MEMOIR: "Burying the Typewriter," by Carmen Bugan

  • Article by: CRISTIAN LUPSA , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2012 - 9:53 PM

A crash course with history: A dreamy, bountiful childhood in the Romanian countryside ends when the father is jailed for protesting the Communist regime.

BURYING THE TYPEWRITER By: Carmen Bugan.

In the two decades since the fall of communism and the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, dissident memoirs have become a fixture of Romanian books, movies and fine art. Victims can finally tell their stories, some of them harrowing tales of lives taken away by a regime that worked diligently to suppress not just freedom of speech, but sometimes the very essence of humanity.

Carmen Bugan's memoir, "Burying the Typewriter," simultaneously embodies and eschews this genre. In the book, her father, a dissident from a small village in southern Romania, types anti-Communist pamphlets at night on an unregistered typewriter he keeps buried in the yard. When secret police apprehend him for distributing the pamphlets, he goes to jail and his family is put under surveillance. There are secret police in the back yard at night, in the living room during the day, across the street, even in the church tower. Their food stocks are raided, and Bugan, a teenager at the time and home only with her grandmother, can't contact her sister and mother for weeks.

Still, the book is not a memoir of tyranny, but a story of the author's idyllic childhood on an unforeseen collision course with history. Bugan has written a sensual memoir of growing up in the countryside, playing in the orchard, milking cows, chasing chickens, cuddling by the fire in the winter with her grandmother, whose skilled hands could turn simple ingredients into a feast.

Bugan's voice is of a carefree child of the 1970s, unaware that the president pictured in her schoolbooks is rationing food, saving electricity by cutting power, and playing Big Brother. As she turns 11, she begins connecting the dots between her parents' habit of listening to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, their gloom when they return from their store where they sell allotments of bread and meat to people who savagely trample one another in line because there will never be enough for everyone, and the nighttime click-clacking of keys in her father's study.

As her father begins to spend less time with the family, young Carmen begins to resents him. After he is arrested, the family's life falls into shambles, and they blame him. Yes, the dissident has spoken for freedom, but he has also sacrificed his family in the process.

Bugan's memoir doesn't mean to answer the question of whether fighting for freedom trumps family -- although there is no doubt her father believes that -- but, instead, shows a child's unwavering loyalty to the universe in which she grew up. By not taking the story into the present -- it ends in 1989, the year of the revolution -- Bugan creates a dreamy world we all share, but also shows the imminent dark clouds of adulthood, infinitely more devastating when at the mercy of a soul-less government that will do anything to stay in place.

Cristian Lupsa lives in Romania, where he is the editor of "Decât o Revist," a quarterly journal of nonfiction.

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  • BURYING THE TYPEWRITER

    By: Carmen Bugan.

    Publisher: Graywolf Press, 224 pages, $15.

    Review: Carmen Bugan's lush and sensuous memories of growing up are countered by a sharp sense of loss and unhappiness when her father is arrested and the family loses its home. Winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction.

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