Winner of the Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction, a childhood memoir of political oppression and persecution during Romania's Ceausescu years
Carmen Bugan grew up amid the bounty of the Romanian countryside on her grandparent's farm where food and laughter were plentiful. But eventually her father's behavior was too disturbing to ignore. He wept when listening to Radio Free Europe, hid pamphlets in sacks of dried beans, and mysteriously buried and reburied a typewriter. When she discovered he was a political dissident she became anxious for him to conform. However, with her mother in the hospital and her sister at boarding school, she was alone, and helpless to stop him from driving off on one last, desperate protest.
After her father's subsequent imprisonment, Bugan was shunned by her peers at school and informed on by her neighbors. She candidly struggled with the tensions of loving her "hero" father who caused the family so much pain. When he returned from prison and the family was put under house arrest, the Bugans were forced to chart a new course for the future. A warm and intelligent debut, Burying the Typewriter provides a poignant reminder of a dramatic moment in Eastern European history.
Poet Bugan's (Crossing the Carpathians) memoir mixes tender and tough observations, mirroring the contradictions of growing up in Romania in the 1970s and '80s. As Dominika Dery did so affectingly in The Twelve Little Cakes, a 2004 coming-of-age tale set in a village outside Prague at roughly the same time, Bugan records a childhood marked by "bilingual" feelings and alternate worlds: one secure and joyful and the other a nightmare of secrecy and fear sparked by her dissident parents' covert activities. Her maturity accelerates as she receives a series of harsh lessons, beginning with the March 1977 earthquake ("the earth is weak and can slip from under me," she remembers). Other critical events include the death of her beloved grandmother; her discovery of propaganda at home and an illicit typewriter that her father hides by burying it each evening in the backyard; her traumatic interrogation at age 12 by the secret police; and her trip alone to the American Embassy in Bucharest to request political asylum. (The family went into exile in the U.S. just before communist president Nicolae Ceausescu's overthrow in 1989.) Many of Bugan's descriptions reach the sublime; for example, she compares keening for the loss of a loved one to poems, the best of which "pause on the sob in your throat, weeping both for what is beautiful and for what is lost to darkness and evil." But as with the pickled watermelon she mentions eating at holiday time, the sweet moments in Bugan's story offset the sour notes.