Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

In Romania and Albania this week, literature abounds.

Any occasion to celebrate language is a happy one, as demonstrated in this week’s dispatches from Romania and Albania. With events honoring Romanian Language Day and an emphasis on Albanian literature in Italy, the forces propelling the continuation and evolution of literary language are well and alive. Read on for the news, reported from the ground by our committed editors.

Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor, reporting from Romania

Romanian Language Day has officially been celebrated on August 31 since 2011. This year, I had the privilege of being in Romania to observe this holiday, more specifically to find myself in Cluj-Napoca, a city with a powerful literary scene thanks to its academic and historical tradition. The event dedicated to this occasion (held one day before, on August 30) was held in an interwar casino revamped into an art gallery in Cluj’s central park, and the general public ranged from the city’s literary elite to a group of kids in baseball caps.

Horia Bădescu, one of the representative literary figures of the 1960s (available in English and French translation) and historian and writer Ovidiu Pecican spoke on the history, significance, evolution, and particularities of the Romanian language, while professor of journalism and writer Ilie Rad and translator Gabriela Lungu (who has translated books like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, among many others, from Italian to Romanian) discussed the originality, richness, and their own intimate perceptions of the Romanian language.

Actor Ruslan Bârlea gave a poetry recital, reading from Mihai Eminescu, Ion Luca Caragiale, George Coșbuc, Lucian Blaga, and Octavian Goga. Ballerina Polina Stănescu danced to George Enescu’s spectacular “Ciocârlia”, making the occasion an interdisciplinary event. This tribute to our world-famous composer was thought-provoking, considering the biographical tidbit few know: Enescu, formally educated in Vienna, taught himself to read and write in Romanian, with a spirit that Nichita Stănescu would evoke years later with a phrase that’s become almost canonical, now so pertinent to the enormous number of Romanians living and writing outside of Romania: “The Romanian language is my homeland.” This special day also happened to coincide with the George Enescu Festival.

Read more about the Romanian language, or about the possibilities of learning Romanian this year or at evening courses now in the UK or US.

Barbara Halla, Assistant Editor, reporting from Albania

In my previous dispatch from Italy, I mentioned that the city of Mantova was organizing its annual literary festival, one of the biggest in the country. One of this year’s many highlights was a focus on Albanian literature, and in particular, literature that celebrates its capital city, Tirana. As part of this endeavor, a small library with over two hundred books by Albanian authors was set up in Piazza Sordello, curated by Italian translator Luca Scarlini. The festival was attended by two Albanian authors, Fatos Kongoli and Virgjil Muçi, and the architect Elisabetta Terragni spoke about her two most important contributions to Tirana’s cultural life: The House of Leaves, a museum that focuses on secret surveillance during communism, and the new Kadare museum, which turned Kadare’s old Tirana apartment into a freely accessible cultural space.

It’s not surprising to see this feature on Terragni’s work with museums, which have become a sort of national sport in Albania lately. The current government seems very keen to encourage their proliferation as a sign of their commitment to preserving the memory of life under communism, especially its atrocious crimes through a number of activities. Just in the past two months, a new museum commemorating such crimes was opened in Shkodër, while an exposition entitled “Dignity in Front of Totalitarianism” was held in Lushnjë, this one a first in a larger initiative aimed at not simply highlighting these wrongs, but also somehow making them right. While keeping alive the memory of the past is certainly commendable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a true engagement with the past. Visitors to these museums and spaces are more often curious tourists than Albanian citizens—who stand to benefit the most from such interactions. Unfortunately, engagement does not come easily, regardless of how many new museums are built.


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: