Manea, Norman 1936-
Manea, Norman 1936-
Born July 19, 1936, in Suceava, Bukovina, Romania; immigrated to the United States, 1988; naturalized U.S. citizen; son of Marcu (a bookkeeper) and Janeta (a bookseller) Manea; married Josette-Cella Boiangiu (an art conservator), June 28, 1969. Education: Institute of Construction, Faculty of Hydrotechnology, Bucharest, Romania, M.S., 1959.
Worked as an engineer in the field and in planning and research, including time at Institute for the Management and Conservation of Water, Bucharest, Romania, between 1969 and 1974; writer, 1974-89. Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, international academy fellow, 1989-92, Frances Flournoy Professor of European Culture and writer in residence, 1992—. Lecturer at many other universities, including University of Strasbourg, State University of New York at Binghamton, University of Illinois, Indiana University, Columbia University, Institute for Humanities, Vienna, Austria, University of Siena, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem; lecturer at conferences in the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and elsewhere around the world. Commentator on Romanian political events for television shows, including MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, Good Morning America, and ABC World News.
International PEN (Writers in Exile), American PEN, Berlin Academy of Art.
Literary Prize of the Association of Bucharest Writers, 1979; Literary Prize of the Writer's Union of Romania, 1984 (withdrawn on instruction of government authorities); grant from Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, 1987; Fulbright scholar, 1988; fellow of International Academy for Scholarship and the Arts at Bard College, 1989-92; Guggenheim fellowship, 1992; fellow of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1992; National Jewish Book Award, Jewish Book Council and Jewish Welfare Board, 1993, for On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist; named Literary Lion, New York Public Library, 1993; Napoli Literary Prize for a foreign novel, 2004; Holtzbrinck Prize, American Academy in Berlin, 2005; Lux Mundi (Romanian broadcasting cultural prize), 2006; Anfora Literary Prize, 2006; cultural prize from Romanian international television network, 2006; Prix Medicis Etranger (France), 2006; decorated commander, Romanian Order of Cultural Merit, 2007; recipient of honorary degrees from University of Bucharest, Romania, and University of Cluj, Romania, 2008.
Noaptea pe latura lunga (fiction; title means "The Night on the Long Side"), Publishing House for Literature (Bucharest, Romania), 1969.
Captivi (novel; title means "Captive"), Cartea Romaneasca (Bucharest, Romania), 1970.
Atrium (novel), Cartea Romaneasca (Bucharest, Romania), 1974.
Primele porti (fiction; title means "The First Gates"), Albatros (Bucharest, Romania), 1975.
Cartea fiului (novel; title means "The Son's Book"), Eminescu (Bucharest, Romania), 1976.
Zilele si jocul (title means "The Days and the Game"), Apostrof (Cluj, Romania), 1977.
Anii de ucenicie ai lui August Prostul (essays; title means "The Years of Apprenticeship of Augustus the Fool"), Cartea Romaneasca (Bucharest, Romania), 1979, revised edition, Polirom (Iaşi, Romania), 2005.
Octombrie, ora opt (short stories), Dacia (Cluj, Romania), 1981, translation by Cornelia Golna and others published as October, Eight O'clock, Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1992, expanded version, Apostrof (Cluj, Romania), 1998.
Pe contur (essays; title means "On the Contour"), Cartea Romaneasca (Bucharest, Romania), 1984.
Plicul negru (novel), Cartea Romaneasca (Bucharest, Romania), 1986, translation by Patrick Camiller published as The Black Envelope, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1995, expanded version, Fundatia Culturale (Bucharest, Romania), 1996.
On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist (essays), Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1992.
Compulsory Happiness (novellas), translated by Linda Coverdale, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1993, expanded version, Apostrof (Cluj, Romania), 1999.
Casa melcului (interviews; title means "The Snail's House"), Hasefer (Bucharest, Romania), Volume 1, 1999, Volume 2, 2006.
The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir, translated by Angela Jianu, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
Work represented in anthologies, including Without Force or Lies: Voices from the Revolution of Central Europe in 1989-1990, Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1990; Fiction of the Eighties, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1990; and Here I Am, Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1998. Commentator on Romanian political events for periodicals, including New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, and Economist. Contributor to Romanian periodicals and to journals in the United States, including Povestea Vorbii, Apostrof, Romania Literara, Partisan Review, New Republic, New York Review of Books, Salmagundi, New Yorker, World Policy Journal, and Paris Review.
Manea's writings have been translated into many languages, including German, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Polish, Dutch, Norwegian, Hungarian, and Greek.
Norman Manea began publishing his prose in Romania in 1966 and left an engineering position in water management in 1974 to become a full-time writer. Despite suffering censorship and other hardships during the totalitarian regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, he was acclaimed as a writer by the country's literary critics. In 1986 Manea left Romania, traveling first to Germany but eventually settling in the United States.
Since becoming a writer in exile, Manea's work has been translated for publication in many countries, including France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Italy, England, Israel, Poland, Greece, and Mexico. Several of Manea's volumes have been published in the United States, and he has achieved numerous honors since his immigration. Another Eastern European writer, Krzystzof Czyewski, noted that Manea's career has held enormous significance for other "Eastern wanderers." Czyewski explained: "His voice—pure, uncompromising, merciless towards all attempts to come to an agreement with whatever is opposed to freedom—would not be deluded, even during periods of turmoil when everything else seemed to have been deprived of its principles."
Manea's novel October, Eight O'clock begins with stories of the experiences of a young boy in a concentration camp (which he himself had experienced as a five-year-old) and takes this protagonist through his adulthood in a communist totalitarian state. October, Eight O'clock opens with the story "The Sweater," a tale in which the young boy envies the sweater of a young, non-Jewish girl who is in the camp by mistake. As Louis Begley wrote in the New York Review of Books, Manea's way of setting the story is indirect. "From the known facts of Mr. Manea's life, one may infer that the nameless place is a concentration camp, somewhere in Transnistria, a land across the border which then divided Romania from Ukraine; the time is World War II; and the little boy, his family, and the other prisoners in the camp … are Romanian Jews deported by the Nazis. But none of these words—Romania, Nazi, German, Jew, the War … are used, except that once some other boys call the narrator a ‘kike’"—a derogatory term for Jew.
After discussing other tales in October, Eight O'clock that deal with the same protagonist's adolescent and adult life under communist repression, Begley commented that Manea's "refusal to name or situate in time or place … is more than a brilliant strategy for dealing with matters so shameful that language should not be capable of expressing them…. I believe that the strategy … is also essential to his ability to put, in universal terms, without regard to Jews or Germans, the question whether life in such conditions is worth the effort it takes to live it." Begley called the book "important and beautiful"; other reviewers reacted similarly, including John Bayley in the New York Times Book Review, who noted that the "reader … becomes absorbed at once" and that "Manea has an uncanny capacity and economy in the suggestion of inferences."
Manea continued similar themes in Compulsory Happiness, a collection of four novellas that, according to Lore Segal in the New York Times Book Review, are "about the soul's deterioration under chronic deprivation, about a political and social system in which every person and every situation is always suspect, about people who are tortured." In the first story, "The Interrogation," a female political prisoner is suddenly reprieved from physical torture and actually receives a number of luxuries from the "higher-up" assigned to interrogate her. Rather than ask questions, the eccentric interrogator speaks to her in a friendly tone, requiring only that she paint, daily, a picture of the room in which her lover and his dissident friends met. Herbert Mitgang, in his New York Times review, called "The Interroga- tion" the "best" of the collection, comparing it to the work of author Franz Kafka. In "Composite Biography" a communist adherent who is working at a bank after losing favor in the party develops an elaborate scheme to regain his position. He proposes that the winners of a state lottery be chosen in advance, a measure that would effectively demonstrate the communist principle that humankind is master over nature and chance. "A Window to the Working Class" contrasts the harsh life of a determined worker and that of an isolated intellectual. And in "The Trenchcoat" a woman gradually loses her sanity after discovering a secret police official's raincoat in her closet.
"These are the century's classic themes," Segal observed in her review of the stories in Compulsory Happiness, "but Mr. Manea's voice is radically new, and we are blessedly awakened and alerted by the demand his fiction makes on our understanding." "One hears in his voice the kind of gutsy, muscular, exhilarated literary integrity that no longer need mind pleasing nor displeasing anybody," wrote David Mehegan in the Boston Globe. And Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times concluded: "Manea uses his stories not to add to the reality of the world but to explore its unreality. His protagonists come upon absolute evil, but they do not banalize it." Eder also found Manea's writing to be characterized by "a dreamy disconnection, a voice that shock has lowered, an air of sweetness driven mad."
On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist is a collection of five essays on totalitarianism and culture. One essay details the peculiarities of Romania's dictator Ceausescu. In another, Manea provides a report by a Romanian censor on the author's novel The Black Envelope. The report, originally written for the book's publisher, lists every piece of censored material and provides the official explanation for why the material was considered objectionable. Like October, Eight O'clock and Compulsory Happiness, On Clowns received warm reviews, including one from Richard Burgin in the Washington Post Book World. Burgin noted the "moving and sometimes oddly humorous way" the book chronicles "some of Manea's torments as a writer in Romania that led to his eventual departure … to the United States."
Reviewing On Clowns in the New Republic, Stanislaw Baranczak wrote: "In the five extraordinary essays Manea analyzes the few options that remained to people in a place like Romania under a man like Ceausescu. Joining the clownery … was the most popular option, but it was also the most illusory one: the casting decisions were not exactly up to you." Making the connection with the Romanian writer's short fiction, the critic summarized Manea's theme as "the situation of the individual voluntarily giving up his own thoughts and emotions for the illusory safety of a collective creed." "As a writer of fiction," continued Baranczak, Manea "treats this same subject in the concrete terms of individual experience—the experience of a life that happens to have been stretched between the years of the Holocaust and the years of the demise of communism, with the interminable Ceausescu decades in between."
The novel The Black Envelope is a "panoramic portrayal of Romanian society before the fall of Ceausescu as well as a conjuring of the ghosts of Romanian history back to World War II," wrote Larry Wolff in the New York Times Book Review. A censored version of The Black Envelope was published in Romania in 1986, and the English translation followed almost a decade later, long after the author had moved to America. The novel's protagonist, a professor forced to work as a hotel clerk, sets out to investigate his father's death forty years earlier. In order to undertake this task, the protagonist must elude spies of all sorts while also contending with the everyday privations and persecutions of Ceausescu's regime. Manea managed to get the work past the Romanian censors by imbuing it with codes and allusions, and some of these became so integral to the work that they also remain in the translated version. Nevertheless, according to Wolff, "Mr. Manea offers striking images and insights into the recent experience of Eastern Europe." The critic compared Manea's work to that of two other writers born in Bukovina: the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld and the German poet Paul Celan.
In the Boston Globe, critic Matei Calinescu called The Black Envelope "perhaps [the author's] highest literary achievement," noting that the work "constructs a fictional world that is at once enigmatically self-sufficient and unexpectedly revelatory with regard to what one of his characters calls ‘the psychology of seclusion,’ loneliness and exile." Also praising the novel, reviewer Kenneth Murphy concluded in the Houston Chronicle: "In making us feel the undercurrents of the modern world, instead of being stranded or deadened by them, in providing us with secret parables, in unveiling parts of our contemporary anguish and making them heroic, knowable, and imaginable Manea is unique."
The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir describes Manea's return to his homeland to explore his past. His themes echo his earlier writings on nationalism, politics, and culture, but the events are rooted in details of his own life as an emigrant and exile in search of his roots. Manea recalls a life of horror and tragedy, tinged by two revolutions—fascist, then communist—which eventually drove him from Bukovina in 1988. His restless life as an expatriate living in New York City left him, after the fall of the communist government of Romania in 1989, with an increasing desire to reclaim his identity in the land of his birth. Finally, in 1997 Manea returned to a place that in many ways reflected the landscape of his memory, but in many other ways was forever changed. The return ultimately left Manea unfulfilled, he wrote, but critics observed that the reader can derive much satisfaction from what a Kirkus Reviews contributor called "an affecting exploration of past and present."
Manea once told CA: "Holocaust, totalitarianism, exile are the main experiences in my life, and my work is often preoccupied with these themes. But even when fiction starts from an autobiographical point, it doesn't represent either a diary or memoirs. I am there as a child or as a young man, and at the same time I am not. A lot of facts in my fiction are not in my biography; a lot of other facts from my life are not in my writing. Even when my work starts from an autobiographical point, I hope it goes farther, deeper. I don't think that even in this diseased century a writer can be happy to be only a witness.
"I felt the need not to trivialize, to find what was more essential and substantial from the human and from the artistic point of view in these dark experiences, to give as ample a degree of generalization as possible, a literary expression.
"Because they sometimes seem heavy, painful, tragic, stories, they may provoke sometimes a superficial display of feeling—elementary reactions. And they are also too easy to be manipulated, even in a political way. It's a very delicate subject, human suffering, not melodrama. I am horrified by any melodramatic or political manipulation of such themes. I dream of a self-sufficient concentrated, artistic expression.
"I am more obsessed with contradiction than with coherence. A writer has to look to the victim and to the oppressor with the same curiosity, the same pain. A writer is not a prosecutor. He has to search beyond people's most bizarre, inhuman behavior to reveal the core of human nature—a complex, contradictory nature. I don't think that you can be a writer unless you have a hot heart and a cool mind. The artist's soul is in the brain, so to speak. For me, usually contradiction makes the story.
"I would like to be considered despite my biography, not for it. The writer was always seen as a Jew, a kind of exile. Going from inner exile to exile itself meant, finally, to become an ‘emblematic’ citizen of our century, defined by its major contradiction between centrifugal modernity and the centripetal need to belong."
During a speech at the Jerusalem International Book Fair in 1999, Manea reflected further on his art. "For a writer, always a ‘suspect’, as Thomas Mann said, an exile par excellence, language is his placenta," explained Manea. "More than for any other ‘alien’ in his own country, language is for a writer not only an achievement, but a legitimization, a spiritual home. Through language he feels rich and stable; and when he is fully in charge of his wealth, he gains his citizenship, a sense of belonging. Language is always home and homeland for a writer. To be exiled also from this last refuge represents the most brutal decentering of his being, a burning that reaches all the way to the core of creativity. I postponed the decision to leave Romania because I was childish enough to fool myself that I didn't live in a country, that I lived only in a language. So I took the language, the home, with me, as a snail does. It still is my childish refuge, my place of survival."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 232: Twentieth-Century Eastern European Writers, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Manea, Norman, The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir, translated by Angela Jianu, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
Bloomsbury Review, October-November, 1992, Ilan Stavans, review of On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist, p. 19.
Booklist, May 1, 1995, Molly McQuade, review of The Black Envelope, p. 1552; August, 2003, Brendan Driscoll, review of The Hooligan's Return, p. 1944.
Books in Canada, winter, 2000, Krzysztof Czyzewski, "Bukovina—New York, a Composite Biography," pp. 12-15.
Boston Globe, July 9, 1993, David Mehegan, review of Compulsory Happiness, June 11, 1995, Matei Calinescu, review of The Black Envelope.
East European Jewish Affairs, summer, 2000, Michael Shafir, review of Casa Melcului.
Esquire, June, 1992, review of October, Eight O'clock, p. 42.
Houston Chronicle, November 12, 1995, Kenneth Murphy, review of The Black Envelope.
Jewish Chronicle (London, England), June 11, 1993, review of October, Eight O'clock.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of The Hooligan's Return, p. 792.
Library Journal, January, 1992, Ruth M. Ross, review of On Clowns, p. 156; June 1, 1992, Ruth M. Ross, review of October, Eight O'clock, p. 184; August, 2003, Scott Hightower, review of The Hooligan's Return, p. 83.
Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1992, review of October, Eight O'clock, p. 6; May 23, 1993, Richard Eder, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 3.
Nation, October 12, 1992, Gabriel Motola, review of October, Eight O'clock, pp. 402-403.
New Republic, June 1, 1992, Stanislaw Baranczak, review of On Clowns and October, Eight O'clock, pp. 44-49.
New Statesman and Society, April 29, 1994, Julian Duplain, review of On Clowns, p. 39.
New Yorker, November 16, 1992, John Updike, review of October, Eight O'clock and On Clowns, p. 134.
New York Review of Books, September 24, 1992, Louis Begley, review of October, Eight O'clock, p. 6.
New York Times, June 8, 1993, Herbert Mitgang, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. B2.
New York Times Book Review, June 21, 1992, John Bayley, review of On Clowns and October, Eight O'clock, pp. 3, 30; May 30, 1993, Lore Segal, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 7; June 25, 1995, Larry Wolff, review of The Black Envelope, p. 31.
Partisan Review, April, 1994, Susan Miron, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 643; January, 1995, Marta Petreu, "Interview with Norman Manea"; fall, 1997, Tess Lewis, review of The Black Envelope, p. 666.
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1991, review of On Clowns, p. 70; March 22, 1993, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 69; May 22, 1995, review of The Black Envelope, p. 49; June 9, 2003, review of The Hooligan's Return, p. 47.
Salmagundi, winter, 1997, special Manea issue; fall 2000-winter 2001, Norman Manea, "Transcript of Speech Given at Jerusalem International Book Fair."
San Francisco Review of Books Annual, 1992, review of On Clowns and October, Eight O'clock, pp. 38-39.
Times (London, England), February 18, 1994, Alison Puranik, "Sufferer on the Road to Feeling."
Times Literary Supplement, December 6, 1991, "La Bonheur Obiligatoire," p. 13; October 23, 1993, Henry Gifford, review of October, Eight O'clock and On Clowns, p. 26; April 29, 1994, Philip Marsden, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 22; May 10, 1996, Paul Bailey, review of The Black Envelope, p. 22.
Wall Street Journal, Western Edition, June 15, 1992, Merle Rubin, review of On Clowns and October, Eight O'clock, p. A11.
Washington Post Book World, May 17, 1992, Richard Burgin, review of On Clowns and October, Eight O'clock, p. 6.
World Literature Today, spring, 1990, Edouard Roditi, "Fenster zur Arbeiterklasse," p. 296; summer, 1990, Edouard Roditi, "Der Trenchcoat," p. 452; summer, 1991, Marguerite Dorian, "Le the de Proust," p. 473; winter, 1994, Marguerite Dorian, review of Compulsory Happiness, p. 110; winter, 1994, Matei Calinescu, review of On Clowns, p. 111; autumn, 1996, Maria Green, review of The Black Envelope, p. 943; September-December, 2004, Marguerite Dorian, review of The Hooligan's Return, p. 153.