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

Celebrity Dialogue Interview with Cinematographer Bernard Salzman

Please find below a CELEBRITY DIALOGUE INTERVIEW with the award winning writer / director / producer / cinematographer and artist BERNARD SALZMAN, with whom I’m collaborating on a screenplay and movie of my first novel, VELVET TOTALITARIANISM.


BERNARD SALZMAN has collaborated on over one hundred and sixty projects, including documentaries, features, TV Movies and reality TV world wide, for such clients as: BBC, PARAMOUNT, UNIVERSAL, FOX, ABC, CBS, HBO, SHOWTIME and many others. His companies INNER CIRCLE FILMS and EYE OPENER FILMS, are full service production companies, able to provide production and post production services. Bernard had the honor of being nominated for  the Emmy award for a TV movie he made for CBS. 

CelebrityDialogue: Did you have formal education in cinematography and production or did you learn by doing?

Bernard: I attended film school where, since I had previously majored in Art, I concentrated in Cinematography.

CelebrityDialogue: How did you enter the entertainment industry?

Bernard: Because of my art training, after graduation I was offered to shoot and direct a series of documentaries about prominent artist – ended up doing 35 films in that series.  One of them received a special critics award at a film festival in Stockholm.

CelebrityDialogue: When and how did you establish Eye Opener Films?

Bernard: Eye Opener Films was established in 2007, as a secondary production company dealing mainly with the development and production of feature films.   My other company Inner Circle Films, produces mainly commercials, documentaries and reality TV.

CelebrityDialogue: Tell us about your documentaries that you produced and shot?

Bernard: I started my career as a filmmaker, doing documentaries.  As I mentioned, I did the series abut artists and following that was hired to collaborate on documentaries  dealing  with various subjects – archeology, social and political subjects, religion and many others. It became increasingly difficult to fund and market documentaries in the 80’s and 90’s, therefore my work concentrated more on features, TV movies and commercials. But I always had a soft spot for documentaries and when the opportunity presented itself, I was able to do one of my favorite documentaries – Vegas Striped. It documents the rise and fall of a young man who, after overcoming a traumatic childhood, is able to become a very successful business man, only to loose it all to his gambling addiction.

CelebrityDialogue: Which major commercials have you done? Which corporate clients have you worked for?

Bernard: I have done numerous commercials in Europe and the US. Clients included: Nike, Sony, Pepsi, Kodak, Allstate, M&Ms, BMW,  Porsche, Rocawear, and so many others.

CelebrityDialogue: What about your work in features? Which major production houses have you worked with?

Bernard: I had the opportunity to work for major studios and independents alike.  Disney, HBO, Showtime, CBS, PBS, Fox, Paramount, MGM.

CelebrityDialogue: Which reality TV shows have you been involved with?

Bernard: I have developed several reality TV shows starting with a show called Man vs Vegas for CMT. Other shows were Raising the bar, The prodigy and recently, At the Pawn Shop.

CelebrityDialogue: Which project got you nominated for the Emmy award?
Bernard: It was a TV movie called My past is my own for CBS – it was about the civil rights movement.

CelebrityDialogue: Which other awards have you won?

Bernard: I received two Best Cinematography awards, a Gold Telly award and a Shine media award.

CelebrityDialogue: Tell us about Love, Blood and Tears.

Bernard: Love Blood and Tears is a project about the Lincoln brigades and their involvement in the Spanish Civil War.  These volunteers from all walks of life went to Spain to fight against and prevent the rise of Fascism.  Many famous artists have taken part in this, including George Orwell, Hemingway and many others.

CelebrityDialogue: Which other projects are you working on currently?

Bernard: I am trying to raise funds for a feature film that is very dear to me, based on a script and short story I wrote called  Mihaella.  I have also developed a web based show called Divorce Rehab – I am currently in production with it.

You can find out more information about Bernard Salzman–his movies, commercials, documentaries, shows and art–as well as about my novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, which we’re currently collaborating on, on the links below:

http://bernardsalzman.com/ 
http://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/the-art-of-bernard-salzman/ 
http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhum#p/u/9/2Db3FI_kv0Y 
http://www.litkicks.com/ClaudiaMoscovici 

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Bernard Salzman, bitlit, Blood and Tears, book review, book reviews, books, Celebrity Dialogue, Celebrity Dialogue Interview with Cinematographer Bernard Salzman, cinematographer Bernard Salzman, Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, David Israel, David K. Israel, Eye Opener Films, fiction, Inner Circle Films, interviews, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Love Blood and Tears, movie review, movie reviews, My past is my own, new fiction, novel, novels, Princeton University, producer Bernard Salzman, psychological fiction, spy fiction, spy thriller, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Celebrity Dialogue Interview with Cinematographer Bernard Salzman

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

Is She A Spy? The First Chapter of Velvet Totalitarianism

From my novel, Velvet Totalitarianism (amazon.com, univpress.com)

Chapter 1: Is She a Spy?

Radu looked at his new Swiss watch—aluminum band, clear dial, red cross emblem, precision timing—which he had bought almost a year before with his first paycheck. It was 5:51 p.m. Time to go home and prepare for his date with Ioana. He should have been happy to have such a beautiful girlfriend. Yet, due to the latest turn of events, Radu was plagued by doubts. Just when his life was starting to improve, he became entangled in a web of contradictions from which he didn’t know how to extricate himself. His job and his girlfriend, his main sources of pleasure, had suddenly turned into causes for fear and suspicion. How much his attitude had changed since he came to France last spring, Radu mused. Back then, he was filled to the brim with hope. And who could blame him? At only twenty he got a scholarship to the Sorbonne and managed to defect to France, which, as far as Romanians were concerned, was the second most sophisticated country in the world (the first being Romania, of course). Then, based strictly upon his merit—aided only by a few well-placed connections—he landed a dream job as Assistant Correspondent on Romania at Radio Freedom Europe. RFE! The only station Romanians huddled in front of their illegal shortwave radios in the middle of the night to find out what the CIA said was going on in their country and the rest of the world. Which wasn’t all that surprising since, after all, in Romania news consisted solely of propaganda. Time for a little truth and sanity, Radu told himself when he took the part-time job at Radio Freedom Europe. And that’s what he did his best to deliver in his political commentaries, with a cracked voice and a beating heart, since his major was chemistry, not politics or journalism. He was still a neophyte, working on a trial basis and anxious to impress everyone at the radio station and move up the ladder, all the way to the sky if possible—say, production manager–although he wasn’t thinking that far ahead just yet. At the very least, his boss, Alexei Pavlovich, a Russian dissident, would have to grant him this: the young Romanian spoke with enthusiasm.

After his talk, on the way back to his dorm room, Radu tried to reassure himself that, ethically speaking, he was doing the right thing. But he still felt uneasy about his decision. Maybe he wasn’t helping anyone after all. Least of all his family. Nothing seemed clear-cut or simple anymore. At the root of the problem was Ioana, the young woman with whom he had fallen in love.

Radu imagined her as he first saw her, in the Parc Montsouris, a little park next to his dormitory, at the Cité Universitaire. She walked towards him like a beautiful vision, her curvy body wrapped loosely in a long blue dress spotted by the uneven, kaleidoscopic shadows of the trees. Her soft, lean curves undulated underneath that flowing fabric. He was so startled by Ioana’s beauty that he stopped in his tracks, and, not exactly tactfully, just stood there and stared at her. As the young woman approached, Radu noticed that she had raven hair, of medium length, frizzed slightly by what might have been an overgrown perm. Far from making her seem unkempt, it gave her a casual, sexy look which he much preferred to a carefully groomed appearance. Although, generally speaking, Radu wasn’t particularly observant, he noticed that the young woman wore bright, plum red lipstick. The lip color went well with her olive complexion and deep brown eyes, which were so dark that even when she got quite close he could barely distinguish iris from pupil. Her nose was a little too large for her delicate oval face. Otherwise, he justified in retrospect her minor imperfections, she might have been unapproachably beautiful. It was she who initiated their conversation. “Buna ziua,” she greeted him “Hello” in Romanian. “Why is this French woman speaking to me in Romanian?” Radu wondered, at first so caught off guard that he didn’t reply. She noticed his surprise and smiled, showing two rows of even white teeth.

“My name is Ioana Marinescu,” the young woman graciously extended her hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Radu answered. He clasped her slim fingers with an uncertain, nervous touch. By way of contrast, her grip was strong and confident.

“I noticed you at the Cité before,” she told him. “I live there too. I’m originally from Iasi. And you?”

“From Bucuresti,” Radu answered, with a tinge of disappointment. He would have preferred that Ioana be French. One could never be too careful with fellow Romanians when one worked at Radio Freedom Europe…

“I’m kind of lonely here, so I was glad to hear a fellow Romanian voice,” she said.

Touched by her friendliness, Radu felt somewhat embarrassed about his misgivings. They returned, however, after only a moment’s consideration. He couldn’t figure out how, even before he had spoken, Ioana knew that he was Romanian.

She read his mind, which, given his distrustful expression, must have been quite transparent. “I heard you talking in Romanian to another student in the cafeteria…”

“Who? Diaconescu?”

“I don’t know his name,” Ioana replied. “Nor yours, for that matter,” she added, since Radu hadn’t introduced himself yet.

“Sorry. I’m Radu Schwarz.”

“Nice to meet you. Did you come here with your family?” Ioana asked, attempting to make polite conversation.

“No, by myself.”

“Me too. My parents are still in Iasi.”

It occurred to Radu that Ioana didn’t have a Moldavian accent, the strongest and most distinctive in Romania, as people from Iasi generally did. He proceeded with caution. “How come you don’t have an accent?”

Ioana shrugged. “Mine was never that strong to begin with, and besides, whatever country bumpkin accent I might have had, I lost it in Bucharest during my first year of university studies. I didn’t want to seem provincial.”

“Do you plan to go back to Romania?” the young man inquired, since if she didn’t, perhaps he could trust her a little more.

“We’ll see. I’m here on a two-year fellowship. I don’t want to make my parents’ situation even worse, so I’ll probably go back.”

“I plan to stay here for good. I mean, I already defected,” Radu heard himself declare, to his own surprise.

“How about your family? Do they want to join you here?”

Radu thought about his parents and little sister, eight year old Irina, whom he hoped to bring to France. The young man planned to use his radio show to persuade French officials to apply pressure on the Romanian government to allow his family to immigrate to France. But he couldn’t divulge this information to a total stranger. Especially not to a fellow Romanian.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

They strolled together around the circular path of the Lac Montsouris, discussing other subjects. They commiserated about the Cité Universitaire dorm rooms, which were too small and had dilapidated, straw wallpaper. “They’re perfect–if you’re a cat!” Ioana quipped. They both approved, however, of the cafeteria food at the Cité. Ioana claimed that since arriving in Paris she had put on five kilos; Radu looked with disbelief at her slim athletic figure, wondering where she was hiding the extra weight. Then they sat down on a bench in front of the lake. Ioana unsnapped the magnetic clasp of her purse and took out a chunk of baguette neatly wrapped in a white napkin. A group of ducks swam rapidly towards her.

“I save my bread for the ducks,” she explained, breaking off a little piece of baguette and tossing it towards the smallest of the ducks first, being careful to be fair to all, feeding them one at a time. The birds, however, didn’t quite grasp the principle of equality, much less of taking one’s turn. They seemed more familiar with the concept of “every duck for himself,” as they precipitated all at once towards each crumb. Two ducks, with grayish bodies and green throats, were more aggressive than the rest. They rushed to gobble up the bits of bread no matter how hard the young woman tried to feed their companions.

“Those are the male ones,” Radu said with slight embarrassment, as if apologizing for his sex.

“They must be from the Secret Police,” Ioana joked. This reference made the young man’s face cloud with concern.

“Just kidding! Geesh!” Ioana poked him playfully with her elbow. “I doubt these ducks have microphones hidden under their wings,” she continued teasing him. Then, abruptly, she changed her light-hearted attitude: “Actually, I’m usually just as nervous as you are,” she whispered, attentively scrutinizing Radu’s expression.

“About what?” he asked, still evasive.

“You know…”

“You mean the Secret Police?”

Ioana nodded, looked past Radu, then behind her, to make sure they weren’t being observed. “My father, who’s an aerospace engineer, refused to sign the papers before going to a conference in Japan,” she said in a low, confidential tone.

Radu proceeded with caution: “What papers?”

“You know. The ones for the industry.”

“I don’t understand,” Radu said, even though he did.

The young woman gave him a skeptical and half-reproachful look, as if she wasn’t fooled by his professed ignorance. Out of politeness, she offered an explanation nonetheless: “You know Petrescu’s policy: any Romanian scientist or diplomat going abroad has to double as an informant or tech spy. Otherwise, it’s a waste of the country’s resources, right? At least, that’s the official party line,” she said matter-of-factly, as if she were merely stating the obvious.

Since his father, a scientist at the Atomic Physics Institute of Romania, had also gone through this pleasant experience, Radu understood perfectly well what Ioana was talking about. However, by force of habit, the young man preferred to avoid having such conversations out in the open, even when on safer, Western ground. Now it was his turn to look around, pretending to admire the scenery, to see if anyone might be watching them. The young couple necking on the bench next to theirs and the elderly woman walking her dog seemed innocuous enough.

Unexpectedly, Ioana began to cry. Radu’s own mood shifted from suspicion to surprise and then to concern. He didn’t know how to respond to this sudden display of emotion. With a mixture of chivalry and compassion, the young man removed a plaid handkerchief from his shirt pocket and graciously offered it to Ioana. Unfortunately, the handkerchief happened to have already been used during his frequent spells of spring allergies, so she politely refused it.

“Is anything wrong?” he asked, absurdly.

“Yes,” Ioana sniffled. “I mean no,” she changed her mind and laughed a little, as if embarrassed by her own capriciousness. She put both hands in front of her face, covering the bridge of her nose. She seemed to be considering something, then suddenly decided: “I suppose that I’m taking a leap of faith. But we can trust each other, yes?”

“Of course,” Radu agreed, although he wasn’t quite sure yet.

“When my father refused to sign the papers he was beaten up by the authorities and thrown in prison. Eventually they let him go, but since then, our lives haven’t been the same…”

Radu nodded in sympathy. “I’m afraid this sort of thing could happen to my parents too,” he confessed.

Ioana seemed interested: “Why? Did your parents also refuse to sign the documents?”

“My father did,” Radu answered, looking at the girl’s pretty oval face, encouraging himself to trust her.

“Is your father an engineer too?” she asked.

He shook his head: “A physicist.”

“Do you mind if we walked around a little?” Ioana proposed.

“Not at all,” Radu responded. After all, spending time with such a nice girl was worth skipping his afternoon classes. They got up and she gently slipped her arm around his elbow, a gesture of intimacy , which took him by surprise. That’s how relatives or familiar friends tended to stroll together in Romania, elbows hooked. Feeling somewhat discombobulated by the young woman’s proximity and touch, Radu looked down in embarrassment, but that offered no solace, since he became even more flustered once he noticed Ioana’s high heeled sandals and her lean, long muscular legs flexing under the flowing dress as she walked. Once again, as during the first moment he saw her, Radu became aware of a feminine magnetism that overpowered him. “So what if she’s Romanian? Does every Romanian girl in Paris have to be a spy?” he asked himself, attempting to dispel the state of warranted paranoia cultivated by years of living under a totalitarian dictatorship.

During their tour of the park, they talked about their classes, about books, about their love of French literature, especially Flaubert. Radu adored reading novels; Ioana was a French literature major. As it turns out, their favorite novel was Madame Bovary. Granted, they weren’t exactly the first people on Earth to believe that Flaubert had some merit; nevertheless, each point in common helped overcome, little by little, Radu’s reservations.

Only hours later, when they were having dinner together in a private corner of a table at the Cité Universitaire cafeteria, did the couple return to the touchy subject of their families and their political situations.

“So why did your dad refuse to sign?” Ioana asked.

Following hours of conversational intimacy, Radu’s tongue had loosened up. This time he didn’t hesitate to tell her: “He had nothing to spy on. I mean, what’s he going to steal? Equations about how the Big Bang got started and how the universe contracts or expands? Petrescu isn’t interested in the universe. He only cares about his little fief.”

“Does your father work for Silvia Petrescu?” Ioana asked, obviously aware of the fact that the dictator’s daughter, herself a physicist, was the Director of the Atomic Physics Institute of Romania.

“Yes,” Radu replied. “Actually, they’re friends. Otherwise…let’s just say … life would have been a lot harder for my family.”

“Why so?” Ioana took a sip of water, keeping her eyes fixed on Radu.

“It’s the same story as with your father,” he answered. “Except maybe for the fact that we’re Jewish–on my father’s side–which kind of complicates things. A few years ago my dad got this fellowship to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Before he left, he was asked to sign a paper that he’ll be a tech spy. He refused, and then, as soon as he returned, the Romanian government accused him of being an Israeli agent. Can you imagine? What twisted logic! If it weren’t for Silvia, he might have ended up in prison or some labor camp.”

“Did Silvia herself ask him to spy?” Ioana asked.

“I don’t think so. I believe the orders came from above,” Radu indicated, pointing up with his index finger.

Ioana took a bite of her quiche. She chewed slowly, contemplating Radu’s comment. “So what happened when your dad refused?” she asked, after the savory forkful had melted in her mouth.

Radu was trying to find a graceful way to cut the meat off his chicken drumstick, but eventually gave up, held it with his bare hands and took a big bite. “The usual stuff. He was harassed,” he answered after having chewed his mouthful. Since coming to France, he was not used to having substantive conversations while he ate, preferring instead to concentrate each ounce of energy on the food, which he was still afraid would somehow disappear from his plate if he didn’t promptly wolf it down.

“Phone, car and radiator bugs, being shadowed by the Secret Police, interrogations, debriefings, that sort of thing, right?” Ioana prompted him.

“Yup,” Radu answered matter-of-factly, as if these experiences were so commonplace, they were hardly worth mentioning. He eyed with envy Ioana’s orange—a rarity in Romania, usually sold only at Craciun, around Christmas.

She noticed his gaze and offered him her orange. “You can have it. I prefer to stick to my diet anyway,” she said, attacking the rich créme brûlée. She then added, as an afterthought, “The exact same thing happened to us. So did the harassment eventually stop?”

“Not completely,” Radu answered. “In fact, I only made things worse for them.”

“How so?”

“Because…”

The girl patiently waited for his response, twirling a spoon in her cup of coffee.

“You see, I work for Radio Freedom Europe,” Radu leaned forward and confessed with difficulty in a whisper, feeling like he had just undergone a grueling debriefing session.

Instead of being flattered by his trust, however, Ioana was amused by his reticence. “You’re so silly,” she said, reaching over across the table and affectionately patting Radu’s hand.

“What makes you say that?”

“You treat me as if I were from the Secret Police,” she replied, lightly brushing his leg with her bare foot under the table. Not used to such overt flirtation, Radu peeked under the table to see what had tickled him and noticed that the young woman had taken off her right shoe. “Such a silly garçonnet…” Radu didn’t know how to react to this unexpected onslaught of sensual affection.

“You and I are in the same boat, Raducu,” Ioana kept stroking his foot reassuringly, using the Romanian diminutive of his name. Her knee touched his under the table. “Besides,” she smiled at him indulgently, “do you really think the fact you’re a speaker on Radio Freedom Europe is such a big secret? I listened to your show already … Isn’t that the whole point of international broadcasting? To reach as many people as possible? So why all this secrecy, hmmm, Mr. Bond?”

“So this means…” Radu, still under the young woman’s spell, struggled to reach a logical conclusion.

“… that I know perfectly well where you work and what you think about Petrescu’s regime,” Ioana completed his sentence. “And of course I agree! Who in his right mind wouldn’t?”

“Agree with what?”

“With the fact that Nicolae Petrescu is a megalomaniac tyrant who oppresses Romanians and sacrifices the good of the country to his personality cult, what else?” the young woman summarized succinctly the message of Radu’s fifteen hours of broadcast to date.

When Radu returned to his dorm room after that first meeting with Ioana, he threw himself on the bed, placing his hands behind his head, his eyes fixed dreamily upon the ceiling. He weighed the pros and cons of their encounter. Undoubtedly, he thought, there was a slight disadvantage to becoming friends with Ioana: she might be a Secret Police agent and kill me. Out of a million attractive French women in Paris, why did I have to fall in love with a fellow Romanian? On the other hand, the pros were at least as compelling: the girl was strikingly beautiful, sweet and charming. Besides, Radu attempted to reassure himself, who said anything about love?

Claudia Moscovici, Velvet Totalitarianism (2009)

December 3, 2010 Posted by | Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love story, novel, secret agents, spies, spy fiction, spying, thriller, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is She A Spy? The First Chapter of Velvet Totalitarianism

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)