I feel quite ashamed that I have had this lovely mountain house in the Carpathians for some 13 years to which I increasingly return and sejour - and yet do not really speak Romanian nor am properly acquainted with Romanian culture. My excuse is that my thoughts and books (from a steadily increasing library here) are in English – with occasional forays into French (the 2010 trip doubled the number of French books) and German (ditto the last 3 month’s trip). The world literature tour which The Guardian bravely attempted in 2011 gave a sense of what these two countries offer – France here and Germany here – let alone China or Poland.
With such treasures beckoning, how can I justify diverting my energies into a forbidding new field? But the past year has given me a new perspective on Romanian classical paintings, for example, which – Andreeescu, Grigorescu and Popescu apart – had until now seemed somewhat sombre. But the file I now have on Romanian realist painting of the first part of the 20th Century is now beginning to rival that of the Bulgarian painters who decorate my various homes. And the new book Romanian Writers on Writing gives me vignettes of almost 100 Romanian writers whom clearly I cannot ignore.
And, although The Guardian has not yet managed a tour of Romanian literature, it did receive these interesting suggestions. Those wishing to get a taste of what’s available can consult the New York's Romanian Cultural Institute or have a look at this list of classic writing
I am always impressed with the number of new Romanian titles on the groaning shelves of the Humanitas and Carteresti bookshops but all does not seem well with the market according to this writer -
You do not need a PhD to grasp the implications of the simple fact that, in 2011, there were far fewer books sold in Romania (total sales of €60m) than there were in neighbouring Hungary (total sales of €180m), which has a smaller population.
You do not need to be a communist to see that illiteracy — a problem that was largely eradicated in the 1950s — is on the increase in our country, where it now affects 6 per cent of the population, and 40 per cent of teens in the under-15 age group who lack basic reading and writing skills.
You do not have to be affiliated to a political party to notice that in their neglect and denigration of Romanian national culture, Romanian governments of all political hues have been gloriously assisted by the large post-communist publishing houses, whose eagerness to earn money from translations is, in most cases, matched by their disdain for living Romanian culture. And those who are unconvinced of this fact need look no further than the percentage of editorial production in this country which is actually devoted to Romanian books.