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From Margin to Centre

Romanian Literature on the American Book Market
Oana Surugiu


À l’époque de l’ouverture intellectuelle, de la globalisation, du multiculturalisme et du désir de  franchir le seuil entre le centre et la périphérie, on se confronte toujours à un certain complexe de marginalité, à la lutte pour atteindre le centre, à savoir le monde anglophone. En utilisant comme point de départ les considérations de Lawrence Venuti sur les relations assymétriques entre les littératures, les « normes préliminaires » identifiées par Gideon Toury, le concept d’ « autorité culturelle » (André Lefevere) et les directions postcoloniales dans la traductologie, cet article se propose d’examiner les chances de la littérature roumaine postcommuniste, en tant que littérature « périphérique », « mineure » d'être traduite et promue sur le marché du livre américain.

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Notes de la rédaction

This work was supported by the European Social Fund in Romania, under the responsibility of the Managing Authority for the Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007-2013 [grant POSDRU/88/1.5/S/47646]

Texte intégral

1Starting from the assumption that in an era of intellectual openness, of globalisation, of multiculturalism and a desideratum to abolish the borders between centre and margin, we are still facing a certain complex of marginality, a struggle to reach the centre, i.e, the English speaking world, this paper purports to examine the chances of post-communist, « peripheral », « minor », Romanian literature, in its attempts to be translated and promoted on the American Book Market.

2The theoretical assumptions on which this paper is based draw on the cultural orientations in Translation Studies, and more precisely on the norms theory introduced by the Israeli scholar Gideon Toury, on Lawrence Venuti’s considerations on the asymmetrical relations between literatures, on the concept of « cultural authority » introduced by André Lefevere and on the post-colonial directions in Translation Studies.

  • 1 Translation policy refers to the factors involved in « the choice of text types; or even of individ (...)

3Exploring translation from a target culture perspective, Toury (1978/ 1995 : 199-204) introduces the concept of norm to approach the constraints involved in the translation behaviour within a particular sociocultural context. His preliminary norms, of particular interest to this paper, refer to the existence and nature of a translation policy1 which brings about questions related to what we should export, since currently, there is far too little agreement in this respect.

4The concept of translation policies is further developed by André Lefevere, a translator scholar interested in the ideological dimension of translation, who also assigns a highly important role to the translation policies practised by a certain culture at a specific moment, indicating the institutions responsible with establishing the translation policies. He argues that translations should no longer be seen as accumulations of texts in the target cultures, but as cultural and ideological processes likely to manipulate readers and to construct cultures at the same time. Additionally, in Translating Literature – Practice and Theory in a Comparative Literature Context (1992), Lefevere makes use of the concept of cultural authority, and he explains it by the fact that the prestige a source culture enjoys at a certain time in history governs the selection of the texts to be translated, dictating at the same time the translation strategies (for instance, the prestige the French language enjoyed in the XIXth century in Romania, which accounts for the high number of translations from French).

5Therefore, the translation and publishing practices derive not only from the intrinsic properties of the source and target cultures, but also from their specific position in the world. In Translation and Empire. Postcolonial Theories Explained (1997), Douglas Robinson argues that hegemonic relations between cultures have always been present, and cultural asymmetries have operated between cultural spaces worldwide, sometimes without necessarily involving political colonisation (for example, the supremacy of the « strong » Western European cultures over the « weaker » ones on the same continent, and implicitly, the way in which Romania, a former communist country, responds to the supremacy of English).

6From post-colonial perspective, cultural hegemonies will inevitably result in disproportionate translation ratios. This issue has been extensively explored by Lawrence Venuti (1992, 1995) with a special emphasis on the disproportionate volumes of translation into and from English. Venuti notices how, after Wold War II, English has been the most widely translated language in the world, while the number of translations into English has dropped significantly. He also warns us (1992 : 6), that the « consequences of such translation patterns are wide-ranging and insidious », leading to the creation of cultures

7that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to the foreign, accustomed to fluent translations that [...] provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in a cultural other. (Venuti 1995 : 15)

a practice known, in Venuti’s terms, as domestication, a process described in Translation and the Formation of Cultural Identities (1996) as functioning at every stage in the production, circulation and reception of translation, starting with the very choice of a foreign text to be translated.

8Working in the same direction, Heilbron argues that « dominant languages and core language groups tend to have low translation ratios as compared to less dominant languages and more peripheral language groups » (2008 : 188), a common practice in countries such as Great Britain or the United States of America, where translations occupy an insignificant proportion. Speaking about the commercial balance between Europe and the United States of America, the director of the American PEN, Michael Moore (2007)2, states that « it is ridiculous, since only 3% of the published books in the US are works in translation »3, while in Romania, for instance, translations represent over 50% of the books on the market. And since the 3% figure includes all books in translation, the number in terms of literary fiction and poetry is actually closer to 0.7%4.

9Furthermore, analysing the differences in the translation flows between Europeans (as speakers of minority languages) and the Americans, Andrei Codrescu notices that the Europeans are generally more aware of international writing than the Americans; and he argues that they have to be, since, speaking a variety of languages in a reduced space they need to be « international », otherwise they will disappear. (Codrescu cited in Harris)

10This leads translators of minority languages to the classical dilemma : if they preserve in translation the full otherness of the majority language / culture (foreignizing, in Venuti’s terms), then the language in which they translate loses its distinctiveness as a separate linguistic entity and becomes a mere imitation of the source language; on the other hand, if they translate domesticating the source text, opting for a target-oriented approach, translation no longer functions as an agent of regeneration in the target language, and it runs the risk of « complacent stasis » (Cronin 1995 : 90) Failing to signal the difference and the difficulties of the translation process, the use of « fluent strategies » (Venuti 1992 : 5) can lead to an illusion of transparency, sacrificing « the other », obscuring « the different » in order to ensure readability.

11All these discussions on power asymmetries, cultural authority and post-colonialism could be therefore applied to the cultures of the former Communist countries, as is the case with Romanian literature. Since after the fall of the Communist regime, both globalization and the European integration have consolidated the international recognition and use of English, in most of these countries, starting with the second half of the twentieth century, migration and cross-border mobility were accompanied by an increase in the number of books translated, especially from English. For small countries and peripheral language groups, international communication became thus very much one-way traffic, and this was also the case of Romania.

12This state of affairs somehow fuelled a certain position of marginality which soon grew to be the image of our country as reflected abroad. These assumptions can create clichés and presumptions that distort the Western representations of Eastern Europe and, meanwhile, the East European identity and, more precisely, the Romanian identity still continues to be measured in terms of touristic expectations :  Moraru claims that « Eastern Europe and East-Europeans are one big freak show », further referring to « former communist countries’ literatures as a cultural safari. » (Moraru 2006 : 43) And yet, to a certain extent, we are the ones who preserve and emphasize this position of marginality. There is a strong feeling of inferiority that urges us sometimes to create an image of our own country which is a lot worse that the real situation. And this is visible especially in the international press or broadcasting where we, as Romanians, tend to be harsher on ourselves than the foreigners are. We got used to the clichés about the country of Dracula or Ceauşescu, or the miners’ strikes and the gypsies.

13But this is not necessarily the way in which foreigners perceive us. In an article published on September 30, 2008 by Observator Cultural (Cultural Observer), entitled Corpuri de iluminat/Dark Bodies—a short guide to Romanian literature for the American audience, American writer and translator Jean Harris describes Romanians as open and friendly in social situations, remarking the Romanians’ marked tendency « both to make [themselves] known and to say to whom [they] belong (down to grandparents and even before that), and this predilection combines with a tendency to recollect, out loud, a lot. »  And she goes on explaining that « you can learn all about somebody in the first five minutes, and routine disclosures are also expected of you.  Tale telling is a prominent feature of social life, and this is true in the domain of Senator, cab driver and peasant ». Finally, Harris proclaims Romania as the world capital of stories.

14In another 2008 article from Observator Cultural (no. 440), Jean Harris also describes the image of Romania as reflected in the United States; for the Americans, she states, Romania represents an opportunity, and the Romanian literary market is highly respected there.

15Indeed, starting with 2000, we have witnessed an increase in the interest of the European (and American) publishing markets, a phenomenon that coincides (strangely or not) with the beginning of the negotiations for the European integration of Romania, which officially started at the end of 1999. The increasingly systematic circulation of Romanian art, although still at its early beginnings, comes from this very cultural « integration », accompanying the political and economic ones. We have witnessed a growing demand for « translatable » Romanian literature, for the organization of more and more exhibitions of visual art abroad, for more and more singers and bands performing on foreign stages, theatre companies performing and films participating in international festivals in the last couple of years.

16January 2008 saw the coming out of the first foreign-language edition of The Time Book Review launched in … Romania. In an article dedicated to the event, Jennifer Schuessler (2008)5 speaks about the « thriving literary scene » of this « Romance-language-speaking country of 22 million, recently famous for global cinematic sensations like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and 12:08 East of Bucharest »; she also quotes the NY Times film critic, A.O. Scott, author of an excellent article on the Romanian New Wave in cinematography : « Romania is one of those countries where it seems that every literate person has written a novel, a book of essays, or at least a play »... a modern version of Eminescu’s « Românul s-a născut poet » (Romanians have an inborn gift for poetry) ?

17Additionally, according to Harris (2008), the American book market is currently open, at least theoretically, to foreign literature. She also quotes some of the cultural institutions involved in such projects : The Center for Literary Translation (Columbia University), the International Center for Writing and Translation (University of California, Irvine), the Dalkey Archive Press publishing house (University of Illinois) also publishing the Review of Contemporary Fiction periodical, the Words Without Borders website publishes world literature in translation, such as Absinthe : New European Writing (this 13th number is dedicated to the Romanian literature).

18In order to support these general considerations and to exemplify the state of affairs concerning the presence of Romanian literature on the international book market, the way in which Romania managed to respond to globalisation and increase its visibility at international level, in what follows I will refer to the promotion policy led by three important cultural institutions in Romania : the Romanian Cultural Institute, Observator Cultural (the Cultural Observer Magazine) and Polirom Publishing House.   

19Since 2005, the promotion of Romanian culture has been consistently supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute6, established in 2003, with a declared aim to promote the international exchange of literature and culture. It comprises a network of 17 institutes in 16 countries, which provide information on Romanian literature, language and civilization.

20Breaking away with the old, propagandistic promotion strategy, the RCI came up with a series of financing programmes, aiming to present Romania and the Romanian culture from the inside, inviting foreign translators, editors and publishers to experience and evaluate our cultural products.

21Since 2007, the National Book Centre has been part of the Romanian Cultural Institute taking over the translation and promotion of Romanian literature abroad through the programmes it has developed : TPS (Translation and Publication Support Programme), 20 authors, Publishing Romania, and the scholarship programme for new and professional translators of Romanian literature. The Centre coordinates the Romanian participation in international book fairs, organizes meetings with publishers from various linguistic areas, meetings with authors and translators and ensures the presence of the Romanian writers at international cultural events.

  • 7  The list of works translated into English is available in the Annex to this paper.

22Since 2005, when it begun its publishing activity, the Romanian Cultural Institute has published 270 books, by 113 authors, and belonging to 13 genres. The translated volumes were published at 157 publishing houses from 27 countries and in 24 languages.7

23English is the preferred language for translation, with 45 titles translated, followed by Spanish (39) and French (32)8, demonstrating the tendency to move towards the centre, towards the internationally recognised lingua franca, in order to increase visibility.  

24As far as the poetics (Lefevere 1992) involved in the choice of works to be translated is concerned, the prevalent literary genre is prose (148 titles) followed by culture and civilization (35 tiles), and poetry (32). This could be also explained by the fact that prose (and especially the novel) is generally the worldwide dominant form of expression. Poetry remains of course an important genre, but in terms of economic reality, number of copies and circulation, or considering the practice of reading, it occupies a marginal place as compared to prose. And this issue of literary genre is also taken into consideration in the present day debates on the shaping of the new Romanian literary canon.

  • 9  A complete list of the authors translated within the RCI programmes is available at http://www.cen (...)

25Another important question is related to the preliminary norms dictating the translation, that is, to what we should export. The most widely translated author from the Romanian Cultural Institute’s list is Mircea Cărtărescu, with 14 titles, followed by Dan Lungu (12), Dumitru Ţepeneag (10), Filip Florian (9) Gabriela Adameşteanu and Mircea Eliade (8), Norman Manea (7), etc9, which demonstrates a clear preference for contemporary Romanian writers (with just a few notable exceptions of Romanian classical writers, such as Mihai Eminescu or Mateiu Caragiale).

26Some people support the idea that we should focus on exporting our « specificity », our local, strictly « Romanian » values, while others state that we can stir the interest only through forms that are 100% international, cosmopolite and « à la mode », through copies of the recipes that are successful nowadays worldwide. Apparently different, both categories illustrate the same complex of marginality, according to which, being « peripheral », we should promote picturesque, « exotic » authors, or disguise in « westerns ». Literary critic Nicolae Manolescu (2009) argues that we should count on the translation of « live » authors, on contemporaries, i.e. on writers such as Dan Lungu, or Filip Florian, rather than on Slavici. « We should move on to another type of politics, a more aggressive one in this field and not go on with the shy one we’re practicing at the moment », states Manolescu, adding that « in the end we will find a successful writer who will pull the others, just like an engine ».10

27Launched in September 2008 at the initiative of the Observator Cultural magazine, The Observer Translation Project11 is an international magazine of translated Romanian writing, presenting previously untranslated fiction. The project’s declared aim is to « highlight a « pilot » author each month », in order to provide the potential foreign reader interested in Romanian literature with a database of Romanian writers, updates on Romanian writing published abroad, as well as critical reactions to Romanian works. Described on as « the fantastic translation project, »12 OTP translates into English, Dutch French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish, leaving also room for guest languages.

28In the three years since its launching, the Observer Translation Project has gathered a number of 20 authors, mostly contemporary Romanian writers (like in the case of the RCI), with a few notable examples of classical authors (Mateiu Caragiale or Petre Ispirescu), and 46 translators into the seven languages. Most translations posted on the website are in English, which adds up to and is somehow justified by the editors’ note on the About Us webpage : Please note, English is the “lingua franca” of the non-literary parts of the site.

29Another worth-mentioning translation project is the Contemporary Romanian Writers13 website created in 2008 by two representative publishing houses in Romania, Polirom and Cartea Românească (The Romanian Book).

30This joint project, Contemporary Romanian Writers, was born out of a similar wish to the one in 1919, to promote the Romanian writing. Drawing on a set of beautiful brochures and other materials which are meant to promote Romanian authors, the project aims to better inform the foreign publishers about the most recent entries in the Romanian literature.

31The website was highly appreciated at the October 2008 Frankfurt Bookfair, one of the most important publishing events worldwide. According to, the Contemporary Romanian Writers website, « providing bio and bibliographic information along with book descriptions and excerpts for a host of Romanian writers » seems to be « a very well designed site, and one that will be incredibly useful to any publisher interested in Romanian literature. »

32The content of the website is written in English and it contains biographical information on the authors, book presentations and illustrative excerpts, critical reactions (by Romanian critics). A worth mentioning aspect is that the website also contains copyright information, regarding the publishing houses or countries where the books are to be published.

33The website appeals through its diversity of written texts (so far 50 in number, among which there are fragments by some of the most translated Romanian writers of the time : Norman Manea, Gabriela Adameşteanu, Filip Florian, Dan Lungu, Petru Cimpoeşu, Florina Iliş, Nora Iuga, Cecilia Ştefănescu, Lucian Dan Teodorovici or Stelian Tănase, etc.) and through their undisputable value. The catalogues achieved by Polirom and Cartea Românească (70 books presented so far) aim to garner the interest of foreign audiences « in lands with high cultural pedigrees ». (Patraş14)

34All this shows that Romanian literature stands a chance to enter the international book markets, in Europe or worldwide, to shift from margin to the centre, provided it is not disadvantaged by a poor quality of the translations.

  • 15  Julian Semilian is also a member of PEN America and translator of other Romanian authors such as P (...)

35In order exemplify the issue of translation quality, as a prerequisite of a book’s success on the international (and, more precisely, the American) market, in what follows I will examine a few excerpts taken from Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia, translated by Julian Semilian and published in 2005 by New Directions Publishing House. The reason for choosing this particular text for exemplification is twofold. On the one hand, this book came out for the first time in an English translation with an American publishing house. On the other hand, the translator, Julian Semilian15, is an American poet, novelist and filmmaker, of Romanian origin, presently teaching film editing and serving as the Chair of the Editing and Sound Department at the North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking.

  • 16  It is important to point out that, despite Cărtărescu’s position among the Romanian authors transl (...)
  • 17  The European Book Club is a collaboration of NY-based European cultural institutions representing (...)

36Moreover, as previously shown in this paper, Mircea Cărtărescu is now one of the most translated Romanian authors, since he holds the top position regarding the number of books translated through the RCI programmes16. In July 2010, Nostalgia was chosen to represent Romania (for its first participation) at the EuropeanBook Club17.

37Born in 1956, the Romanian novelist, poet and critic Mircea Cărtărescu is currently teaching literature at the University of Bucharest. His most notable works include novels such as Nostalgia, initially published as Visul (The Dream) in 1989 and republished in its original, uncensored version in 1993, Travesti (Disguise, 1994), Orbitor (Dazzling, 1996, 2002); the short-story collection De ce iubim femeile (2005; Why We Love Women); the verse collections Faruri, vitrine, fotografii (Headlights, Shopwindows, Photos, 1980) and Totul (All, 1985); the essay collections Pururi tînăr, înfăşurat în pixeli (Forever Young, Wrapped in Pixels, 2003) and Baroane ! (Yo, Your Highness !, 2005); and criticism (Postmodernismul românesc (Romanian Postmodernism, 1999)). His works have been translated into many languages and have received major international prizes.

38Julian Semilian first started translating Cărtărescu out of whim, beginning with a short portion of Orbitor ... But this was in fact a sort of coming back to his Romanian origins and discovering the strange easiness of swinging between the two languages. « I felt that the very words were trying to say themselves into English, and it was strange and delightful to help them along », says Semilian in the Afterword to Nostalgia (Semilian 2005 : 317). Then, a few years later, at the urging of Andrei Codrescu, Semilian moved on to translating Nostalgia, feeling once again that facility of working on the words, « as if they were benefiting  from an opening when the linguistic border guards were absent » (Ibid.)

39In Notes on Translating Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu, Julian Semilian speaks about his personal experience translating this book

40When Nostalgia [...] called out to be translated, there were messengers, certainly, and they informed me I was chosen to smuggle it, Nostalgia, into the future, across borders, through languages. Granted asylum within the book’s territory, word by word, word-by-word exchanges take place. [...] I know that the book crossed through me : thinking about it now, two years later, I feel trepidation, a pleasant invasion, thrilling in shape-shifting words, in mutual agreements and invisible nods. The memory of the book still stirs in me, and I in it, and my being a participant in the book, it alive within me.  (2007 : 13)

  • 18  ST= Source text; TT= Target text

41Translating Nostalgia reactivated for Semilian a socio-cultural background, Bourdieu’s (1995) habitus, recovering through translation the Bucharest of his childhood, transformed alchemically on the one hand by Cărtărescu himself, and, on the other, by time. The translator’s habitus is visible for instance in the translation of some children’s rhymes (as highlighted in ST118 and TT1), for which he took advantage of his bilingual background, which facilitated greatly the task.

42ST1 :
Locatarii ieşiseră cu toţi, alarmaţi, în balcoanele cu murături şi strigau la el să se dea jos. Dar treaptă cu treaptă; Mendebilul (căci până la urmă aşa i-am zis cu toţii, Dan rămânând doar cu supranumele de Nebunul) urca spre vârful coşului. Ajuns în vârf, copilul se ridică în mâini pe buza coşului şi rămase câteva clipe pe vine. Strigătele speriate ale femeilor din balcoane se înteţiră, iar vreo doi muncitori în halate şi şorţuri albe o luară la fugă de-a lungul curţii spre baza coşului. Parcă sfidându-şi spectatorii, mendebilul, şovăitor, se ridică în picioare. Rămase drept, subţire ca un cui, la acea înălţime ameţitoare. (…) Avea umerii obrajilor roşii, dar în rest faţa îi era galbenă. S-a uitat doar la Mimi şi i-a spus : « Nu-mi place să mă joc Vrăjitroaca ».” (Nostalgia, 2009 :77-78)

43TT1 :
The alarmed tenants came out on their pickle-jar-filled balconies and were shouting at him to come down. But, step by step, Mentardy (because eventually that‘s what we all ended up calling him, the other Mentardy reverting back to his old nickname of Crazy Dan) was making his way up toward thw top of the chimney. Finally, the boy reached the top, lifted himself up on the edge of the chimney, and squatted for a few seconds. The frightened shrieks of the women in the balconies escalated, and a few workers in white overalls and aprons darted across the courtyard toward the base of the chimney. But as though to defy his audience‘s fears, Mentardy slowly stood up. Thin as a nail, he remained in the upright position at that dizzy height. (…)He clambered over the fence with difficulty and jumped down right in our middle. He started at Mimi and said : « I don‘t like witchbitch. »(Nostalgia, 2005 :42)

44In Romanian, Mendebilul, which is also the title of the second section of the book, is a made-up word, a compound between « mental » and « debil » (a sort of mental debility). The translator found a similar word Mentardy (composed by « mental » and « retard »), which seems easier to pronounce in English. One other weighty example is the solution found for vrăjitroacă, a word that does not exist in Romanian, being made up of « vrăjitoare » and the suffix « troacă », and used to denote disturbingly chattering neighbours. The solution, a « joyceful conjunction », in Semilian’s words, was Witchbitch. Or even, worth-mentioning examples are successful renditions at the level of lexis, such as in the case of the idiom subţire ca un cui translated by thin as a nail.   

45One other translation difficulty successfully overcome by the bilingual translator is visible in the following excerpt :

Scoase din ţâţâni uşa cu oglindă şi-o aruncă pe jos. Un trosnet înfundat îi dădu de ştire că oglinda se crăpase căzând cu faţa în jos pe podeaua unde strânsese covorul. Acesta zăcea, făcut sul, de-a latul sofalei, peste pernuţele fantezi de catifea şi mătase portocalie. Trase pianina, care avea rotile, până în mijlocul camerei şi sprijini de ea covorul persan. Muncindu-se groaznic, ridică sofaua în picioare şi o propti şi pe ea de pianina lucioasă. Se potrivea perfect între suporturile din bronz, pentru lumânări, sudate de capacul pianinei. Se opri să respire şi îşi trase mâinile pline de praf peste tricoul galben care-i acoperea sânii.(2009 : 287)

You wrench the wardrobe‘s mirror door out of its hinges and fling in to the floor. A muffled clatter informs you the mirror has cracked, falling face down on the floor from which you had removed the rug. The rolled-up rug lies on the sofa, over the fanciful pillows of velvet and orange silk. You drag the upright piano on its casters to the middle of the room and lean the Persian rug against it. Heaving horribly, you lift the sofa on its side and prop it as well against the glossy piano. It fits perfectly between the bronze candleholders soldered to the piano‘s top. You pause to catch your breath and wipe your dusty hands over the yellow blouse covering your breasts.(2005 :157)

48The fragment, as part of the last episode of « The Twins », was written in Romanian in third-person singular, past tense, but without the use of a pronoun to betray gender. Thus, scoase, îi dădu de ştire, trase, sprijini, ridică, propti, se opri and îşi trase mâinile are purposefully creating ambiguity related to the sex of the character, a transgression widely permitted in the Romanian language, but refuted in English. The translator masterfully responds to this challenge, avoiding the use of the pronouns « he » or « she », by using the second-person singular, present tense : you wrench, informs you, you drag, etc.  

49Other « joyceful conjunctions » are also visible in the third source text, an excerpt from the Natural Science Museum section in « The Twins » :

50ST3 :
La parter se aflau doar puţine mamifere, în săliţele care prelingeau culoarul reptilelor, şi mai cu seamă mamiferele primitive : câinii zburători din Java, cu aripi de piele neagră şi lucioasă ca dată cu cremă de ghete, susţinute de oscioare pneumatice şi cu gheare la umeri, bineînţeles, marsupialele : cangurii tronconici, mai mici decât ai fi crezut, lupul cu pungă şi alţi australi excentrici. Castorul rânjit, gata să-ţi facă triunghiul masonic în palmă dacă i-ai fi strâns laba, furnicarul fără Dali şi porcul spinos, mai mult spinos decât porc, se strâmbau în vitrina din stânga, arătându-şi cusăturile şi suturile retuşate artificial. În dreapta era neamul cilindric al cârtiţelor, sobolilor, orbeţilor şi aricilor, mâncători de râme lăptoase. Şi astfel, prin aceste furci caudine ale strămoşilor cam dubioşi, puteai intra în marea sală a mamiferelor adevărate, în cuşti de sticlă, grupate în perechi ca în Arca lui Noe şi gravitând în jurul enormelor schelete, unul galben-rozaliu, cu colţi întorşi, ca de morsă, al Dinotheriului, celălalt mai mic, vânăt, al Mastodontului. (2009 : 274-275)

51TT3 : There were only a few mammals of the primitive kind in the small rooms along the first floor extending out of the reptile corridor : the flying dogs of Java with wings of black and glossy skin, as though buffed with shoe polish, held up by tiny pneumatic bones and claws shooting out of the shoulders; the ubiquitous marsupials : kangaroos, like truncated cones, much smaller than I believed, wolves endowed with the marsupial pouch, and other exotic Australians. The leering beaver, ready to imprint the Masonic triangle in your palm if you shook its paw, the anthill (without Dali and Buñuel), and the porcupine, more rodent than pork, all contorting their mugs and displaying their artificially retouched seams and sutures in the window on the left. In the right window paraded the cylindrical ilk of the moles, the rats, the mole-rats, and the hedgehogs feeding on earthworms and milky pupae. And through the Caudine Forks of those dubious ancestors, you could gain entrance to the chambers of the true mammals, in glass cages, grouped in pairs like in Noah‘s Ark and gravitating around gigantic skeletons : the rosy-yellow, walrus-like curving tusks of the dinotherium, the smaller, dark, purplish ones of the mastodon. (2005 :149)

52The difficulties, both at the level of suprasegmental features (columns replaced by colon, the adding of parentheses) – at times, Cărtărescu’s style tested the rigours of English, and at the level of lexis or composition were successfully dealt with by the translator. Therefore, in terms of lexis, cangurii tronconici and lupul cu pungă were successfully translated by explicitation by kangaroos, like truncated cones and wolves endowed with the marsupial pouch, while era is rendered by paraded; at the level of composition, we notice the addition of Buñuel, an explicitation which did not exist in the original text.

53Nevertheless, despite the outstanding value of this translation, according to Thomas McGonigle (ABC of Reading), after its coming out in America, Nostalgia only sold around 500 copies (a figure rather unlikely to entail reissuing); this situation brings again into discussion the situation of translations in the United States as a whole, as compared to Europe.

54Additionally, as it is also visible in the Afterword to Nostalgia, where Semilian acknowledges the people that helped Nostalgia come to life and find home in the United States, the whole project seems to be the result of the individual effort of a handful of people, in their endeavour to make the Romanian literature and culture known in the United States.

  • 19 Responding to Globalization: Romanian Literature On the American Book Market, published in Construc (...)

55In order to look into the issue regarding the reception of Romanian literature in the United States, I will refer to a previous research entitled Responding to Globalization : Romanian Literature on the American Book Market19, which investigated the presence of these books in some important libraries in the US. I therefore consulted the online catalogues of five important libraries : the Library of Congress, Harvard University Library, Yale University Library, Princeton University Library, and Stanford University Library, focusing on the books that were published after the fall of the Communist Regime.

56The intention was to find out who the « exported » Romanian authors were, and which translated works were (mostly) recorded in the American libraries. Additionally, I tried to see whether these works belong to the Romanian literary canon or to the contemporary period, and to answer questions related to the place of publication, that is, whether they were published in Romania or abroad.

57The results of the research are given in the following table :

Number of Authors

Number of Titles

Library of Congress



Harvard University Library



Yale University Library



Princeton University Library



Stanford University Library



58The research revealed a total of 20 Romanian authors, whose works can be found in the American libraries investigated. The Library of Congress hosts 17 authors with 24 titles, Harvard University library counts 12 authors with 22 titles, Yale University library 11 authors with 17 titles, Princeton 9 authors and 14 titles while Stanford University library hosts a number of 16 authors with 29 translations.

59As it resulted from the research, both the number of authors and the number of copies available is rather limited, which points to a relative lack of interest, which could lead us to infer that probably the ones who make use of these books, are the Romanians living and studying in the US, or possibly academics interested in the Romanian literature and culture. Additionally, the access to these books is rather difficult, because the texts belonging to the Romanian culture are not necessarily reached when looking for subjects such as « Romanian literature » or « Romanian culture », and therefore the readers who do not know exactly the name of the author or the title of a certain book cannot access them easily.

60My research has revealed two main criteria according to which the translated works present in the American libraries could be classified : on the one hand, there are the writers belonging to the Romanian traditional literary canon vs. the contemporary Romanian writers; on the other hand, there are the writers who live(d) in Romania vs. the Romanian diaspora. Thus, we have noticed that most of the translated authors who are present in the American libraries belong to the Romanian traditional literary canon : Ion Creangă, Camil Petrescu, Marin Preda, Liviu Rebreanu, Mihail Sadoveanu, Ioan Slavici, Ionel Teodoreanu, Vasile Voiculescu etc. There are, nevertheless, successful contemporary authors who are also well represented : Max Blecher, Augustin Buzura, Mircea Cărtarescu, Filip Florian, etc. On the other hand, there are the writers of the Romanian exile or diaspora : Mircea Eliade, Paul Goma, Dumitru Tepeneag, etc.

  • 20  This series publishes scholarly monographs devoted exclusively to works on East European politics, (...)

61As far as the ratio between the books published by foreign publishing houses vs. Romanian publishing houses is concerned, I counted 16 titles published by Romanian publishing houses, 18 titles published by Foreign publishing houses (mostly American), and 6 titles published by Boulders Publishing House in collaboration with Minerva Publishing House Bucharest, or with the Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, under the series « East European Monographs »20.

62Nevertheless, given the rather limited number of libraries taken into consideration for this case study, any conclusions must inevitably be partial ones. This paper attempted to discuss the situation of the Romanian writers’ « export » abroad, i.e. the translation policies operating in post-Communist Romania, in their attempt to move from margin to the centre and increase their visibility. The research carried out, far from being exhaustive, allows us to draw some preliminary conclusions.

63Firstly, marginality, as related to the position of Romania, a small, « peripheral » country, is by no means a question of value, but a question of organisation. This is what Romania lacked with regard to its translation and promotion strategies. In the past few years, the cultural institutions presented in this paper have tried, in various ways, to increase the visibility of the Romanian literature and culture. Besides the initiatives concerning translation proper, the projects developed by the Romanian Cultural Institute, Observator Cultural Magazine and Polirom have taken the form of participations in international book fairs, meetings with publishers from various linguistic areas, meetings with authors and translators and, generally efforts to ensure the presence of the Romanian writers at international cultural events.

64Secondly, one important (somehow unanswered) question is related to the selection of authors and works to be translated, to whether we should promote contemporary or classical authors. The answer again, is not a question of value, but ... marketability. Foreign editors and publishing houses are looking for books that are likely to be sold. Contemporary authors are easier to present and promote; they can be invited to literary events, public readings, they are generally much more appealing to the general public than a classical author, no matter how valuable they might be. Promoting classical, canonical writers would mean, from a commercial point of view, restricting the target audience (especially to academic environments, such as readerships and departments of Romanian literature and culture).

65The fact is that in an era of intellectual openness, of globalisation, of multiculturalism and the desideratum of abolishing the borders between centre and margin, we are still facing a struggle to reach the West, that is, the centre, since the West is considered the one who blesses, homologates, and consecrates. But most importantly, the overall success of the developed programmes, together with the positive reactions received in the international press prove that Romania stands a great chance on the international book markets, in Europe or worldwide, as long as it is not disadvantaged by a poor quality of the translations.

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1 Translation policy refers to the factors involved in « the choice of text types; or even of individual texts, to be imported through translation into a particular culture/ language at a particular point in time » (1995: 202)

2  Michael Moore in « The Observer Talks with Michael Moore, Andrei Codrescu, Julian Semilian and Carmen Firan », by Jean Harris. Observator Cultural. no. 118/ 7-13 June 2007.*articleID_17707-articles_details.html

3  My translation; all translations mine, unless stated otherwise.

4  According to the Three Percent website:


6  The Romanian Cultural Institute (RCI) website

7  The list of works translated into English is available in the Annex to this paper.

8  The list of translation languages is available at

9  A complete list of the authors translated within the RCI programmes is available at

10  N. Manolescu, in Adevărul, 2009, March 11.





15  Julian Semilian is also a member of PEN America and translator of other Romanian authors such as Paul Celan, Gellu Naum, Tristan Tzara, Benjamin Fondane, Ştefan Augustin Doinaş, Tudor Arghezi, Urmuz, Gherasim Luca, or Ilarie Voronca.

16  It is important to point out that, despite Cărtărescu’s position among the Romanian authors translated within the RCI programmes, just one of the books was published in an English-speaking cultural space: the short story Clockwork Animals published in 2010 in Absinthe: New European Writing 13 - Spotlight on Romania. This could be explained by the fact that, as far as the books published abroad are concerned, Cărtărescu leased copyrights to two German publishing houses, Suhrkamp and Paul Zsolnay, which makes him somehow less accessible on the international book market.

17  The European Book Club is a collaboration of NY-based European cultural institutions representing Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain. Each month, the Club meets at a different institute to discuss a renowned, contemporary novel of that country, offering readers an opportunity to familiarize with current European literary trends.

18  ST= Source text; TT= Target text

19 Responding to Globalization: Romanian Literature On the American Book Market, published in Constructions of Identity VI (Conference Volume), Napoca Star Publishing House, Cluj-Napoca, 2011, pp. 286-293

20  This series publishes scholarly monographs devoted exclusively to works on East European politics, history, economics, society, culture and civilization, which were written by scholars from all over the world, and are distributed by Columbia University Press.

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Oana Surugiu, « From Margin to Centre »Amerika [En ligne], 5 | 2011, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2011, consulté le 21 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Oana Surugiu

PhD Candidate, « Al.I.Cuza » University, IAŞI

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