Claudia Moscovici

Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

 

 

In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini mandated that all Iranian women must observe an Islamic dress code, which included wearing the veil, under the threat of death for those who refused to abide by these laws. This happened at about the same time that the totalitarian leader of my own country, Nicolae Ceausescu, was starting to impose draconian measures on Romanian women. Between the years 1979 and 1989, Ceausescu instituted a series of laws that controlled women’s sexuality and reproduction by banning birth control and abortion. This was part of his narcissistic fantasy of doubling the population of the country, so that he could have more power. Eventually, as I described in my novel Velvet Totalitarianism, such measures lead to tens of thousands of unwanted children, many of which were placed in unimaginably bad conditions in the infamous Romanian orphanages. To my mind, both measures—in Iran and in Romania–represented a way of establishing power over women rather than being a reflection of religious or ideological (communist) values.

Having been sensitized early in life to these displays of totalitarian power, many years later, when I read Azar Nafisi‘s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), I was especially moved by the author’s critique of the uses of the veil to control Iranian women’s bodies. I was also very impressed by her creative allusions to Anglo-American literary history—the book is divided into four sections–Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen–to launch her compelling cultural critiques. Many of you have probably already read this book, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, Lolita, about a sociopathic sexual predator whose fetish is prepubescent girls functions as Nafisi’s main metaphor for Iranian laws, which, she states, imposed “a dream upon our reality, turning us into figments of imagination.” These female figments are objects of simultaneous control and temptation: temptation through prohibition by hiding the female body.

Recently, I ran across the images of an artist who, I believe, launches an equally powerful and creative critique of the veil by unveiling women. Majeed Benteeha is an Iranian-born photographer, poet and aspiring film producer. Moving back and forth between Tehran and New York City, he simultaneously combines and clashes both worlds, in a spectacular mix that challenges cultural assumptions on both fronts. His images often feature veiled women posing nude in an iconic fashion that seems more sacred than profane. Benteenha’s strikingly original photography violates religious orthodoxies–about feminine modesty, about the religious and social connotations of the veil–only to show us another way to respect women and all that they represent: love, maternity, sensuality, desire, intelligence.

His images are simple, beautiful, erotic and dramatic. They include symbols associated with the Muslim faith, but also seem very European in many respects. Perhaps unwittingly, Beenteha’s photography alludes to works like L’Erotisme, by the French anthropologist and philosopher Georges Bataille, which presents the sacred as inextricably related to the profane: not just for Muslim societies, but for all cultures in general. Bataille famously states: “The essence of morality is a questioning about morality and the decisive move of human life is to use ceaselessly all light to look for the origin of the opposition between good and evil.” It seems that is precisely what Beenteha’s artistic short film below underscores, in its mirroring and contrast between a universal modernity and Muslim tradition; between light and dark; between masculine and feminine; between tenderness and predation; between desire and contempt. You can view his photography and artistic films on the links below.

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici#p/a/f/0/Mv3P-3kPfzo

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com


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June 3, 2011 Posted by | Ayatollah Khomeini, Azar Nafisi, book review, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, controlling women's bodies, controlling women's sexuality, critiques of the veil, Iran, Islamic dress code, literary criticism, literature, Lolita, Majeed Benteeha, Majeed Benteeha photography, Nicolae Ceausescu, Photographer Majeed Beenteeha, photography, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Romania, Romanian orphanages, sensual photography, sociopath, sociopathy, Surrealism, the veil, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

America’s Obsession with Vampires

 

As a native Romanian who is also a novelist, I’m very intrigued–and, frankly, somewhat baffled–by America’s obsession with vampires and the Dracula legend. It seems like vampire novels and movies are growing in popularity, even as they’re being spoofed by yet other vampire novels and movies! From what I can see, this trend doesn’t seem as popular in Europe. This leads me to wonder: what are some of the reasons behind America’s obsession with vampires? I came up with five main reasons:

1. Exoticism. The setting of the original Dracula legend is a country whose history and traditions are foreign to most American readers, who find Romania distant and exotic. By way of contrast, to most Europeans, Romania is relatively familiar. It’s a place plagued by its devastating totalitarian history (first the rule of the Iron Guard, then its lengthy communist period). It’s a place struggling to emerge from its dark past, faced with enormous economic and political challenges. To the French, at least, it’s also a place known for immigrants from both sides of the social spectrum: the gypsy exodus, which is often linked to pick-pocketing and a nomadic lifestyle, and some of the most intriguing European intellectuals and artists. But when you say that you’re from Romania to most Americans, the first thing they’ll think of is not Eugene Ionesco or Mircea Eliade, but of Dracula. Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler (the ruler of Wallachia between 1456 and 1462) captivates readers with his notorious inhumanity. He’s infamous for the sadistic punishments he imposed upon his Turkish ennemies as well as upon anyone who violated his laws. Legend has it that he’d enjoy his supper watching prisoners being impaled before his eyes.

2. Which leads me to my second reason: the lure of evil. Vampires–these liminal beings between dark spirit and bad human–represent the powers of evil, over which we have limited control. Evil seduces us, only to later destroy us. The vampire bite is closely associated with unbridled sexuality. Vampires, like social predators, suck the vitality or life blood of healthy human beings before moving on to the next victim. But then, I wondered, why don’t we read about them in their human form, such as the Scott Petersons of this world? Why do we prefer to view and read about them as our Others?

3. Mediated evil. Human evil is inescapable. It’s everywhere around us. We read about it in the pages of history books and we see it on the news: ranging from the haunting memories of the Holocaust, to the Stalinist purges, to the latest serial killers on T.V. Because we’re exposed on a daily basis to the inhumanity of social predators, we’re not as intrigued by them as we are by their un-human counterparts, the vampires. Familiarity breeds not contempt, but boredom. At the same time, evil in its human form makes people very uncomfortable. We don’t want to imagine that social predators could enter our neighborhoods, our houses and our lives, to harm us or our loved ones. Vampires, these liminal beings between human and demon, give a more bearable expression to the evil we know, in the back of  our minds, exists in the world and can reach into the intimacy of our lives. They enable us to contemplate evil while holding it at arm’s length.

4. The widespread appeal of genre fiction. Compared to most Europeans, Americans have very little leisure time. Europeans get weeks, if not months, of vacation a year. Your average American gets only about two to three weeks. Although the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is not cut-and-dry, I’d say that genre fiction places emphasis upon a fast-moving, interesting plot, while literary fiction privileges psychologically nuanced characterizations and a unique style. Most vampire novels, though well-written, place most emphasis on plot. They’re perfect for readers who have little time and want to delve immediately into the action rather than being distracted by stylistic experiments or bogged down by a long-winded, Proustian style. Of course, there are some vampire novels that harmonously blend several genres, to offer readers the best of all worlds. I’m thinking of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which combines a beautiful style, historical erudition about the Dracula legend and a fast-paced, intriguing story.

5. Education. My teenage daughter reminded me yesterday that she and her friends read the Twilight series in fifth grade. This was their first exposure to narrative fiction that both adults and young adults enjoy reading. In Europe, on the other hand, the curriculum places emphasis (from a very young age) upon the literary canon. I remember being exposed to Tolstoy, Baudelaire and Flaubert early on, as opposed to reading either in school or for school the latest popular novels. While American students do sample the literary canon as well, that usually starts later–in high school–and even then, they’re exposed mostly to the Anglo-American tradition. But, unlike most European students, they discover the pleasure of reading by delving into popular contemporary fiction right away. This sticks with them and most likely shapes their literary taste later in life as well.

All this to say that I suspect that our obsession with vampires in the U.S. is not a fluke. There are real reasons why vampire thrillers became so popular here and why they’re probably not going to disappear from sight anytime soon. Having experienced evil first hand, however, I prefer to depict it as it is: all-too-human even in its worst inhumanity. When I was a little girl and complained to my parents about being afraid of monsters in my room, they told me that the only thing I should fear is evil human beings. Monsters, like vampires, don’t exist and can’t harm us. But it seems that some human beings are capable of immense evil, limited only by the worst of their desires and imaginations. It’s this real, human, evil that I wrote about, both in my novel about totalitarian Romania, Velvet Totalitarianism (2009) and in my second novel, The Seducer, about a sociopathic predator. Sometimes, the monsters we imagine in fiction pale by comparison to the evil created by the monsters in our lives.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

You can see sample chapters of my new novel, The Seducer, previewed on Neatorama’s Bitlit, on the link below:

http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/the-seducer/

You can also watch video previews of The Seducer on youtube, by cutting and pasting the following links:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhum#p/a/u/0/IaZj4bceDpE


 

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Bram Stoker, Claudia Moscovici, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, David Israel, David K. Israel, Dracula, Eclipse, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels, Romania, seducer, seduction, social predators, sociopath, sociopathy, Stephenie Meyer, The Historian, Twilight, Twilight series, vampire fiction, Velvet Totalitarianism, Vlad Tepes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Totalitarianism: A Modern Curse

Totalitarianism is a modern phenomenon. It is stronger and more intrusive than dictatorship or autocracy. Totalitarian regimes control not only the state, the military, the judicial system and the press, but also reach into people’s minds, to dictate what they should say, think and feel. Hannah Arendt has argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism that one of the key features of the totalitarian state is its system of indoctrination, propaganda, isolation, intimidation and brainwashing—instigated and supervised by the Secret Police—which transforms classes, or thoughtful individuals able to make relatively sound political decisions, into masses, or people who have been so beaten down that they become apathetic and give their unconditional loyalty to the totalitarian regime. Although scholars such as Hannah Arendt, Robert Conquest and Vladimir Tismaneanu have elegantly explained the rise (and fall) of communist governments in Eastern Europe, it’s the vivid descriptions we find in the fiction and memoirs of the epoch–George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Natalia Ginsburg’s Journey into the Whirlwind and Lena Constante’s The Silent Escape—that take readers into the daily horrors, the dramatic Kafkaesque show trials, the physical and psychological torture and the general sense of hopelessness that characterizes life under totalitarian regimes. The writers I have just mentioned tend to focus mostly on the Stalinist period, during which the state governed through arbitrary displays of power and terror, sending millions of people to their deaths in labor and concentration camps. Yet as many who lived under totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe during the post-Stalinist era would claim, the milder, “velvet” form of totalitarianism was depressing and depleting in its own way, killing people’s hope and humanity even though it did not physically claim as many lives.

My own novel, Velvet Totalitarianism,  introduces students and the general public to the post-Stalinist phase of totalitarianism, focusing on Romania under the Ceausescu dictatorship, through the dual optic of scholarship and fiction. First I provide information about the Ceausescu regime: its feared Securitate (or Secret Police); the human rights abuses and outrageous domestic policies which left the Romanian people hungry and demoralized; the dictator’s narcissistic personality cult; the infamous orphanages, which were a direct result of the regime’s inhumane and irrational birth control policies, and the events that led to the Romanian revolution, first in the Timisoara uprising and then in Bucharest, where the dictator and his wife were deposed, put on their own show trial and executed in December, 1989. To do so, I synthesize information presented by other scholarly works, memoirs and textbooks on the subject, including Vladimir Tismaneanu’s Stalinism for all Seasons (2003), Peter Cipokowski’s Revolution in Eastern Europe (1991), Andrei Codrescu’s A Hole in the Flag (1991) and Ion Pacepa’s Red Horizons (1987).

Then I translate these events into fiction, to give readers a more palpable sense of what it felt like to live in Romania under the Ceausescu regime. I also attempt to capture the mixture of cynicism and hope that characterized one of the most bloody anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe. My novel depicts the experiences of a family living under the Ceausescu regime whose son gets entangled in a web set up by the Securitate. The story then traces the family’s difficult process of immigrating to the United States as well as the sometimes comical cultural challenges of adapting to America. The main characters arrive in Eastern Europe on vacation during the period of revolutionary upheavals in both Czechoslovakia and Romania, whose events they witness first-hand.

The parts of the novel that focus specifically on Romania constitute more of a fictionalized autobiography or a memoir in that they’re partly based on my family’s personal experience of communism. I say “fictionalized” since having left Romania at the age of eleven, my memories are undoubtedly skewed by a childlike perspective as well as by the passage of time. The factual information about the Securitate, Ceausescu’s policies and the Romanian revolution I depict here, however, is also based on research rather than just on memories and anecdotal accounts. The fiction inspired by real life helps individuate a mass phenomenon. In a post-Cold War era where totalitarian communism has become just another page in history books, fact and fiction are complimentary rather than opposites. Fiction can make what may now seem like a long-gone, dead epoch, and the anonymous suffering of millions of people, seem vivid, significant and real again.

Yet whichever perspective one chooses, fact or fiction, what is being described here is essentially the same reality: conditions in Romania during the so-called “Epoch of Light” were notoriously miserable. People had to wait in long lines for meager supplies of food, clothing and household goods. There was limited heat and hot water. By the late 1970’s, the Secret Police had installed microphones in virtually every home and apartment. The whole population lived in fear. As a Romanian citizen said to a French journalist following the fall of the Ceausescu regime, “It was a system that didn’t destroy people physically—not many were actually killed; but it was a system that condemned us to a fight for the lowest possible level of physical and spiritual nourishment. Under Ceausescu, some people died violently, but an entire population was dying.”

Although this book focuses mostly on Romania, hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans led similar lives to the ones I describe, struggling daily against poverty, hunger, state indoctrination, surveillance, censorship and oppression in post-Stalinist communist regimes. In actuality, “velvet” totalitarianism was insidious rather than soft and gentle, killing your spirit even when it spared your life.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Alan Bullock, Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, Hannah Arendt, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Romania, spies, spy fiction, spy thriller, Stalin, Stalinism, Stalinist purges, The Origins of Totalitarianism, totalitarianism, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Totalitarianism: A Modern Curse

Velvet Totalitarianism: When Love Triumphs Over Oppression

We  know why we read genre fiction, like the latest Harry Potter saga or Stephen King’s horror novels. Genre fiction helps us escape from our daily lives. It carries us to an alternative world that is either so fantastic, or so horrific, that it takes our minds off the tedium of our jobs, our daily duties, our routines and our family and health problems. Genre fiction provides readers with much-needed entertainment and an escape from reality.

But sometimes we read novels in order to hold a mirror up to our own natures and lives. It’s comforting to see that we’re not alone in our struggles to raise a family, in our stumbles in love, in our battles with illnesses beyond our control, or in our efforts to maintain our marriages. Literary fiction in particular,  such as Wally Lamb’s psychological novels and Jonathan Franzen’s formidable realism, enable readers to view themselves inside and out, from multiple perspectives. Whatever stories these great novelists tell, and wherever they may take us, we can identify with their characters and relate to the situations they describe.

My own first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, offers readers a little bit of both worlds: realism with a touch of fantasy. It is the partly autobiographical narrative of my family’s struggles to escape the hardships of communist Romania during the 1980’s. This is a story that few Americans would have lived through, so I enhanced it by adding more spice, the element of fantasy: a spy plot about the inner workings of the Secret Police.

Velvet Totalitarianism will take you to a place that few have visited (communist Romania) and an era that many have forgotten (the Cold War reality of communism). Hopefully, my account of the love and loyalty that united my family is a story that many American readers can identify with. It is a mirror held up to the feelings that bind together any loving family. But the story about the incredible challenges we, along with tens of millions of Eastern Europeans, had to overcome will take you to a far-away corner of the world to remind you of a different era: one that may be gone, but shouldn’t be forgotten. The chapter from Velvet Totalitarianism pasted below offers a little bit of both aspects. It describes (in a fictionalized manner) the family reunion between my mother and I with my father, after our family had been separated for several years by the Romanian Secret police.

Chapter 23 of my novel, Velvet Totalitarianism (2009)

After being tied up in New York City for three days due to a bureaucratic mix-up regarding their entrance visa, Eva and Irina were about to take a plane and meet Andrei in San Francisco. The brunette at the PanAm counter asked Eva very sweetly: “Hi, how are you?

Not accustomed to friendly service, Eva was caught off guard. “Does this girl know me?” she wondered. “Why in the world does she care about how I’m doing?” Since the young woman smiled in an amiable enough manner, however, she decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and answered her question in earnest: “I very tired—we have long flight. Come from Italia. Have not seen her father,” she pointed to Irina, “for near three years. We are from Romania. Imigranti,” she emphasized, in case there was any doubt.

Upon hearing this rather unconventional answer in broken English, the girl’s affable smile was replaced by a glazed-over, disinterested gaze, and from then on she was all business: “That’s nice. May I see your passports please?”

Eva handed them to her.

The girl looked from the photos to Eva and Irina, then asked: “Are you checking any luggage?”

Eva had made some progress on her English, but not enough to fully understand the question: “Yes. Go ahead!” she threw up her arms.

The girl at the counter looked puzzled.

“Our luggage is been checked three times. Already done! We have nothing undeclared inside. Nothing! You can see if you vant…,” Eva invited the girl to rummage through her luggage, as the security guards had done at customs.

“No, I mean do you want to check it on the plane?” the girl clarified, speaking louder for the benefit of her foreign client, who had perfectly good hearing, just poor English comprehension.

Eva still couldn’t fully understand what was going on, but for the sake of expediency and the benefit of the people waiting in line behind her, she acted like she did: “Okay,” she replied. For the next few months, this was to become her stock answer whenever she didn’t understand something in English, since people tended to react better to it than when she said with her heavy accent “I don’t speak English.”

“Here are your tickets for Flight 340 departing for San Francisco from gate 23A,” the girl at the counter handed Eva the plane tickets. She then turned to the next customer in line, reassuming her former friendly persona: “Hello, sir. How are you? Checking any luggage?”

The gentleman in question, an American, already knew the lesson Eva had just learned: “I’m fine, thanks,” he answered flatly, without getting into the details of his personal life. He then said that he had one suitcase to check and showed her his driver’s license.

Eva whispered to her daughter in Romanian: “Strange country, this America… They ask you how you’re doing yet they couldn’t care less about your answer.”

Once they got on the plane, Eva’s mind was fully occupied by her imminent reunion with her husband. She felt butterflies in her stomach. What would Andrei think of her after nearly three years of separation? Would he still love her as much as before? Would they adjust to being a couple once again? And how would he behave with Irina, who had changed from a little girl to a young woman?

For Irina, the idea of finally seeing her father again still felt like an abstraction; an implausible event that blurred the line between dream and reality. Since for her three years of separation was practically an eternity, she remembered only traces of her father, not his whole personality: the way they’d sing together on the way to school; his bright blue, intelligent eyes; the way he always seemed to be in a hurry; his insistence that she do correctly her math and science homework (a task which she always vehemently resisted); his awkward gestures of affection (stroking her head as if she were a puppy); his congruous mixture of indulgence and severity.

Mother and daughter arrived at the San Francisco International Airport around 1:00 a.m. Andrei was supposed to greet them at the gate, but he was nowhere in sight. Rather than going to get their luggage, Eva and Irina waited for him, scrutinizing every thin man with dark hair and blue eyes.

“This is so typical of your father! He’s been in this country for almost three years, and he still can’t manage to find our gate,” Eva said to her daughter, after a nerve racking twenty minute wait and in answer to the latter’s repeated questions, all variations upon the same theme: “Do you see him yet?” “Is he here?” “Is that him?” “What’s taking him so long?” Despite her unsentimental words, Eva’s heart was racing with excitement. In a few moments, the indefinitely postponed future would become an immediate, palpable present.

Suddenly, she thought she spotted her husband: a slight man with a lost gaze, who, at that moment, was looking precisely in the wrong direction. Andrei seemed thinner than ever and his dark hair had turned salt and pepper, but Eva recognized the confused expression he assumed whenever he attempted anything practical.

“Timpitelule! Little Dumdum! We’re here!” she shouted affectionately in Romanian, waving to her husband and feeling relieved that, in spite of his cluelessness, at least he was lost in the right area.

Andrei moved so fast towards his daughter and wife that his face became a blur as he hugged and kissed them on both cheeks, several times, as if not quite trusting his senses, reassuring himself through these repeated embraces that after all these years, they were finally reunited as a family.

“Gogosica mea, my little dumpling,” he said to Irina, his voice cracking with emotion. But the terms of endearment that had worked magic when his daughter was eight no longer had the same effect on her at nearly twelve: “Daddy, I’m not fat! I just ate a few ice creams,” his daughter felt compelled to justify her food frenzy in Italy. She immediately regretted saying that, however, since she had imagined the first words out of her mouth to her father as being slightly more sentimental.

“We ate like pigs in Rome,” Eva excused herself as well for the extra pounds she had put on lately, which, she thought, her husband was bound to notice.

Andrei finally got a chance to look at his wife, who had filled out slightly and looked understandably tired. Nonetheless, to him, she was the most beautiful woman in the world: “You look perfect,” he said and kissed her tenderly on the mouth this time.

“Yuck!” their daughter interrupted this otherwise romantic reunion.

“I hope you haven’t spoiled her in my absence…” Andrei said, looking at Irina with mock sternness.

“If you only knew… You have your work cut out for you,” Eva replied, while Irina tugged at her sleeve looking at her mother with an expression of disapproval.

“What do you mean you? Where do you plan to go?” Andrei asked his wife.

“Who knows? I may also need a three year break from parenting,” Eva replied.

Andrei couldn’t resist the urge to hug his wife once again: “No more breaks for us, Papusica. No more separations. Ever again.”

Eva looked into her husband’s eyes, finally allowing herself the luxury of feeling emotion: “For so long, all I’ve dreamt about was being reunited as a family. With both of our children. With Raducu also.”

Andrei nodded gravely: “I’ve made some progress on that….”

“Did he contact you?” Eva asked.

“No. I would have told you. But I got in touch with that French artist, Jean-Pierre, as soon as you told me about him. I pulled a few strings at the university and found a way of inviting him to give a talk at our Institute for the Humanities. That way we can meet him in person and see how much he may know. But you need to be careful, okay? Don’t spill your beans to him immediately.”

“Oh, I don’t have any beans left to spill, Andreias,” Eva sighed, looking discouraged and weary, as she always did whenever the subject of Radu came up.

“Where’s your luggage?” Andrei changed the subject, recalling they still needed to take care of practical matters.

“I don’t know,” Eva shrugged. “They talk so fast that I couldn’t understand which baggage claim we’re supposed to go to.”

Uncharacteristically, Andrei took charge of the situation. He looked up their baggage claim number and, once they retrieved the luggage, chivalrously insisted on carrying it all by himself. His slight form looked like an ant struggling with giant bread crumbs.

“I have a new car which I think you’ll like,” he told Irina as they made their way through the crowd to the parking lot.

Irina gazed with undisguised admiration at all the large sedans they passed by. Her father stopped in front of a tiny, European-looking vehicle: a 1980 metallic blue Horizon. Despite its unimpressive size, Irina’s eyes sparkled with delight. The car was her favorite color, the kind she had only dreamt of: light blue with silver sparkles which shimmered like diamonds under the parking lot lights. Irina felt confident that even her doll, Greta Barbie, would like it.

“I love it!” she declared, sitting down in the back and bouncing up and down on the cushy seats, touching with open hands their soft, velvety covers.

“What luxury!” Eva said, equally in awe of the modest, economy-size vehicle. Having prepared in advance an explanation why he couldn’t yet afford a Mercedes, Andrei felt relieved that his family was so easy to please. Maybe they’d also overlook the bullet hole in the door of the cheap apartment he had rented for the summer in Berkeley.

“I didn’t quite understand your explanation on the phone. How come we’re not going directly to Ann Arbor?” Eva asked.

“This spring quarter I’m Visiting Associate Professor at an even better university. It’s called the University of California at Berkeley,” Andrei declared with pride.

“Berkelei?” Eva repeated, unimpressed. Back in Romania, she had only heard of Harvard.

“That’s right.”

“If this Berkelei’s so smart, then how come they didn’t hire you permanently?”

“I suppose I haven’t made an important enough breakthrough in physics. I was too busy struggling to get you and Irina out of Romania,” her husband responded with an affectionate smile. He felt elated. After all these years, his spunky, pragmatic wife hadn’t changed one bit.

“You mean you’re blaming us for your failures again?” Eva wanted to know.

“My biggest success is reuniting with my family,” Andrei replied with an uncharacteristic sentimentality which, his wife surmised, would wear off in a couple of days.

In spite of her sharp tongue, Eva’s eyes twinkled with warmth. She placed her hand on top of his, which was holding, by force of habit, the automatic gear shift.

Andrei drove fast, as usual. Eva scolded him, calling him an Italian race car driver, and warned him that he’d be pulled over by the police if he didn’t slow down, also as usual. Irina looked out the window, mesmerized. The Golden Gate Bridge shimmered with its bright yellow lights, like a garland illuminating the darkness of the night. The skyline of San Francisco flashed before her eyes, looking exactly like the girl had envisioned–extrapolating from the American movies she had seen—only even more shinny, beautiful and inviting. Colorful billboards displayed alluring women in sexy positions lying next to what looked like bottles of tuika (vodka). These Americans must drink even more than we do, Irina speculated. Her parents kept on talking excitedly in Romanian. Irina basked in their familiar presence, as the distant past folded almost seamlessly unto the present, leaving only the faint scars of long years of separation, which neither the present nor the future could erase.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, Jonathan Franzen, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, psychological fiction, Romania, Velvet Totalitarianism, Wally Lamb | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Velvet Totalitarianism: When Love Triumphs Over Oppression

Reader Reviews of Velvet Totalitarianism (from amazon.com)

By Steven Becker (New Jersey) *****

The title of this fantastic novel may stress its historical concerns, but don’t be deceived: it is a riveting, suspenseful story replete with compelling, richly developed characters with whom you become intimate quickly, and whose predicaments immediately capture and concern you. Moscovici is a great writer: she is tackling many themes in this ambitious book, but the story itself, which draws you in from its opening pages and consistently builds intensity every step of the way, is always front-and-center and leaves a memorable impact. Moscovici writes so intimately that you feel as if you’re in the story with her characters, not reading it. This is an unusual, exciting sensation, and a mark, I suspect, of truly great literature. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. 
 
By Radu D. Popa *****
 
Claudia Moscovici’s novel has everything to excite the reader on both  rational and emotional levels. Political thriller, love story,  testimonial of resistance against all the possible odds! Moreover, it is  about love and the way to freedom–imperfect maybe, but better  than the concentration camp that Ceausescu’s Communism planned to perfection in  Romania. All these are transmitted through the literary writing, not  like in a newspaper or a history book. Modulation between real life and  imaginary, characters who emotionally convey the message, outstanding descriptions and dialogue make this book an outstanding novel! 
 
By Roger Crowley “amateur historian” (San Diego, CA USA) *****
 
There are very many versions of Romanian history, especially when dealing with the events leading up to the Romanian Revolution of 1989. So much happened, in fact, during the closing days of communism in Eastern Europe, that there is no one story of how it happened. This novel powerfully represents one scenario.  This fictional account, where the author even gave the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu the maiden name of his wife Elena Petrescu (perhaps to emphasize who the real power was in the country), is a story of how love can have many twists and turns in a society living in constant terror of the Securitate (secret police). Even though the state managed to force people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, love finally emerges from the thorns of communism … and the people carry on with their lives.  There are numerous theories about how the Revolution of 1989 started, including the premise proposed in the novel that the CIA played a part. Whether or not this scenario is true is immaterial. The novel is a moving picture of how it might have happened. I felt sad when the book ended because I wanted to hear more about the characters. I can only hope there’s a sequel. 
 
By Suni Black “blackbirdbks” (Mississippi) *****
 
This beautifully told story of a family’s struggle to stay together is very moving. Interwoven with the narrative is an intrigue between a secret service operative for and a woman forced to trade her body in exchange for the welfare of those she loves. It’s a complicated, beautiful story which sheds light on an oppressive regime. Before reading this book, I was totally unaware of the human rights oppression committed against the people of Romania. Through this lovely story of a family’s struggle, I saw a daily life in all its joy and horror. Well written and extremely moving. 
 
By Carl Pafisi  *****
 
A beautifully written and very entertaining novel with characters who always feel real to the reader, it is at the same time a fascinating account of life in Romania under the Ceaucescu regime, a taut thriller, a poignant description of immigrant life in the US and a moving love story. Yet, it is never really sad or depressing. Ultimately uplifting, it provides a lot of laughs throughout. 
 
By Susanne Black *****

Claudia Moscovici creates a vivid portrayal of the lives of ordinary people living in totalitarian Romania. 

By Nicholas Klepper (Edinburgh, Scotland) *****
 
Cold historical facts and figures tend to leave us emotionally indifferent. The impact of a nation’s tragic events on one single person or family is much better understood and more profoundly felt. And this is what makes Claudia Moscovici’s book so very special. Her novel, Reincarnation of Love, is prefaced by Velvet Totalitariasm, a very well researched history of Romania under Communism. Depending on one’s point of view, Moscovici’s work could be considered as the fictionalized story of a real Jewish-Romanian family under Communism, based on her own recollections and that of her family, supported by true historical facts; or a brief history supported by the fictionalized story of a real family. It’s a book well worth reading. The novel is a page turner, it’s witty, well written, and includes some touching portrayals of immigrant life in the United States as well. 

By Isabel Roche Obrien (Lenox, MA)  *****
 
Claudia Moscovici’s first novel treats the intersection of politics and family, transporting us deftly in time and space. Depth of knowledge–and experience–is felt on each page as conflict, struggle and spirit come alive through Moscovici’s engaging prose. Highly recommended! 

By Didilet (MA, USA) *****
 
Velvet Totalitarianism could be best described as a comic epic. This enjoyable novel tells the story of a family struggling to survive the repression of communist Romania during the Ceausescu regime.It has the ambitious range and tragic elements of an epic, while also being filled with touching anecdotes and humor: the laughter through tears kind that Eastern European writers are known for.This novel has it all. It’s a story of survival that will move you, entertain you and inform you.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, literary criticism, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Romania, spy thriller, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reader Reviews of Velvet Totalitarianism (from amazon.com)