapors emerge

from their clothes, their lips, the earth. Tell me, will we finish it in two

hours? Begonie glanced for a few moments at his muddy shoes, sighed, then let

wind loudly. Eh, we finish or not, today? I don’t know, Laur, my man, since

even my mother-in-law doesn’t have a crack like this. But we may get to the

bottom of it, before the evening. The wind started to blow. The greasy papers

slowly floated around the leftover bread, cheese, bacon and onion rimes. Is the

flask empty? There’s a bit more, here! Trandafir threw his head back and gulped,

noisily, the last drop of vodka. He smacked his lips, pleased. It’s good! Now

all that’s missing is a whore, to… On this wetness, that’s all you need! A wet

whore. To screw her holding an umbrella over your head… You could hear a growl

and a giggle. Wait a minute. I want to tell you something. You boys, with your

worries. Yes, boss, yes. Laur, hit him over the head with something. Good. And

what I wanted to tell you, is that she had an ass like you’ve never seen in your

sorry  life. Why sorry? Because. You didn’t see it. A booty all the way to

here.Your pants fell down on their own when she moved it. She rumbled like a

heater. I don’t even remember  how I took my clothes off… Listen, didn’t she

faint when she smelled your stick? What, you think that she didn’t? Laur grinned

showing his teeth covered in the cheap material. What can I say, Trandafir, you’re right.

But since you were born you polluted the air. As if you smelled like lilacs. You

smell like a corpse, if you want the truth. I’m wasting my breath anyway. You’re

an expert on women like I am on foreign languages. They continued to fight for a

few more minutes, then they hit each other, then, after awhile, they fell

silent. They glanced at the solitary tree that was sketched on the corner of the

street. It grew thin, cutting a complicated line against the violet afternoon

sky. A heavy truck passed by very close  and splattered them with drops of mud.

Mother fucker! Hand me a cigarette! Laur removed a wrinkled package, half-wet.

He lit up a cigarette cupping his hand, then handed the pack to the others. They

smoked in silence, coughing from time to time and spitting phlegm. Man, it’s

damn cold. I’m frozen solid. That’s it, I’m splitting. Begonie got up, threw the

package and jumped out of the hole. He grabbed the shovel and stuck it deeply

under the pipe. There was a dry noise, followed by a rumble. Afterwards,

nothing. What are you doing there, Boss? Quiet. Wouldn’t you know it, this one

broke a bone.  Hey! Answer me, man, for once! Begonie raised his head over the

rim of the trench. He smiled from ear to ear. Trandafir and Laur looked at him

quizzingly. Why are you smiling? I heard something crack in there. What was it?

Begonie winked. Come down in here, I have to show you something pretty amazing.

The two of them jumped in without needing other explanations. Eh? What do you

say? Isn’t it wonderful? He lifted it up, twirling it on his finger. Laur and

Trandafir stared at the blackened skull, then burst into laughter. How did this

get here? Maybe it’s your grandmother. She escaped from the cemetery.  Watch out

that she doesn’t bite your finger. Let’s take it to the museum. Dead for the

canal. Maybe she’ll give us some vodka. Another burst of laughter and they got

out of the trench. They laughed with tears, grabbing their stomachs. The mud

blinked gently. After they were done, they wiped their cheeks with their sleeves

and quieted down abruptly, exhausted. Begonie pushed his hat back, scratched his

crotch and said between his teeth, “Boys, I’ve got to tell ya, I have to pee.

So, if nobody’s opposed… He grinned and set the cranium down. He urinated at

length until the liquid started reversing through the eye holes. The other two

watched without a sound, with an awkward smile. Begonie zipped up his pants.

That’s it, let’s get back to work, he said in a raspy voice. Or else we’ll be

here until night. They began to work again.  The sounds rose, spreading

rhythmically on the street. It was quiet in the neighborhood. People gathered in

living rooms, among kitchen utensils. Slippers, little shoes, coats and

umbrellas drying on the racks, few words. Here’s the soup. The sun rose slowly

behind the apartment buildings, golden, humid. Laur, leave that hammer alone,

for God’s sake. Do you hear me? Begonie straightened up, irritated. Where are

you? Hammer! he screamed at the top of his lungs. Trandafir also stopped

working; blew his nose with his fingers and glanced around. Raindrops fell to

the ground, trembled on tree branches, sparkling from time to time. Laur gently

lifted the skull and wiped it carefully. It was so light… Alas! In the palm of

his hands unknown words grew, racing faster and faster towards his temples.

Alas! “Poor Yorik. I knew him… He hath borne me on his back a thousand

times….” What the hell are you talking about? Are you nuts? “Those lips that I

have kissed I know not how oft…” Trandafir and Begonie exchanged glances. Man,

speak like a human being. What’s come over you? Laure, throw that thing away and

stop joking around! All of the sudden the sounds disappeared and he quieted

down. “WHERE BE YOUR GIBES NOW? YOUR GAMBOLS? YOUR SONGS?”

All of the sudden the  sounds disappeared and he quieted down.

With an awkward motion he put the skull  on the  ground and closed his eyes.

Maybe it’s the weather! He got up and wiped his face with his hand, with a tired gesture.

He felt the sweat drying on his temple. He spit to the side, then turned and looked at his comrades.

With the words stuck in their throats, Trandafir and Begonie remained motionless.

(short story from the volume "Rubato”, by Razvan Petrescu, Editura Curtea Veche, 2011) 
Republished on Literatura de Azi: http://literaturadeazi.ro/content/şansa#sthash.Skg9TqNA.dpuf
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Filed under Chance by Razvan Petrescu, contemporary fiction, Rubato by Razvan Petrescu, Rubato Curtea Veche Publishing, Rubato Editura Curtea Veche, Sansa, Sansa de Razvan Petrescu

Staying a Step Ahead of the Competition in Publishing: Music Video Book Trailers

Velvet Love by Andy Platon

Velvet Love by Andy Platon

MUSIC VIDEO BOOK TRAILERS: Staying a Step Ahead of the Competition in Publishing

by Claudia Moscovici

Both publishers and authors are becoming increasingly concerned with the question of how to promote books effectively, capture the interest of readers and generate sales. Given the number of books out there, without an outstanding publicity campaign, each given book risks passing unnoticed. Currently, the competition for readers is tremendous. An  astronomical number of books are published each year. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) cites that roughly 2,200,000 books are published annually. Out of curiosity, I looked up the two countries I write about most which, not coincidentally, are also those where I’ve lived: the U.S. and Romania. In 2010, 328,259 were published in the U.S. and in 2008 14,984 books were published in Romania. Given this large number of books published in the U.S. alone, it’s difficult to believe how difficult and competitive the process of publishing can be (as I explain in an earlier article on the subject):

in English:

in Romanian:

And yet publishing your manuscript is only the beginning of the gargantuan task of rising to the surface in an ocean of books. In fact, the UNESCO study probably doesn’t even count the number of self-published books via Amazon Kindle, Lulu and many other self-publishing options. On the one hand, the mass media makes sharing our cultural products easier in some ways, by facilitating access to an audience. For instance, anyone can self-publish and promote a novel nowadays, through blogs, twitter,  youtube and other popular venues on the internet. But this apparent democratization of culture also makes it a lot tougher to stand out from the crowd. Each cultural product–be it a novel, a collection of poems, a song, a film or a painting–competes with tens of millions of others. It’s hard to find or discern anymore what we value and what we don’t in this tidal wave of information that assails us from all directions on a daily basis.

noise

To draw another analogy, it’s as if we heard talented classical musicians playing their instruments at the same time as others howl, scream, talk and yell in various languages. Or, if you prefer to avoid making any value judgments, as if we heard them playing at the same time as other talented musicians practice other songs. Either way you look at it, what reaches our ears will sound like a maddening cacophony, to the point that we can no longer discern the music we prefer from  the surrounding noise we’d like to ignore. In a world of information (and publication) overload, effective publicity and keeping up with the rapid changes in the mass media can make the difference between success and failure.

bordersbooks

When I taught literature and aesthetics at the University of Michigan, I also helped organize a few  panels in the Ann Arbor Book Festival for several years. In this function, I witnessed up close and personal the struggles of one of the biggest book stores internationally, the Borders Group Inc., which was one of our main sponsors for the book festival. As is well-known, Borders faltered in the face of growing competition from Amazon.com as well as its direct competitor, Barnes & Noble. After downsizing for a few  years, the company eventually declared bankruptcy in February 2011. Barnes & Noble swallowed its former rival, taking over Borders’ trademarks and customers.

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A similar phenomenon can be witnessed in the world of publishing. Two decades ago, when I first began creative writing, there were dozens of small presses in the U.S. Now there are hardly any left, both because they can’t compete with the major publishing houses and because self-publishing has taken a big bite out of their sales. Many of those that survive have been assimilated into larger publishing houses. And they are not alone. During the past decade, even the mainstream publishers often group together into larger conglomerates. For instance, one of my favorite publishers of literary fiction, Farrar Straus & Giroux, which has published internationally renowned authors such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen and  Jeffrey Eugenides, forms a conglomerate with the MacMillan Publishing group. On July 1st 2013, two of the biggest publishing houses, Penguin and Random House, joined forces to form Penguin Random House. This megapublisher is predicted to account for a quarter of book sales in the U.S., as  Julie Bosman explains in her July 1, 2013 article on the subject in The New York Times:

This merger may be partly in response to the fact that starting in 2009, Amazon.com, the biggest online book seller in the U.S., launched several (selective, as opposed to self-publishing) imprints of  foreign and genre fiction. These include AmazonEncore (out-of-pront or self-published books that sell well), AmazonCrossing (books in translation), Montlake Romance and Thomas & Mercer (mystery novels). In May 2011, Larry Kirshbaum, the former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, took over Amazon Publishing to create a new general-interest imprint.

amazonpublishing

To summarize the increasingly competitive and volatile environment of the publishing industry: many authors are choosing self-publishing rather than wallowing indefinitely in the “slush piles” of highly selective and largely inaccessible literary agents; small presses have been swallowed by bigger ones (or gone out of business); large book sellers have faced bankruptcy and even mainstream publishers have had to merge to continue to thrive in the industry. But even these changes may not be enough. More publishers will sink and more publicity is needed–for authors, book sellers and publishers alike–to survive in such a highly competitive environment, where mainstream success is almost as statistically rare as winning the lottery.

Effective book publicity has become a necessity. Unfortunately, even for authors publishing with the big mainstream publishers, a decent publicity budget is not easy to come by. Ebooks continue to grow in popularity, which may be great news for readers but not necessarily for writers and publishers. Even taking into account the fact they largely eliminate the distribution cost and entirely eliminate the shipping and handling cost, ebooks generate smaller revenues than print books, which means, overall, fewer profits. This, in turn, means a general decrease in publicity budgets. Also, please keep in mind that publicity budgets aren’t equally distributed among authors. The major publishing houses allocate most of their annual publicity budget on a handful of books they predict will sell that year, most of which are written by celebrities (like Paris Hilton or George Bush) or authors who already have proven sales. This leaves the vast majority of published authors to fend for themselves and generate their own publicity: through blogs, social networks, twitter, contacting libraries and bookstores, however they can.

This discussion brings us full-circle to the initial problem I broached in this article: the difficulty of standing out in this deluge of mass media communication, where pretty much every author does his or her best to be heard and read. So how can you stand out if you aren’t one of the lucky few who get a major publisher’s annual publicity budget? I’d like to propose a new method–music video book trailers–that is innovative, cutting-edge and appeals to potential readers’ senses and imagination, to awaken their interest books.

I came upon the idea of music video book trailers partly through good fortune (of working with a cutting-edge major publishing house in my native country, Romania, Curtea Veche Publishing)–and partly because I was actively seeking opportunities of getting involved in such a project. Ever since I’ve been a teenager I loved pop music and jazz and was intrigued by the power of music videos to capture viewers’ attention not only through catchy music, but also through spectacular filmic scenes that can rival the best movie trailers.

Cover Intre Doua Lumi

Once I found out from my publisher that  my first novel,Velvet Totalitarianism, would be launched in Romanian translation (under the title Intre Doua Lumi) in September of 2011, I began exploring the possibility of collaborating with talented Romanian composers and musicians for a music video/book trailer of my novel. Via LinkedIn, I met the Romanian singer, composer, director and producer Andy “Soundland” Platon, who ended up doing a wonderful music video based on my novel, called Velvet Love:

 

Andy Platon is a Romanian pop music prodigy.  I say “pop music” only because that’s what he excells at best. But Andy has enormous range both in terms of the scope of his talents–as a composermusic video director and producer andsinger–and in the versatility of his musical abilities, from classical music to pop music and everything in between. Andy made his debut while still only a teenager in 2009 with the song Lost Without You, which became a finalist in the competition Battle of Songs. This show  was featured not only in Romania, but also in France, Russia and Turkey. Lost Without You was also nominated for the Shockwave NME Music Awards 2010. More recently, he’s known for his collaborations with Troy Lynch – The BeatBoyz (T.I.Gucci Mane, 112), Loredana Groza and  Marius Nedelcu  featuring  Alexandra UngureanuIrina PopaXoniaAnthony Icuagu (ex. Insane), Ianna Novac (ex. ASIA, Ladies). Recently, he has established his own production company, called Fonogram Studios and is collaborating with internationally renowned musicians, such as Kris Searle.

Andy Platon’s new single and music video,  Velvet Love,  performed by the talented singer Marcel Lovin, captures with feeling and sensibility some of the most poignant scenes of my novel  Velvet Totalitarianism, including the complex dynamics between the main characters, Radu and Ioana, as they struggle with the tension between their love for each other and harassment by the Secret Police. As an art critic I found the video to be very artistic–almost photographic in feel–showing clearly Andy’s eye for capturing each scene in a single image, as well as the talent of his co-producer and Director of PhotographyAnthony Icuagu. The main actors–Ioana Picos as Ioana and Mihai Marin as Radu–did a wonderful job playing the romantic couple in the novel, whose risky love for each other may be saved by their parental love for their son, Lucian, played by Alia Anastasiei.

velvetmoscovici

In general, music video book trailers have the following advantages for generating publicity for both authors and publishers:

1. They appeal to most of our senses. At their best, they’re musically catchy, visually stimulating and dramatic enough to stage a narrative that leaves viewers eager to find out more about your book.

2. They’re international. If posted on youtube, vimeo and other public venues, music video book trailers can quickly reach an international audience. If you wish to target only readers who speak a certain language, such as Romanian, French or Russian, then you can do them in that language.

Seducer Cover

3. Music video book trailers allow for a flexible budget. They can be as expensive as you can afford or as inexpensive as you desire. Before meeting the music composer and producer Andy Platon, I did my own music video book trailers and posted them on youtube. Though they certainly lacked professional filming equipment and original music, they still reached thousands of readers and were effective advertising tools. I’m including below my music video book trailer for my second novel, The Seducer:

4. They involve fruitful collaborations among the arts–music, film, acting and literature–so they’re by nature artistically complex and interesting.

5. They are amenable to various sources of funding, such as donors, investors and crowd funding, which do not depend strictly on the publicity budget your publisher is willing to allocate for your book. In fact, crowd funding has become an increasingly popular and effective way of raising revenues for artistic projects. For information about some of the most promising crowd funding options, I’m including below Chance Barnett‘s article on the subject, published in Forbes Magazine:

6. Best of all, like crowd funding itself, music video book trailers offer a more or less democratic means of advertising. This doesn’t mean, of course, that this method generates equal results for all authors. But it does mean that it’s accessible to every author: whether or not they published with a mainstream publisher, independent publisher, or self-published; whether or not their publisher invested their annual publicity budget in their work; whether or not they have connections in the entertainment industry, and whether or not they have a lot of money at their disposal for book publicity. Moreover, since this method of advertising is relatively new, music video book trailers offer can offer authors and publishers a way of staying ahead of the competition.
Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

 

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Filed under Andy Platon Velvet Love, Andy Soundland Platon, Barnes & Noble, book publicity, book review, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, Curtea Veche Publishing, Editura Curtea Veche, fiction, Fonogram Studios, Ioana Picos, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Staying a Step Ahead of the Competition in Publishing: Music Video Book Trailers, The Seducer by Claudia Moscovici, Velvet Love by Andy Platon, Velvet Totalitarianism

Razvan Petrescu’s Rubato: The Coordinates of World-Class Romanian Fiction

rubato1

Razvan Petrescu’s Rubato: The Coordinates of World-class Romanian Fiction

by Claudia Moscovici

Despite charting very unfamiliar territories in fiction, the writer Razvan Petrescu is quite familiar—and famous—in his native country, Romania. A versatile and award-winning author, Petrescu is an essayist, fiction writer and playwright. Among his numerous literary prizes, he won the award Book of the Year at the National Salon of Books in Cluj; a fiction award for The Farce (Farsa, Editura Unitext, 1994) from the Association of Writers in Bucharest (Asociatia Scriitorilor din Bucuresti); the award UNITER for the best play of the year, Spring at the Buffet (Primavara la buffet, Editura Expansion, 1995), and the Prose Prize given by Radio Romania Cultural. Some of his works have been translated into Hebrew, Spanish and will be soon translated into English as well.

razvan-petrescu-foto-attila-vizauer

Traddutore Traditore

I have to admit, however, that I don’t envy the translators’ job, which I’m sure is very challenging. They say that poetry is the most difficult genre to translate, but in my opinion fiction that is unique in content and employs stylistically many dialects—such as the writing of Ion Luca Caragiale, Romain Gary and Razvan Petrescu–is the most difficult kind of literature to translate. And yet, that is usually also the most noteworthy and ingenious fiction. My main goal in this review is to convey the fact that Razvan Petrescu is a world-class author to an international audience, which may not be familiar with the Romanian language or with Romanian literature. How will I go about doing that? In mathematics or geography, you pinpoint a location, however remote or difficult to find, in terms of known coordinates. There’s no equivalent precise guide in the arts and humanities, however. The best I can do to offer such coordinates is to explain the relatively unfamiliar in terms of the relatively familiar: canonized authors that everyone knows; psychological fiction; universal themes and philosophical currents. The book I’ll be discussing here is Rubato (Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011), which is a collection of several of Razvan Petrescu’s prize-winning short fiction, published from 1989 to 2003. Rubato is like an album of the author’s best hits, if you will, but it is also far more than that: it’s world-class fiction, comparable, I believe, to the works of legendary writers like Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges.

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Unique, uncategorizable fiction

Most fiction writers can be integrated rather easily into a genre, a movement or a style: be it  realism, fantasy, horror, or magical realism. There are a few writers, however, who are so quirky in style and unique in content that they’re almost impossible to categorize in terms of any neat and familiar literary labels. Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges are two of my favorite authors among those. How do you attach a label to Kafka’s psychological realism of the subconscious and dream; to what do you compare Borges’ mathematical paradoxes translated into a puzzling fiction? I think Razvan Petrescu’s Rubato fits into this uncategorizable category of fiction. Which is why I believe that the best way to describe it to those who haven’t read it yet is in terms of equally innovative and quirky authors, such as Kafka and Borges. What Rubato shares with, for instance, Kafka’s The Castle (1926) is a psychological realism that goes far beyond—and beneath—the layers of our conscious reality.

photo Herb Ritts

photo Herb Ritts

The psychological realism of the subconscious

If Kafka’s The Castle (1926) or The Trial (1925) feel so real to us it’s not because they are actually realist in either content or style. It’s because these works focus so well on our unconscious fears—of powerlessness and alienation in a modern, bureaucratic society—that they bring them to the surface of our awareness. In reading the works of Kafka, we face our  misgivings and fears, confront them and even laugh at them, since they appear absurd. Yet we no longer minimize them and are unable to shove them back  under the rug, into the unconscious, to dismiss them. That’s why the works of Kafka remain so eerie and unsettling to us. Despite their sense of the absurd and humor, they’re as far removed as possible from superficial farce. The same phenomenon is at work when you read Razvan Petrescu’s Rubato. This slice of life tale depicts a psychiatrist’s “normal” day at work, which is full of abnormalities. 

photo Vadim Stein

photo Vadim Stein

All sorts of patients come in and out of his office, including a security officer/spy, a prostitute suffering from venereal diseases and a woman with psychopathic tendencies, who likes to torture and kill birds. Though they are all quite severely disturbed, the readers can’t help but laugh when reading their plights. The security officer has stinky feet and a very shallow conscience; the prostitute takes her clothes off and asks the psychiatrist to cure her venereal diseases; while the sadistic woman that likes to torture birds is beat at her own game (cruelty), as the psychiatrist admits to being more weird than her (and better at “befriending” and then killing birds as well). The name of the game for each of the characters is a complete detachment from the elements that render us human (empathy, caring, emotion, deep and meaningful connections to others). Despite this serious psychological deficiency, the tone of the narrative is so realistic in its style—the dialect and mannerisms of speech of each character constitute in themselves masterpieces of modern fiction—that the reader too becomes somewhat detached and laughs at them. Yet in laughing at them we also laugh at ourselves. Razvan Petrescu captures the most disturbing elements of the human condition through a series of hallucinatory characters, dialogues and diatribes that simultaneously appear absurd and  implausible yet also seem more real than our daily, conscious reality. How does he do that? Through what may be called “laughter through tears,” that authors like Ion Luca Caragiale, Anton Chekhov and Shalom Aleichem are best known for. 

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Laughter through tears: Neither satire nor irony

The kind of narrative that establishes layers of psychological distance among the narrator, characters and readers in literature is usually described as “satire” or “irony”. But like Anton Chekkov, Ion Luca Caragiale or Shalom Aleichem’s fiction, Rubato provides neither: or rather, it offers much more than that.  Irony and satire are rhetorical stances that assume a position of superiority towards the characters and their actions from the narrator and/or author and readers. Authors that rely heavily on irony often ridicule the characters’ weaknesses and follies. I see no evidence of any narrative sense of superiority or authorial arrogance in Rubato. When we laugh at its characters, we realize we’re also laughing at ourselves. Hence the sense of unease that accompanies Rubato’s keen and pervasive sense of humor, which brings to light our phobias, perverse desires, abnormality and insecurities.

Even more disturbingly, Rubato constantly reminds us of the fragility of human life and of our mortality. Scenes of death and decay pervade Razvan Petrescu’s fiction. No matter how theatrical and comical the depictions of illness and death may be, unlike the scenes we see on the daily news, they still touch and disturb us psychologically. With a sense of indulgence and even love for humanity—and placing himself on the same plane as his characters and readers–the author opens up, like a doctor, the worst of our human qualities and examines them closely, one by one. We greet this complex process with mixed emotions–laughter, horror, revulsion and indulgence–because in these narratives, like in a hallway of mirrors, we see reflections of our inner lives.

photo Herb Ritts

photo Herb Ritts

Love, misogyny and women

In a recent interview with Esquire Magazine (Romania), Razvan Petrescu described himself—tongue-in-cheek, of course–as a “misogynist womanizer.” I’ve never in my life met a misogynist who admits to hating yet needing women. Misogynists tend to hide their contempt for women under the pretext of loving them (a technique common for psychopathic seducers) or of respecting certain women (such as mothers or the “virtuous” few) and hating all the rest. There’s  no trace of such underlying misogyny in any of Petrescu’s works. What we find in Rubato, for instance, is a compelling depiction of fear of the object of desire. This fear is a far cry from Arthur Schopenhauer or Henry de Montherlant’s flagrant and self-righteous misogyny. Many gorgeous, sexy women populate Petrescu’s fiction. Their erotic power is attenuated by humor; their emotional appeal is neutralized by fear.

In the short story The Door (Usa), for instance, a mother and a daughter exchange worried whispers about their husband/father, who is dying on a hospital bed in an adjacent room. The doctor, about to go to a surgery and utterly indifferent to his patient’s plight, attempts to persuade the two women to take the moribund patient back home. There’s nothing he can do for him at the hospital anymore. Rather than worrying about the poor state of health of the patient, the two women debate in hushed voices the cost of transporting the ill man home. The patient overhears the whole conversation through a slightly cracked door. He expires, in a scene as vivid but more concise than Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886), knowing that he’s neither appreciated nor loved by his wife and his daughter.  Razvan Petrescu’s fictional world is filled with such uncaring women, indifferent doctors, loveless marriages and spoiled children. They show the following thought experiment in action: When cynicism is pushed as far as it can go, it becomes psychological realism.

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Cynicism versus nihilism

There’s no doubt that Razvan Petrescu’s fiction is pervaded by an underlying sense of cynicism. Not nihilism, but cynicism. Nihilism, or the questioning and negation of human ideals and values, may be great for philosophy—think Nietzsche—but it can be awfully boring and preachy when we encounter it in fiction. Who needs a dissertation on the meaninglessness of life and human values from some uppity character delivering lectures from up high, on a pedestal? Cynicism, on the other hand, tends to be a very welcome perspective in fiction. It avoids both the unforgivable naiveté of idealism and the arrogance of nihilism. Of course, in modern usage, cynicism has little to do with the original Greek Cynics, who believed that the purpose of life was to live a virtuous and modest life, deprived of unnecessary luxuries: in other words, a life in accordance to Nature. Perhaps modern Cynicism uses as its frame of reference only the most comical and extreme of the Cynics—Diogenes of Sinope—who rejected his society, begged to survive, and lived in a stone jar in the marketplace. Either way you look at it, cynicism offers a critical perspective of the human condition and of our societies with enough humor and sense of the absurd that even humanists can take it.  Written in a dramatic, hallucinatory and utterly engaging polyphony of dialects (and characterizations); confronting our deepest fears and flaws with a disarming honesty and contagious cynicism; probing psychologically the limits of our humanity and moral values, Razvan Petrescu’s Rubato is a masterpiece of world (not just Romanian) literature.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

 

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Filed under book review of Razvan Petrescu's Rubato, Borges, contemporary fiction, Curtea Veche Publishing Rubato, Cynicism, Kafka, Razvan Petrescu's Rubato: The Coordinates of World-Class Romanian Fiction, Shalom Aleichem, The Castle, The Trial

How the Publishing Process Works in the United States: A Writer’s Perspective

The Seducer by Claudia Moscovici

 

Two of the most major transformations in the U.S. publishing industry over the past few decades have been a) the rising importance of literary agents since the 1980’s and b) the rise of e-books in the early 2000’s. While in Romania and France unagented submissions remain the norm, it’s almost impossible to publish a book with the large publishing houses in the U.S.– particularly fiction–without representation by a very reputable literary agent.  Agents sift through the enormous number of submissions and recommend to the editors of the major publishers the books they believe will sell well. I found this out not from a book about the publishing industry, but directly from one of my favorite American writers, John Updike.

Velvet Totalitarianism by Claudia Moscovici

In 2003, when I had finished a few chapters of my first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism (published by Editura Curtea Veche in Romanian translation under the title Intre Doua Lumi), I wrote a hand-written note to John Updike. I told him about my background and the subject of my novel—namely, life under the Ceausescu regime in communist Romania and immigrating to the U.S.—and asked him, if he liked the chapters he read, to recommend me to his literary agent. It was a longshot, but worth a try. To my pleasant surprise, he responded–also in a hand-written note–offering very positive input about the sample chapters I had sent him but telling me that he never had a literary agent. He worked directly with the publishing house. This was common practice during the 1960’s, when John Updike began publishing. By 2003, however, unmediated contact between writers and editors was practically unheard of in the U.S., where the major publishing houses had long instituted a policy of not accepting unagented submissions.  So how does a writer go about finding a literary agent?

Intre Doua Lumi de Claudia Moscovici

You can do it the hard way, which, quite frankly, has relatively small chances of success: buy the latest edition of The Writer’s Market, which lists the contact information for literary agents in the U.S. There you have to figure out who are the most successful agents as well as sift out agents who charge to read your manuscript (this practice has become increasingly unpopular) from those who don’t. Then you send them a query—by regular mail or, more rarely, by email—introducing yourself and your credentials; describing your book; explaining why you think it would sell well and including a few sample chapters. I later found out from agents themselves why this impersonal process is not likely to yield positive results for most authors. When I was teaching at the University of Michigan, I organized a few panel discussions at the Ann Arbor Book Festival (in 2005, 2006 and 2007). In 2007, Amy Williams, who is Elizabeth Kostova’s literary agent, and Susan Golomb, Jonathan Franzen’s agent were two of the guest speakers in these panels. They discussed, among other things, the publishing process, explaining that they receive as many as 100 to 200 submissions a day from authors seeking representation. This deluge of queries is colloquially called “the slush pile”. Like most very successful agents, they usually sift through the queries and focus mostly on submissions by successful authors they know of or authors recommended by successful authors they know. Only rarely do they find in the slush pile unknown and unrecommended authors they wish to represent, and even in those cases, they are usually students at very reputable M.F.A. programs or have published with important magazines or literary reviews. So if you don’t want to go through the time-consuming process of finding an agent or don’t make it past their slush pile, what do you do next? As mentioned, writing directly to the editors of the major publishing houses is no longer an option nowadays. So logically, you would try avenues that don’t require agent representation: medium-sized or small independent publishing houses.  This avenue, however, has also become increasingly narrow over the past ten years.

During the 1990’s many of the small and independent publishing houses have folded or were bought by the major publishers. There are some noteworthy exceptions: my own publishing house, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, which is, as they advertise, the “largest independent publishing house in North America” has continued to expand by buying smaller publishers and has begun to publish fiction works by successful authors who have already published scholarship with them (as was my situation). There are also several small publishers that publish between 2 and 10 books a year; academic publishers that publish mostly scholarship (and are often non-profit or low-profit, partly sponsored by universities) and increasingly few medium-sized publishing houses like MacAdam/Cage in San Francisco.  I’m including below a list of some of the medium-sized and small independent publishing houses in the U.S.:

http://www.bookmarket.com/101publishers.htm

If you succeed in publishing your book with one of these independent publishers, you may be more fortunate than you think. Although smaller publishing houses have correspondingly smaller publicity budgets than the big publishers, please keep in mind (as the agents on the panels I organized discussed), that the big publishers don’t divide their annual publicity and promotion budget evenly among the hundreds of books they publish each year. Celebrities that publish with them—such as Paris Hilton or former president George Bush publishing their autobiographies—have their own publicity agents who help a lot with the promotion of their books. In addition, because of their name recognition, the media helps spread the word and the popularity of their books.  So basically the major publishers invest most of their annual publicity budget on the new books they believe will sell best. Those are usually represented by the most reputable literary agents and sell at auction. An auction is when several of the big publishing houses bid for the same book. To offer an example from one of the book fair panels I organized, in 2005 Little Brown & Company won the bid for Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, an exquisite work of literary fiction about the legend of Vlad Tepes/Dracula. They invested about 2 million dollars, or a large chunk of their annual publicity budget, into promoting that novel.  This bid paid off because the novel was very successful internationally as well as because it sold movie rights to Sony Pictures in 2007. As we’ve seen through the enormous success of the Harry Potter and Twilight Series, novels that become blockbuster movies grow exponentially in popularity.

But by far most writers publishing with the big publishing houses don’t fall into the category of “celebrities” whose books practically sell themselves or hit the jackpot with getting most of the publicity budget of that publisher for that year. In those (majority) cases, even if they manage to catch the interest of one of the best literary agents and to publish with a major publisher, they still have to work very hard to promote their books.

Ebooks and Self-Publishing

Given that the odds are heavily stacked against new authors, it’s not surprising that many of them choose to self-publish e-books, via, for instance, the very popular Amazon Kindle program.  Unlike publishing with vanity presses that charge a lot of money to print books, this option is easy and inexpensive. But there’s a large downside to it as well: there are so many books out there, particularly now that anyone can self-publish their work on Kindle and other venues, that the sea of information has become so vast that each author who lacks a large promotion budget and media connections is nothing more than a drop in the ocean of books and deluge of information. To rise to the surface requires a lot of ingenuity, luck and networking.

Like many authors, I’ve been asked the question of where do I believe the publishing industry is heading next. I think that self-publishing will grow and that the future is already here with e-books. E-books have the advantage of cutting out most of the distribution cost. This is a huge advantage for both authors and publishers, since the cost of shipping books all over the world is very high. This is why authors generally receive only between 5 and 10 percent royalties from the (hardcopy) books they publish. The percentage of royalties depends in part on the number of copies sold (the more it sells, the bigger the royalties for the author) and in part on what kind of contract a given author or agent is able to negotiate with the publisher. Still, for most authors, 5 to 10 percent profits is not enough to make a living just by writing books. Since e-books don’t have the same distribution costs, authors can negotiate more advantageous contracts. E-books are also very convenient for readers, since it’s so much easier to carry around with you a Kindle or Nook than twenty or thirty books.  It’s true that many people still prefer to leaf through an actual book. But I believe this preference is largely a matter of habit; of what they grew up doing. In the next few years, my daughter’s school system is planning to replace hardcopy textbooks with e-books. This transition will soon happen in schools throughout the country, such that the kids starting primary school will probably not even hold books in their hands. Those growing up strictly on e-books in school, with little standard of comparison, are not likely to prefer actual books as adults.

Foreseeing such major transitions, the major publishing houses are trying to adapt best to the new media and new demands of readers. I’m including below a relevant article on this topic by Christine Kearney (Reuters) about Book Expo America:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/27/us-books-ebooks-idUSTRE74Q5J020110527

The one major current downside of e-books is that they’re still, for the most part, tied to the companies that produce the e-readers—such as Amazon for Kindle—which are not universally adaptable to other reading programs. If they were, then the risk of losing profits would be much higher: it would mean that anyone could forward a book by email, so nobody would need to pay for it.

Hypotheses about the future of publishing:

a) Print books versus e-books

So what predictions do I make about the future of publishing in the U.S.? I think that for the generations of readers that were brought up on print books, they will continue to cherish reading an actual book as well as adapt to the convenience of e-books. The new generations, brought up just on e-books in schools, will choose them over hardcopy books in the same way that kids brought up on computers don’t use typewriters.  The publishers that can see into this near future and dominate the e-book market will be the ones that will rise in power and influence in the publishing industry.

b) Promoting and marketing your book(s)

The era of the timid or reclusive author, shying away from or outright rejecting the media and contact with readers, is long gone. Whether you publish with a big publishing house, a smaller independent publisher or on your own, you have to be willing to share your work with others through every venue and opportunity you can. Aside from networking, promoting through the new media—such as book trailers, music videos and films—will grow in importance. We are becoming, internationally, visual cultures predicated upon instant gratification. Videos make a direct and immediate impact on viewers, tempting them to find out more about your book. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with very talented Romanian photographers, actors, musicians and music producers on the book trailers for my novel, Velvet Totalitarianism/Intre Doua LumiAndy Platon, Anthony Icuagu, Marcel Lovin, Ioana Picos, Mihai Marin, Claudiu Ciprian Popa, Elena Rotaru, Elena Xing, Andrei Dombrovski–to which I’m extremely grateful and with whom I hope to collaborate again for future book launches.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KURICuT8TcA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgCdLdygaII&feature=plcp

Film in particular is a mixture of all the arts and a feast for the senses. Authors who succeed in working with movie directors and having their novels made into films will increase the chances of success for their books.

c) Literary agents

As mentioned, the influence of literary agents in the U.S. and Great Britain has risen to enormous proportions during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but it is now waning for two main reasons. First of all, as I explained earlier, there’s a bottleneck of “slush pile” submissions. This means that the most reputable literary agents are no longer accessible to most authors. Secondly, self-publishing has improved—in both reputation and the possibilities for success it offers–giving authors the chance to succeed on their own. The number who succeed in becoming best sellers in any venue or through any process is very small. This will not change, no matter what changes the publishing industry undergoes. Huge mainstream success is hard to attain and depends upon so many factors outside the author’s and publisher’s control. But keep in mind that success is a journey not a destination and enjoy every step of the process of writing, publishing and promotion, each of which presents so many challenges and rewards.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

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Celebrating Romanian Culture Internationally

Romanian Culture

My new youtube video celebrates Romanian culture, internationally:

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

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My Interview about Velvet Totalitarianism and The Seducer in Celebrity Dialogue

Claudia Moscovici: Novelist, Non-Fiction Author & Art Critic PDF Print E-mail
March 11th, 2012
Interview of Claudia Moscovici on CelebrityDialgoue.com
Claudia Moscovici is an American Romanian Novelist, non-fiction author and art critic. Her latest novel “The Seducer” is a psychological story of a married woman trapped in the love of an unassuming psychopath. Claudia is the author of “Velvet Totalitarianism,” a critically acclaimed novel about a Romanian family’s survival in an oppressive communist regime due to the strength of their love.

CelebrityDialogue: What is the basic plot of your latest novel “The Seducer”?Claudia: “The Seducer,” my new psychological thriller, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. This novel traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” my novel shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.
CelebrityDialogue: What inspired you to write this novel?

Claudia: I have always been a big fan of nineteenth-century fiction that focuses on the theme of seduction: I’m thinking of classic novels like Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. I also read with great interest the libertine novel tradition of the eighteenth-century: my favorite in this genre being Laclos’ epistolary novel, “Dangerous Liaisons”. I think in his depiction of Valmont, Laclos gets the seducer profile exactly right: he is a dangerous psychopath—essentially a social predator who plays games with the lives of others, having malicious fun at their expense– rather than a libertine maverick (as in Casanova) or a tragic romantic hero (as in Tolstoy). I did four years of psychology research of the most dangerous personality disorders—psychopathy and narcissism—to create a realistic and up-to-date psychological profile of the seducer in my new novel by the same name.
CelebrityDialogue: Would you like to introduce our readers to a non-fiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons”, that you wrote in 2011?

Claudia: Although the theme of psychopathy comes up mostly when we hear about (psychopathic) serial killers, it is actually much more commonplace and pervasive, in both fact and fiction. What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the incapacity to love. In other words, these men are psychopaths. Unfortunately, most psychopaths don’t advertise themselves as heartless social predators. They come across as charming, intelligent, friendly, generous, romantic and kind. Through their believable “mask of sanity,” they lure many of us into their dangerous nets. My nonfiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons,” explains clearly, for a general audience, what psychopaths are, why they act the way they do, how they attract us and whom they tend to target. Above all, this book helps victims find the strength to end their toxic relationships with psychopaths and move on, stronger and wiser, with the rest of their lives.

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CelebrityDialogue: What exactly is psychopathic seduction?

Claudia: Psychopathic seduction happens when someone is seduced (targeted, lured with false promises or under false premises, deceived, manipulated, isolated and brainwashed) by a psychopathic social predator. Psychopaths are far more common than one thinks. Experts estimate that between 1 and 4 percent of the population is psychopathic. This means that there are millions of psychopaths in the United States alone. The influence of these very dangerous individuals extends far beyond this percentage however. Psychopaths are generally very sociable, highly promiscuous and con countless people: sexually, emotionally and/or financially. They poison tens of millions of lives in this country and far more, of course, internationally.

Claudia Moscovici The Seducer

CelebrityDialogue: Your novel “Velvet Totalitarianism” is about a Romanian family’s survival against communist regime. Since you have Romanian roots, did any true life events prompt you to write this novel?

Claudia: “Velvet Totalitarianism”, which was recently launched in Romanian translation (“Intre Doua Lumi,” Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011), is inspired in part by events in Romanian history as well as by elements from my life and my parents’ lives: including my father’s defection to the U.S., our dealings with the Securitate and our immigration. Nevertheless, I fictionalized both the historical and the biographical elements to give the novel a tighter and more dramatic structure.
CelebrityDialogue: You must have felt proud when this novel was published in Romanian language?

Claudia: I was delighted that “Velvet Totalitarianism” was published in Romania, both because it was written about the history and struggles of the Romanian people and because I have a sentimental attachment and cultural ties to my native country. I was especially happy to see how well-received the novel in translation (“Intre Doua Lumi”) was by the mainstream media in Romania, where it was featured not only in literary and culture magazines such as Scrisul Romanesc and Viata Romaneasca, but also in Forbes.ro, women’s glossy magazines (such as Revista Avantaje), and general interest blogs like Catchy.ro and VIP.net. Since I aspire to being a public writer and intellectual, I wish to reach a wide community of readers, internationally.
CelebrityDialogue: Which are your other major published works?

Claudia: I have published several scholarly books, but I’d consider “major” works only those books that I wrote for a general audience. These include my art criticism book “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, on the Romantic tradition in art and literature and its postromantic survival; my novels “Velvet Totalitarianism” and “The Seducer”, and my psychology book about psychopaths and dangerous relationships, “Dangerous Liaisons”.
CelebrityDialogue: You are the co-founder of” Postromanticism”. For those who may not know, please shed some light on this movement.

Claudia: I believe that art movements are not only diachronic, emerging one after the other, as they tend to be taught in art history, but also synchronic, in that each new art movement borrows from many aesthetic traditions of the past. Postromanticism, the international art movement I co-launched in 2002 with the Mexican sculptor Leonardo Pereznieto, is no exception. It is inspired by several traditions in art history, including Neoclassicism, Romanticism and art nouveau. Postromanticism places emphasis upon beauty, sensuality and passion in contemporary art. You can see samples of postromantic art on my website, http://postromanticism.com.
CelebrityDialogue: Since you write about love, beauty and passion, what does love mean to you in real life? Were you able to find love in your life?

Claudia: Being a novelist and art/literary critic, for many years I looked mostly at fantasy—since, after all, that’s what art and fiction are–to describe love as a romantic ideal rather than as a daily lived reality. But for the past few years, particularly after studying personality disorders, I have come to appreciate much more the pragmatic and ethical dimensions of real love. To me, love implies mutual commitment, supporting one another through thick and thin, fidelity and caring about one another: everything that the wedding vows promise and that my wonderful and supportive husband, Dan Troyka, has offered me in real life for over 20 years, since we met and fell in love in college.
CelebrityDialogue: What are you working on these days?

Claudia: Since my interests are in several fields—fiction, art and psychology—I always work at several projects simultaneously. This “multitasking” keeps me from becoming bored with any one subject or stuck in a rut creatively. Right now I’m researching the psychology of cults, which will be the subject of my third novel, “The Cult”. Since cult leaders are often charismatic psychopaths, this novel will incorporate a lot of the research I’ve already done to write “The Seducer” and “Dangerous Liaisons”. In addition, I have just finished writing the preface for an exciting new science fiction novel called “The Cube”, written in the tradition of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”, which will be published by my publisher in a few months. At the same time, I’m working closely with the Romanian-born movie producer Bernard Salzman, whom you’ve already interviewed in Celebrity Dialogue, on the screenplay for my first novel, “Velvet Totalitarianism”. Hopefully this will be an American-Romanian production, since a large part of the plot takes place in Romania. I also continue with my art criticism and am preparing for the launch of “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, translated by the writer and critic Dumitru Radu Popa, in Romania next fall. It’s a Latin country so I’m hoping for a warm reception of postromanticism, the art of passion!
CelebrityDialogue: Thank you so much Claudia. It was a pleasure.

Claudia: Thank you for this interview, the pleasure was mine.

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Filed under book review, Claudia Moscovici, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, Dan Troyka Claudia Moscovici, fiction, Intre Doua Lumi, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Nat Karody The Cube

The Multimedia Launch of Velvet Totalitarianism (Intre Doua Lumi) in Romania

I’m happy to report that my first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, was launched in Romanian translation (by Mihnea Gafita) under the title Intre Doua Lumi (Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011). The presentation will include my talk about the book as well as a book trailer produced by Claudiu Ciprian Popa and a music video produced by Andy (Soundland) Platon (see the below). This was the first multimedia launch, in which a book trailer and music video accompanied the presentations of the novel.

The political commentator Adrian Cioroianu, the literary critic Alex Stefanescu and the film producer Stere Gulea introduced my novel in light of their respective fields. The book launch took place at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest (ICR Bucuresti) on September 21, 2011 at 18:00 p.m. (Aleea Alexandru nr. 38, sector 1, 011824, Bucuresti, România).  

This novel is being made into a movie by the Romanian-American cinematographer Bernard Salzman (http://bernardsalzman.com/)

I’m pasting below the Advance Praise for my novel as well as Diana Evantia Barca‘s article about it in Catchy.ro and Anca Lapusneanu‘s article about it (and intellectual freedom) in Revista VIP.

Advance Praise for Velvet Totalitarianism/Intre Doua Lumi

A deeply felt, deftly rendered novel of the utmost importance to any reader interested in understanding totalitarianism and its terrible human cost. Urgent, evocative, and utterly convincing, Velvet Totalitarianism is a book to treasure, and Claudia Moscovici is indeed a writer to watch, now and into the future.

–Travis Holland, author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Archivist’s Story, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

Claudia Moscovici’s first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, triumphs on several levels: as a taut political thriller, as a meditation on totalitarianism, as an expose of the Ceausescu regime, and as a moving fictionalized memoir of one family’s quest for freedom.

–Ken Kalfus, author of the novel A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

 (2006 National Book Award nominee), of The Commissariat of Enlightenment (2003) and of PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies (1999).

Western intellectuals have often blurred the fundamental differences between the imperfect free world they have been fortunate to enjoy and the totalitarian world of communism they never had the misfortune to endure.  Claudia Moscovici’s Velvet Totalitarianism is a powerful corrective to that ivory tower distortion of reality.  Moscovici makes her readers viscerally feel the corrosive psychological demoralization and numbing fear totalitarian regimes impose on those who live under them.  At the same time, with style and wit, and informed by her experiences as a child in communist Romania and then as an immigrant in the United States, she tells a story of resilience and hope.  Velvet Totalitarianism is a novel well worth reading, both for its compelling narrative and for its important message.

–Michael Kort, Professor of Social Science at Boston University and author of the best-selling textbook, The Soviet ColossusHistory and Aftermath

This vivid novel by Claudia Moscovici, historian of ideas and wide-ranging literary critic, traces a family of Jewish-Romanian refugees from the stifling communist dictatorship of their homeland through their settling in the United States during the 1980’s. This fascinating and compelling story is at once historically accurate, exciting, sexy and a real page-turner. Ms. Moscovici is as sensitive to the emotions of her characters as to their political entanglements.

–Edward K. Kaplan, Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities at Brandeis University and author of Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972, winner of the National Jewish Book Award

Moving between extraordinary and ordinary lives, between Romania and the United States, velvet totalitarianism and relative freedom, dire need and consumerism, evoking her Romanian experience in the seventies, the emigration to the U.S. of her family in the eighties, and the 1989 uprising in Timisoara and Bucharest that marked the end of Ceausescu’s regime, Claudia Moscovici offers her readers a multifaceted book—Velvet Totalitarianism—that is at once a love story, a political novel and a mystery. Love is the last resort left to people in order to counter totalitarianism under Ceausescu’s rule. It keeps families united, allowing them to resist indoctrination and hardship and to make sure their children enjoy the carefree beautiful years that are their due. Love gives the protagonist of the novel the strength to overcome cultural differences between Romania and the U.S. and to invent in turn a form of personal happiness in a context that, while far from being as harsh as her initial one, does not lack its own problems.

– Sanda Golopentia, Professor of French, Brown University

Cold historical facts and figures tend to leave us emotionally indifferent. The impact of a nation’s tragic events on one single person or family is much better understood and more profoundly felt. This is what makes Claudia Moscovici’s book, Velvet Totalitarianism, so very special. Her novel is prefaced by a well-researched history of Romania under communism. Depending on one’s point of view, Moscovici’s work could be considered as the fictionalized story of a real Jewish-Romanian family under communism, based on her own recollections and that of her family and supported by true historical facts; or a brief history supported by the fictionalized story of a real family. It’s a book well worth reading. The novel is a page-turner, witty and well written.

–Nicolae Klepper, author of the best-selling book, Romania: An Illustrated History.


http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Totalitarianism-Post-Stalinist-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/076184693X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323439558&sr=1-1

 

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