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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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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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Review of The Geneva Affair

 If you're into Romanian culture and cuisine, you may already be familiar with Nicolae Klepper's writing. His nonfiction book, Romania: An Illustrated History, offers one of the best historical introductions to the country; while his cookbook, Taste of Romania, is a bestseller. Recently, Nicolae Klepper published his first novel, The Geneva Affair
 
Its hero, Dan Stevens, is an American executive caught in the dangerous web of Michelle Sardou, a French femme fataleStill reeling from the loss of his job and vulnerable from his recent divorce from Nicole (his younger wife who left him for a French movie producer), Dan falls into the trap set up by Michelle, through a potent combination of seduction, deception and flattery. He falls head over heels in love with her, despite uncovering some of her lies and spotting flagrant inconsistencies in her stories. But even as he discovers Michelle's penchant for manipulation and deceit, Dan doesn't heed the warning signals. On the contrary, he grows even more intrigued by her once he begins to realize that this sexy French woman is not who she claims to be. He becomes obsessed with finding out her real motives and identity.

As Dan follows a trail of clues, strange things happen to him. He's called for a police interrogation even though he did nothing illegal. Thugs pursue him in a hotel parking lot. Worse still, after stringing him along and playing hot/cold games with him for several months, Michelle suddenly disappears. Drawn to her sex appeal and aura of mystery, Dan is determined to get to the truth: even if it means putting his new job--as well as his sanity--in jeopardy. If you're a fan of John le Carré or simply enjoy reading spy thrillers, The Geneva Affair is the novel for you. 
 

Claudia Moscovici, Literaturesalon


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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UNKNOWN Should Be Known: Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Jaume Collet-Serra‘s new movie Unknown, freshly released in theaters yesterday (February 18, 2011), definitely deserves to be known to viewers, internationally. This movie, based on a French novel by Didier van Cauwerlaert, with screenplays in English by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, has incredibly compelling characterizations and puts the “thriller” back in the rather formulaic genre of spy thriller.

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin for an important Biotech conference where his German colleague  is about to release a new type of corn that adapts to any climate. This important discovery will help alleviate world hunger. After the couple reaches the hotel, Dr. Harris realizes that he forgot a briefcase with valuable secret information. On impulse, he takes a taxi back to the airport to retrieve it. On the way, he has an unexpected accident that lands the taxi into a river. Gina (Diane Kruger), an Albanian immigrant who is his taxi driver, saves his life and disappears before the police shows up.

After he recovers from a brief coma, Dr. Harris goes back to his posh hotel, only to discover that his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), is at a reception with another man who claims to be the real Dr. Harris. To his shock, Elizabeth denies knowing him. The rest of the plot, filled with twists and suspense–but above all with strong character development–follows Dr. Harris’s efforts to reconnect with his wife, reclaim his stolen identity and elude the hitmen who are out to get not just him, but also anyone who seeks to protect him.

Liam Neeson plays his role compellingly, as a human being one can relate to not just another action hero. Diane Kruger, cast in the role of the Albanian taxi driver, is just as rich and multidimensional in her acting. She’s probably the most sympathetic character in the movie, as she reveals real courage and integrity in her efforts to protect Harris. An equally compelling character is a former Stasi agent, played by Bruno Ganz, who helps Harris figure out the machinations of his adversaries and their real identities.

The excellent acting, as well as elements of the plot, call to mind the unforgettable German movie, The Lives of Others (2006), directed by Florian Henchel von Donnersmarck. To top off the excellent acting and sustained dramatic tension, Unknown has a plot twist at the end, that is as surprising as it is believable. From beginning to end this movie, which is amazingly well directed and acted, will leave viewers at the edge of their seats. This is a five star movie, all around.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

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It’s Worth Traveling to See The Tourist

Depending upon where you live, you may be stuck in the season’s first snow storm. But it’s worth tracking through the snow to see the new thriller, The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The spectacular scenes of Venice, complete with opulent parties, palatial hotels and simmering erotic tension between Depp and Jolie, may be sufficient to make this movie worth seeing. Frank (Johnny Depp) is an American tourist on vacation in Venice. He’s trying to mend his broken heart after having been left by his girlfriend. Jolie plays the role of Elise, a gorgeous, mysterious femme fatale (with a classic sense of fashion). Elise uses Frank, the slightly awkward math teacher from Wisconsin, to mislead those following her former lover, Alexander, who is wanted both by an evil gangster (for stealing two billion dollars from him) and by British intelligence.

No doubt, this is a standard spy thriller. But The Tourist had a few surprises up its sleeve: and I’m not talking just about the plot twist at the end, which I won’t reveal. The first pleasant surprise is that they used real French and Italian actors, filmed on scene, not American actors with bad foreign accents. This may have something to do with the fact that the movie, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a remake of a 2005 French film, directed by Anthony Zimmer.

Second, Johnny Depp’s acting was impressively nuanced and believable. Jolie, though spectacularly beautiful, sticks to her persona of the mysterious and alluring femme fatale. But Depp’s acting reveals vulnerability, awkwardness, fascination, coyness, lust, fear, courage and, ultimately, love. His character expresses a whole range of emotions that aren’t overplayed and that are rendered all the more appealing by the comic relief he adds to what might otherwise have been a standard genre movie with very hot actors.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

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The Role of Cultural Memory: Writing Velvet Totalitarianism

My first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, took me about ten years to write. It took me so long partly because I wrote this book while also teaching literature and philosophy, writing scholarly books and raising a family. It took me a long time to write it also because I had to do a lot of historical research for it. When one works for so long on one book, the interrelated questions of motivation and intended audience become all the more relevant. As I was writing Velvet Totalitarianism, I asked myself often: why write historical fiction about the Cold War, an era which is now relegated mostly to history books? Why is the history of Romanian communism so important to me and whom do I hope to touch in writing fiction about it? An anecdote brought these questions into sharper focus.

Friends of my parents, who have a son who’s not much younger than myself, told us that their son recalls only one thing about life under the Ceausescu regime in the mid 1980’s, when he was not yet a teenager. Now in his thirties, the young man remembers that as a child he frequently had to go to bed wearing his hat and coat during the winter, because there was no heat or hot water in their apartment. But he can’t recall much else about the hardships the Romanian people endured during the Ceausescu dictatorship. He knows only indirectly, from older family members and from history books, the childhood memories which I can still recall quite vividly, and which I wanted to depict for others in my writing. Conditions in Romania during the so-called “Epoch of Light” were notoriously miserable. People had to wait in long lines for meager supplies of food, clothing and household goods. There was limited heat and hot water. By the late 1970’s, the Secret Police had installed microphones in virtually every home and apartment. The whole population lived in fear. As a Romanian citizen said to a French journalist following the fall of the Ceausescu regime, “It was a system that didn’t destroy people physically — not many were actually killed; but it was a system that condemned us to a fight for the lowest possible level of physical and spiritual nourishment. Under Ceausescu, some people died violently, but an entire population was dying.” Although Velvet Totalitarianism focuses mostly on Romania, hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans led similar lives to the ones I describe, struggling daily against poverty, hunger, state indoctrination, surveillance, censorship and oppression in post-Stalinist communist regimes. In actuality, “velvet” totalitarianism was insidious rather than soft and gentle, killing your spirit even when it spared your life.

It’s one thing to read about the institutions and events that characterized life in totalitarian Romania and quite another to have lived through them. For my family and I, the events I describe in this novel are real. Like everyone else, we were subject to constant state indoctrination. Like practically everyone else except for the very privileged, we waited in long lines for meager supplies of food and consumer goods. Since my father traveled abroad, our apartment was bugged — we discovered hidden microphones underneath his desk and inside the heating units — and the Securitate followed my parents’ movements. My father worked at the Mathematics Institute. His boss was Nicolae Ceausescu’s daughter, Zoe Ceausescu, who actually went against some of her father’s policies by allowing him to go to scholarly conferences abroad. This rare privilege was essential to a mathematician’s — or, for that matter, any intellectual’s — career. Nobody can thrive intellectually without a free exchange of information and an awareness of the latest international discoveries in one’s field. In spite of Zoe Ceausescu’s umbrage, however, my father was accused by the Securitate of being an Israeli spy upon his return from a conference in Jerusalem. He was told that he’d no longer be allowed out of the country.

No doubt this individual decision was not really personal. It coincided with Ceausescu’s national policy of closing the Iron Curtain, to further isolate and control the Romanian people. Fortunately, my father obtained permission to attend one last conference, at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies. He decided to take a chance and defect to the United States. Since my mother and I were still in Romania, my family struggled to reunite in the United States for nearly two years. Although there were precedents for similar immigrations, we lived under the rational fear that we might never see each other again. My mother was subject to demoralizing Securitate interrogations similar to the ones I describe in Velvet Totalitarianism. Yet, as I also depict in the novel, we never gave up or lost hope. Several congressmen and human rights organizations intervened on our behalf. When I was a few weeks shy of my twelfth birthday, we finally joined my father in the United States. “Velvet totalitarianism” is a term that has been used to describe the constraints imposed upon the expression of liberal values in the Canadian and American academia. Just as, conversely, the term “political correctness” has been used to indicate that there’s no real freedom of expression of conservative values in the academia.

Indeed, whether or not America has turned out to be the country of plentitude and freedom that I dreamed about as a child back in Romania is another story. But what remains clear to me is that the systematic state repression we lived through in Romania makes whatever’s being criticized in Western institutions today, by both the right and the left, pale by comparison. The United States certainly lacks the absolute freedom that some of its ideologues may rhapsodize about, but what Romanians experienced was an absolute lack of freedom, which is far worse.

In Velvet Totalitarianism I wanted to leave a trace of the scale of comparison, of the difference I experienced between the lack of absolute freedom here and the lack of any freedom there. As the narrator of my novel states at the end, I’m hoping that this description of daily life in Romania under the Ceausescu regime will convey to my children and to my children’s children — as well as all readers interested in this subject — the lost traces of an era in which ordinary people were forced to lead extraordinary lives.

The anecdote my parents told me about the young Romanian who couldn’t recall much about the Ceausescu era helped convince me that these traces could, indeed, be lost. Due to the (largely positive) political and economic developments during the past 20 years in Eastern Europe and the internationalization of American pop culture, today’s children and young adults in Romania and other former East Bloc countries probably have more in common with their Western counterparts than they do with the family members who endured the hardships of communist regimes. Many of them know more about Facebook and Lady Gaga than about the Ceausescu era or the infamous Romanian orphanages. In writing about the communist epoch in Eastern Europe, both historians and writers of historical fiction are therefore helping preserve cultural memory for future generations of Eastern Europeans as well as for Western readers, both of whom are relatively detached from these experiences. They have not lived through them. They have no recollections that emotionally bond them to this difficult past. In many respects, the stark reality of Communist totalitarianism is as foreign to new generations of Eastern Europeans as it is to most Westerners.

To offer one noteworthy example, if one looks at what’s being published and read about Romania in the U.S., one is immediately struck by the fact that it’s Vlad Tepes’s reign and the horrid yet tantalizing legend of Dracula that readers find most intriguing. Few Americans have heard of Nicolae Ceausescu and yet fewer know about Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Yet there’s hardly a teenager in America who hasn’t heard of the Twilight series; there’s hardly a bookstore in the country that doesn’t sell Anne Rice’s vampire novels or Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite rendition of the Dracula myth, the international best-seller The Historian. Why the Dracula legend has far more international appeal in the West than practically anything else related to Romania is a complex enough question to warrant numerous Ph.D. students, plus the Romanian tourism industry, working on it. Whatever the answers to this question might be, what’s become clear to me is this: for any author who writes about any OTHER aspect of Romanian history than the Vlad Tepes/Dracula legend, the challenge becomes, above all, how to make them matter to those who haven’t lived through those historical events and thus who have no a priori emotional investment in them.

To begin addressing the question of relevance, I’d like to turn first to the nonfiction book that has inspired my novel most: Vladimir Tismaneanu’s Stalinism for All Seasons.  For anyone interested in Romania’s political history during the twentieth-century, Professor Tismaneanu’s book is the seminal work on the subject. Clearly written, solidly researched, informative and engaging, Stalinism For All Seasons can be included among the best works of political history, alongside Richard Pipes’ works on Lenin, Robert Conquest’s books on Stalin and Allan Bullock’s studies of Hitler. It covers the evolution of Romanian communism from the early twentieth-century, through Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s Stalinist dictatorship and the latter’s strategic detachment from Moscow following Stalin’s death, to the dreary Ceausescu years of dynastic communism. Without this book, and others like it, younger generations of Romanians would grow increasingly disconnected from the past that deeply affected their families’ lives, and therefore, indirectly, their lives as well.

To write about the history of totalitarianism, be it through nonfiction or fiction, means to undertake the task of preserving for future generations a cultural memory of social change, of trials and tribulations and of unspeakable human suffering. It means to take on the challenge of bringing this past to the attention of those who may not have lived through it, and who will not find it automatically relevant to their lives. It means to somehow make this strange and alien past matter to them, at least enough to awaken their curiosity and open their hearts. It means to pay homage to those who sacrificed, or were sacrificed, by the totalitarian machine. Writing the history of totalitarianism is therefore simultaneously a discovery of the suppressed truth; a eulogy to a difficult cultural past and its countless victims; an homage to the people who endured it and to those who had the courage to fight against it and a cautionary tale to all those who never want to experience it, or to live through it again. In this respect, political history and historical fiction serve similar goals and face similar challenges. They induce people to care about something that is either already behind them and that they may prefer to forget, or about something that they’ve never lived through at all.

By way of contrast to political history, however, historical fiction isn’t as closely bound to accuracy or to any kind of objectivity. Of course, to write my book I consulted literally dozens of scholarly sources. But Velvet totalitarianism is also, above all, a work of mainstream literary fiction, to use one of the labels publishers rely on in this country. By this I mean that, by way of contrast to pulp fiction, the narrative style and the characterizations are as important as the plot and other structural elements of the novel. To make the main characters more multi-dimensional and believable, I relied for inspiration upon memories of my childhood and people in my life, especially my parents. But all the real-life elements of the novel served the function of enhancing and anchoring the fiction. The fictional elements, in my mind, were always primary.

As a work of fiction rather than historiography, Velvet Totalitarianism also faces the principal challenge of entertaining potential readers. When I was writing this novel, I kept in mind the problem of how to present such dreary and disheartening historical information in a way that is informative without becoming didactic, and entertaining without trivializing the difficult past I’m trying to describe. I relied in part upon a literary precedent, a contemporary American novel I love: Jeffrey’s Eugenides’ Middlesex. Eugenides called his novel “a comic epic” (of his Greek-American cultural heritage). He went far beyond (and deeper than) ethnic humor, since his novel relies upon social and historical research, a traditional Aristotelian plot with tragic tension and an interesting twist, and characterizations that are plausible, endearing and humorous (also inspired in part by his family members). That’s what I tried to do in Velvet Totalitarianism as well, only for my Romanian-American heritage, of course.

My novel has been described by critics as historical fiction, a spy thriller and a love story. All three descriptions apply equally well, but if I had to choose only one label, I’d say that Velvet Totalitarianism is a triple love story. First of all, love for two countries: Romania, my country of origin and its people, who have suffered a series of terrible governments and are struggling to emerge from them and establish a tradition of democracy. Simultaneously, love for my host country, the United States, the proverbial melting pot with a distinct identity that offers so many generations of immigrants the opportunity to flourish. Second, love for family, which gives the main characters the resourcefulness and strength to survive totalitarian repression. Third, the romantic love stories of fallible yet endearing characters who show that it’s our combination of faults, neuroses and loyalty to those important to us that make us fully human and enable us to enjoy the beauty of life, to survive its hardships and to overcome its challenges.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

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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Filed under communism, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, Eastern Europe, fiction, historical fiction, literature, love story, mainstream fiction, Romania, spy thriller