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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 13 August 2013
This memoir provides an insight into a life lived under a very restrictive regime and the consequences of challenging same. The author's father was brave enough to stand up to the regime, and the book tells the story of how his actions affected his family's daily life. The narrative weaves a story of strong family ties, the love between grandparents and grandchild, set against a backdrop of intrusion and spying by the secret police. An absorbing read.
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Burying the Typewriter is a book which falls into two parts. It is also a book which feels like it has two parts missing. It is at most only half of the story. It is a book which is crying out for a sequel. It is also, crucially, not a story about dissidence in a totalitarian state. This is the story of Carmen, whose father was a dissident against the Ceausescu regime in Romania. It is her testimony, and as such it is a story of the effects of dissidence on those at one step removed. It says little about the detail of her father's protest or why he chose to oppose the regime.

The first half of the book tells of Carmen's childhood. She gives a highly detailed account of an idyllic existence, of loving grandparents, of magical christmases, of holidays on the black sea, and of a bounteous countryside.

All of this changes half way through when her father, having been producing anti government materials in secret for years, in partnership with his wife, goes off to protest in public. He is arrested, tried and imprisoned, but the punishment isn't limited to him, as his family are interrogated, subjected to constant surveillance, and harassed by state agents. Carmen's mother is forced to divorce her father. Carmen and her sister are constantly marked down at school (having previously been model students). Friends and neighbours are intimidated into shunning the family.

When eventually her father is released and the family is granted asylum in the US, the petty vindictiveness of the state continues, as the house is sold, a dog is poisoned, and death threats are made.

Sitting at the centre of the book is one big question. WHY ? It is a question which points straight at Carmen's father. The actions of the Securitate are horrendous, inhuman, evil. This is a malevolent Kafkaesque bureaucracy at work, protecting the privileges of the ruling elite in the name of corrupted socialism. However, the question is why did he, a man with two young daughters, and a wife about to give birth, choose to expose his family to what he knew to be pitiless state terror? Was he a hero, or recklessly selfish, or a combination of the two?

Carmen herself, alludes to the question, listing half a page of questions for her father, but in the end concludes that the question itself is too long. Later in the book there is a brief reference to rows between father and daughter, but in the end how Carmen herself feels about her father and his actions and how they resolved their relationship remains unknown. Whether that is because it was never resolved, whether it is too personal, whether Carmen keeps her counsel out of loyalty to her father, or whether that is a subject for a further book remains a mystery.

Outside the story itself, the way in which Carmen has constructed her tale says much. The first half has a feeling of hyper-reality, as if the author has created this slightly unreal, incredibly happy world as something to hold on to, to strengthen her through the horrors which are to come. This unreality is acknowledged at the end of the book as Carmen recognises the seeds of future tragedy within her idealised existence. The fact that the book is written in the present tense, unusual for a memoir, both gives the events an immediacy and adds to that feeling of brittleness of reality.

A slightly odd feature is the fact that the titles of chapters often work as spoilers for their own content. So for example, her father is released from prison, one turns the page, and the next chapter is called 'house arrest'.

As well as the resolution of her relationship with her father, the other yawning chasm, which points to a sequel, is what happened when the family arrived in the US. The family cross the border into Italy around 1990, then the narrative suddenly jumps to 2006 and we meet Carmen, the successful academic, married with children, returning to Romania to examine archives and to revisit childhood haunts. We have learned to care about her, and want to know how she got there.

In the end though, this is almost a book beyond criticism. Whatever any reader may feel about what she chooses to include or exclude, or how she chooses to tell her story, this is her testimony, her account of how she survived the horrors of an adolescence blighted by state terror. It is her right to tell it her way.
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on 6 February 2013
An interesting read about a country that I knew little about apart from the fact that the regime was cruel.
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on 25 January 2014
There is so much more to this lovely book than "life under Communism" - it deserves to pull in other readers too.


The author was born in 1970 and lived in Romania until 1989, when her family was allowed to emigrate to America. Her father was a committed opponent of the Ceausescu regime and suffered for it - as did his family. However, only long afterwards did she read the files of the Securitate [secret police] that detailed what was happening in her earlier childhood. She was too young herself to even be conscious of, still less understand, this. Consequently, memories of this time are much less troubled. She provides a magical account of life in a small town in a poor country. She tells stories of her grandparents, her neighbours, her pets, nature. She relates folk beliefs and folk practices. She captures childhood fantasies and imaginings.
Then her father goes back to prison in 1983. The author is now her in her teens, her mother has another sickly baby. Carmen has to take on many more family responsibilities. The harassment of the state is relentless. She cannot but be aware of it, as the later chapters make clear. In the end, exile is the only option. Her description of the last few weeks in her homeland is so well written and touching.
Many years later she goes back to Romania. The country has changed, of course, some people she traces, others she cannot find. But it is clear that there is a world she can never recover and to which she can never return, from which she will forever be an exile - her childhood.
Carmen Bugan writes beautifully. Her memoir is beguiling. I would recommend this book to those in Europe who are so hostile to Romania and its people. Both are special as a poet such as this reveals.
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on 19 July 2012
'Burying the Typewriter' tells the story of life in Ceausescu's Romania and the relentless penetration of the Securitate into the lives of the family of a political dissident, the authors father.

Written in the historical present, the text is beautifully simple, possessing a child-like innocence, but opens a very personal window into the author's childhood and the lives of her immediate family. The story it tells is of the unending oppression of a man twice imprisoned for daring to speak out against the Communist regime, and the pressures that this and being under 'permanent observation' by the Securitate brought to bear on his family. But gloomy and fatalistic it is not, for it comes from the ever-optimistic mind of the author as a child; a book of defiance, resilience and extraordinary warmth, not one of defeat.

The final chapter and afterword jump into the twenty-first century, giving the author's reflections on her experience with the benefit of hindsight and having had access to the 1,500 pages of the Securitate files held on her family. As the author explains, she had access to these files only after the completion of the bulk of the manuscript, and that reading the files was in many ways the most difficult part of her journey, not only because of the deep injustice they revealed, but also the breadth of time they covered, extending back into the authors earliest childhood memories - at which age she naturally could not have acknowledged or understood what was happening, but that nevertheless coloured much of her early childhood.

Politically, this books is a damning indictment of Ceausescu's regime and the repeated crimes of the Securitate, pursuant to the maintenance of Romanian Communism with Ceausescu at its helm - it is the first thing I've read on the subject, and I'm now eager to read further into it. In literary terms, it is a masterpiece - perfectly pitched and positioned.

The final sentence of the endorsement from William Fiennes (which appears on the back of the book) says it all:

'It's a song of childhood rendered with such love and vividness and life-zest it actually seems to be warm-blooded in your hands.'
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on 11 July 2012
This is a warmly written and beautifully lyrical tale of one girl growing up in Ceausescu's Romania. At the beginning, everything is golden - the ripening figs, summer adventures and loving grandparents of a perfect childhood - but slowly events become more menacing: food shortages, rationing, neighbours informing on neighbours, the imprisonment of Carmen's father and the persecution of her family... I found the whole book gripping, and was impressed by the spirit of forgivingness at the end. I highly recommend this as a gorgeous memoir and an indictment of a terrible political regime.
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on 6 June 2013
This was obviously a novel that the writer felt compelled to publish. As a memoir it is compelling, and is a harsh insight into how people adapt and live under extreme conditions
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on 23 April 2013
I have been meaning to read this for some time as a child of the 1960s I have always been fascinated by the Cold War and the closed countries of Eastern Europe....this book is unique in that the book is written from the perspective of a child with a child's view of the world....it is only as the child grows do we see more of the gross infringements of liberty against this family and the people of Romania......beautiful, poetic, harsh and cruel in equal measures....a fascinating and worthwhile read.
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on 1 October 2013
This deeply moving book gives a graphic insight into how life was under the Ceacescu regime in Romania. In particular what having a "Dissident" father meant for his family living on their family farm. The tensions and hardships they endured for him bring into sharp relief the cost of his principles for his children and wife. Nevertheless, Carmen's life had much happiness and the closeness and warmth of her relationships with her mother, her siblings and her extended family are enviable.

A wonderful read.
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on 7 October 2013
I chose this rating because it was the first book I had read on the subject of life through the eyes of an ordinary little girl in an ordinary Romanian family living under the ghastly regime of Ceausescu in the 70s and 80s. Furthermore, Bugan writes movingly and articulately about her life within her family, without bitterness, demonstrating how resilient people can be while living under conditions of deprivation. I recommend it to all as it is both fascinating and educational at the same time.
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