Ioana Pârvulescu- Freedom, women,Asterix
to journalist Nikos Moschovos
“On the other hand, today we can no longer imagine happiness outside our newly acquired rights…
My conviction is that laughter in hard, troubled times is the best medicine… the press has had power from the beginning, and power is dangerous.
These are the answers, which was give us the Professor of Contemporary Literature-author Ioana Pârvulescu from Romania and her words, “went us on very deep paths”.
Mrs. Pârvulescu was given an interview on “Typologos” with journalist Nikos Moschovos on the release of her book entitled “Life begins on Friday” (European Union Literature Prize 2013) by “Bacchikon publications” in Greece.
Also, the interview was given in honor to the release of her award-winning short story, “The Voice” in Greek (translated by Angela Bratsou and Professor Stavros Deligiorgis).
Mrs. Pârvulescu’s answers caused us to contemplate on the power of freedom, women’s rights, journalism, and “Asterix”. Let’s enjoy them:
Your short story, “The Voice” seems like a cry for the Freedom of every human being. How much do you care about the issues of freedom, as they are “reflected” in the 21st century?
“For me, the problem of freedom is not a philosophical one, but an empirical one, so to speak, and touches me in the most direct way possible. It is said that you cannot appreciate something until you have lost it. (They usually say that about love). But I think you appreciate a thing even better in the reverse situation, when you haven’t had it long time and you’ve longed for it, wanted it for years.
Then you really value it. That’s why any sign of a curtailment of freedom makes me uneasy or simply scares me. I’m no expert in geo-politics, but the rise to power of dictators (be they also hidden under the mask!) in some countries scares me. But there is another danger that seems even greater to me: signs of neo-fascism and neo-communism. It frightens me to see that some young people are totally ignorant of the harm that history has done to us and speak in dangerous ideological clichés.
It doesn’t necessarily scare me for myself, but for their world of tomorrow, the one in which I and my generation who knew the lack of freedom will no longer be. I wish for those who are children and young people now a peaceful and free world”.
Writing about a historical figure, Mónica Lovinéscu, is always a challenge for any writer. How deeply did you research Ms. Lovinéscu’s personality before you “captured” her in the short story “The Voice” and what do you admire about her?
“Monica Lovinescu has slowly become a role model for me as I read her diaries. Not in the sense that I could resemble her, but in the sense that I admire her. Sometimes I think: how would she have reacted in this or that situation? That, I think, is what a role model is: to be there for you in dilemmatic situations and to be a reference. She really sacrificed herself, that she experienced frightening tragedies, for the sake of freedom. Her mother, who remained in Romania, was imprisoned, and died in jail.
Why? Because her daughter in Paris was speaking on a free radio station, Free Europe. Monica did not give up speaking on this station, even at her mother’s urging, and probably always felt guilty about it. She couldn’t save her mother, but she saved other lives by putting them under the shield of the word.
I’ve read prison diaries written by women and I was horrified. Communist prisons are hell anyway, but for women, for old and sick women, they are indescribable. And yet Monica Lovinescu didn’t become a resentful, sour, evil person. I met her after 1990 and I was amazed at how warm and cheerful she was, how interested in everything related to our ordinary life, how friendly. She urged you to enjoy the life she still seemed in love with”.
Your short story “The Voice” and the novel “Life Begins on Friday” capture the radio version and the climate of early 19th-century journalism in Romania. From the writing, it seems that you have deepened “for good” in the history of the Media. What do you think about journalism in the 21st century?
“Journalists should take an oath, before they receive the power of the written word, as doctors take the Hippocratic oath: to strive for the benefit of society, as far as their “powers and minds will help them”, and to refrain “from doing any harm and any injustice”.
Let him not entrust to anyone” poisons”, that is, in our case false statements, falsifications of facts, even if he is asked to do so, and let him not urge such. The press has had power from the beginning, and power is dangerous. In Dostoevsky’s novels there is often unethical journalism. Journalism that is done only for the sake of personal power or money. So harmful journalism.
But, of course, there is also a good side to journalism (like any object of progress, journalism is both good and bad), the side that defends man or truth. We know today, unfortunately, that one can die in such situations. But it is comforting to know that evil and injustice can no longer be hidden, that there is this” safety net” that is the press”.
Julia’s first-person narrative is reminiscent of the diary of any 21st-century girl who feels the first glimmers of love. The new generation is expressed today through social media. The struggle for the emancipation of women, however, remains “alive” and where is it “walking”?
“When I wrote the pages of Julia’s diary, it was grounded on some women’s diaries from that period in Romania. There are prejudices about women at that time, based on ignorance. Women were no dumber or weaker than we are today, but they lived in different “parameters”, in a world with different social rules.
But they knew what they wanted, and the “woman problem” was their concern. I give again Dostoevsky as an example: in The Idiot this phrase appears several times. I have to say that in my book I don’t advocate anything, but cut a slice of life, as it were.
You see, there are no perfect eras and, in free times, it’s hard to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, the gains and losses of each period. What is certain is that the woman between the two World Wars, much more independent than her mother and grandmother in the Belle Epoque (the time period in my novel), was also much more unhappy, not yet knowing what to do with her independence. On the other hand, today we can no longer imagine happiness outside our newly acquired rights”.
Which of the heroes and heroines of the novel Life Begins on Friday most resembles the elements of your character?
“I’m one of those authors who is hidden a bit in all the characters, I don’t project myself into one. I try to understand each character “from the inside”. But if it were possible to weigh with a high precision scale how much of me is in each of them, I think the weighting would show that I’m a bit more in the 8-year-old Nicu the little courier than in, let’s say, Julia. A few clear traits of me would perhaps be in Julia’s mother, Agata, too”.
Which phrase of a hero or heroine of the same novel do you think expresses the present era?
“The novel is based on a permanent, implicit comparison between past and present, because there is a suspicion (perhaps unfounded, perhaps based only on the speculations of a press eager for sensationalism) that the character Dan has arrived from the future. So he behaves like a modern-day man fallen in time.
So, it’s not a phrase that expresses our time, but everything about this character. The fact that people in the 1900s believed that time travel would be possible is not unfounded speculation. At the end of the century of progress, the 19th, they believed that everything was possible or, if you prefer, that nothing was impossible for man”.
You have also translated texts with Asterix. Is every person today “hiding” a “small Gaul village” inside the soul, to face the scourge of the pandemic?
“Why not? Yes, I really like this metaphor of yours. Anyway, this translation helped me a lot. There’s so much faith in the triumph of life, of innocence and goodness, in Asterix, that it’s good for your health. And there’s a lot of humor. My conviction is that laughter in hard, troubled times is the best medicine”.
In the novel “Life Begins on Friday” you make an “allusion” to the Greek origin of Dr. Margouli. How much has the presence of the Greek Diaspora in Romania influenced you as a writer?
“In 1900 the Greek origins of some Romanian families were still quite clear, and the Romanian language received a lot of Greek words in the 19th century. Hence the reference to this possible origin of the name. However, I did not say strongly that it was this influence. Unfortunately, I don’t know the Greek diaspora here, but I have a few recent friends in Greece. I hope to have even more soon, thanks to this novel translated by Angela Bratsou into your beautiful language”.
Answer us, with just one sentence, what the following words mean to you:
Love – as someone smarter than me used to say, “a disease you’re not healthy without.”
Smile – the secret of eternal youth.
History – the evil adversary who wins all wars. Man’s consolation is that he still wins a few small battles.
War – the biggest hybris and hamartia together.
Peace – one of the three wishes everyone should make if they meet the goldfish in the fairy tale.
What other, your work would you like Greek readers to know?
“I think my most universal novel is “Prevestirea” (The Prophecy), published in 2020 and based on the biblical story of Jonah, but reaching into the present day. It is a story told by many mouths and full of adventure, including the adventure of knowledge, the problem of faith, of God and other things that one cannot live without”.
Ioana Pârvulescu was born in Braşov, Romania, in 1960. She graduated from the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest, establishing herself as a distinct voice within literary circles. She is currently Professor and teaches modern literature at the same faculty.
She has coordinated the series Cartea de pe noptieră (Bedside Book) at Humanitas Publishing House, worked as an editor at the literary journal România literară, and has also translated from French and German (Maurice Nadeau, Angelus Silesius, Rainer Maria Rilke, Milan Kundera, Saint-Exupéry and Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo).
She published several bestselling books (essays) about everyday life in the 19th century, between the two World Wars and during communism. She wrote three novels, all very well received: Viața începe vineri (Life Begins on Friday, 2009), Viitorul începe luni (The Future Begins on Monday, 2012) and her latest, Inocenții (The Innocents, 2016).
She received the European Union Prize for Literature 2013 for Life Begins on Friday and in 2018 the Professional Jury Prize for the short story A Voice (EUPL Winners Contest – A European Story).