The Survivals: A Synopsis

Radu Cosaşu | January 08, 2009
Critic: Carmen Muşat
Translated by: Jean Harris

 

Radu Cosaşu’s The Survivals takes place in Romania immediately after the Second World War. The newly installed communist regime had come to power by means of massive electoral fraud. Telling stories of everyday life, Cosaşu paints a world turned upside down. Although it is more than that, the collection amounts to a thorough analysis filtered through the mind and feelings of a young man converted to communism. This narrator/protagonist is both sincerely convinced of the superiority of the communist doctrine and alive to the horrible reality of the communist dictatorship. Paradoxes obtain, and the result is that situated on the border between autobiography and fiction, the stories in The Survivals  function  as self-sustaining chapters in an atypical Bildugsroman.

            Cosaşu’s autofictions occupy sites on the plain of individual destinies, and in this way they capture the dramatic contrasts generated by the violent change in the social-political order. Caught in the whirlwind of History with a capital H, small human stories disintegrate, lose their coherence and become, ever more visibly, impersonal. Cosaşu’s “program” is born of this context.  His endless writing/ editing variations on an autobiographical theme personalizes history’s impersonal flow. Copyist of his own existence, the author/narrator uses autofictions that touchingly and amusingly plaster over the cracks in derisory reality. For Cosaşu, then,  the “guilty pleasure” of telling his own story (differently each time) while involving other people’s stories in his own, goes beyond psychological survival. It is the only way of identifying and self-identifying in a world more and more confused, increasingly devoid of landmarks.

            Like Samuel Becket’s Krapp, the narrator of The Survivals indirectly opens a discussion of the difference between literal memory and literary memory, between what exactly it is that one remembers from the past and what one turns out to invent. The practice of rewriting—in which “the heat of this turmoil that only literature can give you” takes place—calls attention to both the fidelity of the told story, which is individual, unique and unrepeatable, and to the fidelity of impersonal, generic History.

 

About this issue

This July, The Observer Translation Project leaves its usual format to present a special CRISIS ISSUE. Things are tough all over. Hard Times suddenly feels like the book of the moment. The global economic crisis impacts life as we know it, and viewed from Bucharest the effects reverberate in domains that include geo-politics and publishing in Romania and abroad, with the crisis at The Observer Translation Project as an instance of a universal phenomenon. read more...

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