Born in Lipova, Arad County, in 1955, Carmen-Francesca Banciu wins Arnsberg’s International Short Story Prize in 1985. In that period, her name goes on the « publication ban » list. In 1991 she establishes in Berlin, where she starts to write texts in German. Volume: Manual of Questions (1984), Fenster in Flammen (1992), Filuteks Handbuch der Fragen (1995), A day without President (1998), Vaterflucht (1998), Land voller Ein Helden (2000), Berlin ist mein Paris ( 2002), Deborah (2005), Das Lied der traurigen Mutter (2007).
Carmen-Francesca Banciu agreed to offer us an interview. We appreciate her patience and showed interest.
1. Who is Carmen-Francesca Banciu (a short self-portrait)?
This is a good question. We are supposed to know who we are. Are we? It is the hardest question anyone can ask. And I dare to give some possible answers:
I am a person born in Romania, which in the years that I lived there, I said about myself: I am. A person that understands the historical and political dimension that motivates the reintroduction of the old spelling, but refuses to believe that by simply changing a vowel we could change our history. A person who also asks whether in an united Europe and in a globalized world this change of vowel is somehow anachronistic.
I am a believer in the immeasurable power of the most fragile tool: the Word. Who believes that the universal balance and the universal harmony depend on the right, but also on everyone’s responsibility to reveal themselves, to self-express. To communicate with the whole.
2. What can you tell us about your childhood? You were a Party official’s daughter in the Communist Regime.
Things are more complicated than this simple categorization. In our family I was asked to be an example for those of my age. I was raised with the idea of becoming a new person of a new era. An inhuman task for a child. The ideal in which my father believed marked my childhood and trained me in a profound way. The way of trying to become a person of integrity, responsible, towards myself and towards others. To become a person who is useful to the society without self denies. A person who defends her ideas at all costs.
Unfortunately the methods of my family to inoculate these values were very close to certain oppressive methods of the communist system. The concept of freedom, of free choice did not exist in the communist society, nor my family and I paid dearly the tenacity of keeping my moral integrity and judgment for the values in the spirit of which I have been educated.
3. When your literary debut occurred and what followed?
The debut was in Secolul XX magazine with an essay translated from Italian. Shortly after, in 1979, I published the first story in the literary magazine Luceafarul. In 1984 I published my first volume at Cartea Romaneasca Publishing House. A year later, in 1985, my literary career in Romania seemed over. International awards in Germany have resulted not only in intense investigation and surveillance by security and those employed or bought to do this, among them even colleagues, but also the prohibition to be published in the country. Only after the revolution things have changed and among others I became editor and founder of the literary magazine Contrapunct.
The invitation to the prestigious international scholarship DAAD in Berlin changed my destiny.
4. Themes of author Carmen-Francesca Banciu in her works?
I am obsessed to understand the human nature in its various forms. How people behave concerning the challenges, the trials of life and history. Of course, the context of a communist society or its collapse it fascinates me. For instance, in the novels « Vaterflucht » and « The song of a sad mother » I thematized the family relationship in the communist historical context. In the novel « A day without President » which refers both to the time of the Revolution, and the next period, I tried to understand what happened in those days, I tried to understand what happens to the individuals and the society as a result of an implosion. And an explosion at the same time. The crisis of the society and the crisis of the individual. Or the rediscovery of the individual after the collapse of a society based on community. I am concerned about expressing through art what I discover. What I learn. The writing helps me to step outside the narrow circle of events in ordor not to be completely absorbed by them and become rigid, one-sided. I want to achieve the understanding of life in its complexity and to have the talent to express even a fraction of what I learn or believe I understand.
5. How the Communist Regime affected your life?
The last years in Romania have been extremely difficult. Objectively speaking, myself, my husband and my children, we have lived an outcast life. Exiled to the margins of the society. Not to be forced to compromise we accepted this position. In the last years before the fall of communism we have lived in the suburb of Bucharest, next to Roma people and other outlaws and renegades, raising a goat and other animals and cultivating a garden to ensure food daily. As townspeople raised in a flat we had to learn everything from books. How to milk a goat. How to cultivate the onion. My biography is totally different from that of peers who lived in the west, or elsewhere in the world, under another political constellation. And yet, this did not alter the substance of my humanity. Didn’t make substantive changes. I don’t give myself any merit in it. Perhaps I owe it to the values that were submitted, to the ingrain, to the zodiacal constellation. They say Scorpio is extremely tenacious and stubborn.
6. Do you consider that the past is more exciting than the present?
I think that each time brings new challenges, confrontations, lessons that need to be learned and issues that need to be understood. Anyway, as a woman I am grateful to life, that I was born in modern times, that I’m privileged to live in a country where democracy includes women. We must not forget that is less than a century, since women are entitled to vote or to study. Today it seems for granted, but the danger of losing this is greater than ever. It is enough to look at what happened in Afghanistan, where women have lost the game in the society or in some former Soviet Republics of the Caucasus region. The religions are trying again to segregate, to inoculate the fear of the one next to you, the fear of nature, of life, of freedom. The first victims are always women and children.
I do not think that the past is more interesting than the present, but to understand the present we must know our past.
7. Can you write ‘the same’ in two languages so different? (Romanian and German) or ‘you suffered’ some transformations?
Each new book represents our previous experience in compressed form. In each book the experience of writing develops or is even different. Especially when it comes to a change of language. Changing the language enriches and even produces huge changes. Enriches our personality, it even changes our features. My grandmother used to say that we are a conglomerate of multiple personalities, depending on the number of languages that we speak. Each language opens up new worlds, we have access to infinite worlds. It is impossible not to be marked by it. It would be a shame to be in vain. German is not the only one that influences me and leave its mark. But this topic deserves a more profound discussion.
8. Which writers have influenced you and in what form?
One of the most important writers for me is Virginia Woolf. She taught me to see, to be and to express at the same time. I don’t always succeed. But when I succeed, text vibrates, has an aura that envelops the reader and makes him discover the stunning beauty of life, even in the most shocking moments. Greater happiness for a writer I don’t think there is.
9. Do you belong to the Romanian literature as well or do you consider yourself just of Romanian origin?
I belong to the literature. It also includes the Romanian. My first books were written in Romanian and Romania still has its place in each of my books.
10. What do the Romanian criticism think about you and what the German criticism think?
German critics opinion can be read in countless prestigious magazines and newspapers, the NZZ to FAZ, SZ, Die Welt and so on. German radio gave plenty of space to my literature. Romanian criticism doesn’t bother too much about me.
11. What does Berlin means to you, and what does Romania means to you?
Romania is a magical place, with everything related to it. Negative and positive. There it was formed a large part of me. There was born the desire to exceed boundaries and limits. To exceed myself. Berlin gave me confidence that I could do so. That I could do anything I wanted. That I can fly.
I think Berlin is a unique city. For me it brings the essence of Paris with the one of Bucharest in a generous and constructive way. Amplifies it. Today, Berlin became the capital of creativity and inner freedom. A city that isn’t judging you, that lets you to be as you are and encourages you to become who you are, in fact, as you always been.
12. What place do you think Romanian literature occupies in the universal literature?
I think the Romanian literature has not yet found worthy place in the world’s literature, but that will not take long until this thing will change. And we owe a lot to the writer Herta Müller on it.
13. Which people have influenced you and in what form?
This is even more complicated question than the one concerning the literary model. I would reserve it to a detailed discussion. I can only say, that my grandmother influenced me deeply. From her I learned that you can always choose your destiny, that you possess the power to turn yourself from victim into the person who takes care of her life. I learned a lot from and through my children.
14. What future plans has the author Carmen-Francesca Banciu?
To learn to become more and more free. And to find the right form to express this in writing.
15. Leaving aside the author Carmen-Francesca Banciu, as a woman, what hobbies do you have, what do you dislike?
I can’t separate life from writing. Everything I do, I live, I observe, I learn, everything that makes me happy or sad seeks their literary form.
I like to dance. It is a form of freedom, like flying and I would like to be able to send this to a character.
I do not like fences, borders and drawers. This also has its negative side. I would not advise you to look for something in my drawers. Only I can find something there. And that’s just to bring that thing to light. To set it free.