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Book cover for The Censor's Notebook
Book cover for The Censor's Notebook

WINNER OF THE 2023 OXFORD-WEIDENFELD TRANSLATION PRIZE

Translated by Monica Cure

A fascinating narrative of life in communist Romania, and a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of literature and censorship.

The Censor’s Notebook opens with an exchange of letters between “Liliana Corobca” and Emilia Codrescu, long the female chief of the Secret Documents Office in Romania’s feared State Directorate of Media and Printing—the government branch responsible for Censorship.

Codrescu had been responsible for the burning and shredding of the censors’ notebooks, viewed as State secrets but prior to fleeing the country in 1974 she had stolen one such notebook.

Now, forty years later, she makes the notebook available to Liliana for the newly instituted Museum of Communism. The work of a censor—a job about which it is forbidden to talk—is revealed in this notebook, which discloses not only the structures of the institution of censorship but also the life behind the scenes for one of those deciding the fate of books, with their distress, outrage, humor and guilt. It’s just five months in the life of censor Filofteia Moldovean, but they are so tightly packed with events that they give a sense of this mysterious institution as a world unto itself.

Professional readers and ideological error hunters, beset with hundreds of manuscripts, strict deadlines, and threatening penalties, the censors lose their identity, and, often frazzled by neuroses and other illnesses, seek healing, sometimes through writing. A Censor’s Notebook is a window into the intimate workings of censorship under communism, steeped in mystery and secrets and lies, confirming the power of literature to capture personal and political truths.
 

Book cover for The Censor's Notebook
Book cover for The Censor's Notebook

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“The fictional censor of The Censor's Notebook creates a masterpiece of repression—both the sinister governmental kind and the welcome capacity to repress trauma. The tension that results will have you questioning your own successes as triumphs of self-censorship. A profound and playful novel.”

“Corobca frames her hilarious and poignant English-language debut as a series of letters regarding a notebook kept over the course of five months in 1974 by a Romanian bureaucrat. A fictional Liliana Corobca specializes in censorship at the Museum of Communism, where she acquires Filoftiea Moldovean’s notebook from Emilia Codrescu, another official who saved it from destruction, thus providing insights into what a censor thought of their work. What follows in Filoftiea’s pages is a chronicle of acerbic, witty opinions of the literature she suppresses, not merely commenting on its subversive qualities but the politics of literature: its aesthetics, production, and relationship to readers. “Some book editors,” Filoftiea writes, “are also envious authors and they block their fellow writers, but blame [censors].” In another entry, Filoftiea carps, “not one person’s capable of creating an essential book anymore. A book that’s necessary.” In the hands of a lesser writer, a book composed mostly of complaints by a thoroughly indoctrinated bureaucrat against government-sanctioned samizdat might get old quickly — not so here. Filoftiea’s railings are as funny as they are complex, a character study of personal and political repression brimming with sharp observations that say as much about the intellectual mechanics of an authoritarian state as they do the ways readers and texts work upon one another. Even a censor would have to agree this makes for essential reading.

“Liliana Corobca is a well-known novelist and researcher of Eastern-European communism, whose books have vividly reconstituted the recent histories of countries such as Romania and Moldova before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Her novel The Censor's Notebook offers a complete fresco of what censorship meant during the terror, fear, and social control of Ceausescu's totalitarian regime in Romania in the 1970s. Its main character, censor Filoftea Moldovean, is a unique voice in Romanian literature. Through her, the Western reader will be able to (re)live the complex thoughts and feelings related to institutional censorship and self-censorship not only in Eastern Europe but in any country. These experiences are in fact relevant even for social contexts in which censorship seems not to exist. Written creatively, and full of surprising humor, it is a totally captivating book.”

“In The Censor’s Notebook, Romanian author Liliana Corobca...probes political repression. Framed around a former censor who donates a stolen notebook from 1974 to a new museum of communism, the novel opens a window onto the secretive world of censorship during that era in Romania.”

“Moldovan author Liliana Corobca has extensively studied censorship under the Romanian communist regime, and she used this considerable expertise in crafting her novel The Censor’s Notebook, a riveting imagining of one of those missing historical records...The impressive result is a dense, oblique, at times arcane faux-historical document that shows a painstaking attention to verisimilitude, as the fictional Corobca takes pains to point out: the notebook retains misspellings (e.g., fushia), multiple spellings (e.g., Zukerman and Zukermann), and malapropisms (e.g., aestheticizeability), and is missing 14 pages, which we are led to believe may themselves have been censored, possibly by the notebook’s author, Filofteia Moldovean. What makes the novel remarkable, however, is Filofteia’s sorrowful life story, her conflicted attitudes toward her job and her coworkers, and Corobca’s startling illumination of the expansive and sinister extent of censorship, not just in communist Romania but anywhere that seeks to control words, thoughts, and deeds.”

blog — November 14

Excerpt: KINDERLAND by Liliana Corobca, translated by Monica Cure

To celebrate the release of Kinderland, the second novel we’ve published by author-translator duo Liliana Corobca and Monica Cure,** we are proud to share a short excerpt from the book, taken from its first few pages. The novel follows three siblings, twelve-year-old Cristina and her two younger brothers, whose parents have departed for employment in foreign lands. Through Cristina's eyes, we experience the feeling of wonderment and loneliness as the three children roam the streets of a contemporary Moldovan village, imitating the gestures of the absent adults, and chasing their fading memories of normal family life.

In this opening passage, the three siblings discover that a tick has attached itself to one of their bellies, and they have to find someone to help them remove it — quite difficult to do in a town where very few adults remain.

**The first book we published by Liliana Corobca, Monica Cure's translation of The Censor's Notebook (2022), won the 2023 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize — an amazing feat considering this was Monica Cure's first full-length work of translation!


KINDERLAND

BY LILIANA COROBCA
TRANSLATED BY MONICA CURE

The tick was stuck to his stomach, next to his belly button, sucking the child’s blood. The girl, more terrified by her brother’s shrieks than by that black dot, had gone for help. Normally, the howls would have brought out, if not half the village, at least the entire neighborhood on the outskirts of the village, but now, no one came. She could’ve taken out the tick, but what if the head got stuck there and it grew another body that was even bigger . . . or, God forbid, it went completely inside his skin and lodged there, where no one could get it out anymore and her brother would die, sucked dry by the tick. 

At first, the third child, the youngest brother, who was often hit or mistreated by the other one, looked on with a certain sense of satisfaction. He kept circling his older brother in search of what was making him cry and yell so insistently. He looked around, up, down, to see whether he didn’t also have cause to let out a wail, but he didn’t see anything. The fact that Dan’s shirt was lifted, his belly naked and exposed to the sun, didn’t impress the younger brother at all, it didn’t scare him either. The black dot his brother was hunched over so tragically didn’t interest him since he couldn’t understand how a brother so big and strong could be scared by a little black dot clinging to his belly. Then the younger little boy disappeared.

The girl went out on the street. She could’ve called the neighbors, but they weren’t home at this hour. The grandmother of a classmate lived farther down, but she probably wasn’t home either and, in any case, her eyesight wasn’t good enough to get the tick out, head and all. The girl started walking down the street, in search of the right person. She also called out to Uncle Vasile, but all the dogs in the neighborhood answered her instead. At the barking of the dogs in unison, nothing happened inside the houses, no one slammed the doors or gates, no one opened them to see who was calling and why. In general, when someone called out on their street, they all heard and at least someone would answer: The person you’re looking for isn’t home, they’ve just left for the vineyard, to visit their godfather, or somewhere else. At the end of the street, she spotted a mother washing clothes in a courtyard. She didn’t know her name. She made noise as she opened the gate and the woman looked at her questioningly. 

— Hello. Would you mind taking out a tick for us?

The woman wrinkled her nose in disgust and answered: 

— I don’t take out ticks. 

And the woman quickly went inside the house.

The girl stopped next to the well. Maybe someone would get thirsty and come by for some water. She would stay there and wait. 

Meanwhile, the youngest brother brought the other brother his favorite toy. The brother with the tick ignored him. He couldn’t care less about toys right now.

It seemed like Dan would never stop crying. In the past, he had killed insects like that, which his dad had taken out of the sheep’s wool. His father had said that if you don’t take them out, ticks suck all the blood out of an animal until there’s nothing left of it. Dan imagined how the hungry tick would suck up all his blood until it became a kind of big balloon and he, small and withered, a bag of bones, would helplessly flutter his arms and legs, while the tick would start floating until it was high up in the sky. Hundreds of ticks, inflated with the blood of children, floated in the clear, smiling sky, while the scrawny, dried-out kids stuck to the ruthless bugs cried. Dan looked at his tick which, to be honest, was no bigger than half a pinky fingernail, in fact, it wasn’t even as big as a bean, but all the same he felt as if he didn’t have a drop of blood left in him. 

Marcel had remembered about the beautiful apple, which he had found the day before yesterday and hidden so that he could eat it by himself, without sharing with his brother and sister. The neighbor’s apple tree had produced fruit this year and sometimes an apple would fall into their garden. Summer apples, sweet and with pink flesh. Dan, when he saw the apple, made a gesture as if to say: What’s your apple to me when I’m in pain! Then Marcel, out of brotherly solidarity, started to whimper as well. 

A horse-drawn cart stopped next to the well. A man drew out a bucket of water, drank some, and then wet his horse’s nose. He looked back at the girl staring at him. Tall, skinny, ugly, almost toothless, thin and graying hair, big floppy ears, he could’ve played the part of the grim reaper if he had kept a scythe in his cart. The horse was also skinny, it had once been gray but now, dirty, it was an earthy greenish color, with long yellow teeth, as if to make up for its master.

— Would you mind taking out a tick?

— Not at all. Where is it?

— There, said Cristina as she pointed toward the gate. 

— Whose daughter are you?

— My dad’s Victor Dumitrache.

— Well, well, you’re Vichiuşa’s daughter? I used to give you cart rides when you were little. Back then I had a strong, sleek stallion . . . And your pa’s gone off to make long money. The girl nodded. And he left you at the mercy of the ticks. The girl nodded again.

When they saw the man come in, the two brothers went silent, forgetting to cry.

— Where are you, tick?

Then he looked at the apple. 

— What, you don’t want your apple? Let’s give it to the pony, he’ll gobble it right up!

The smaller boy again handed the apple to the bigger one, who, given the choice between him or the horse eating it, decided to take the apple without saying a word. When it came down to it, the man was scarier to him than the tick. 

— What, you call that a tick, boy, it’s as small as an ant! Lemme at it!

Then he said to the girl: 

— Do you have brandy or odikolon?

She did, and she went to get the alcohol. She thought to herself: He wants to drink it, get drunk, and toss my brothers over the fence. 

The man approached the afflicted child. He fiercely gritted his few teeth at the tick, a gesture which made the littlest one run behind the house. He poked his head out from behind a corner after a moment because he didn’t hear anything and he was curious.

In the blink of an eye, the man squeezed the swollen tick between his blackened fingernails and threw it onto the ground, looking carefully at the boy’s belly.

— I got it out, head and all, he said with satisfaction. Now step on it. 

Because the boy didn’t move, he called over the little one:

— Hey, come here, little snot-nose, come look at your brother’s tick. But the little one didn’t accept the invitation either. The girl approached with a small bottle, out of which the man poured some brandy into his palm and then rubbed it onto the boy’s belly.

— Okay, you step on it, he said to the girl.

The girl conscientiously put her foot down on the bug and jumped on it a few times.

— And you say your pa’s not home.

The children nodded their heads.

— So he’s off working. Three kids are no laughing matter. And your ma—she’s working too. They had you and then scattered every which way, said the man as he headed to the gate. My woman’s gone too, so are my kids. I’m all by my lonesome, lucky I got my horse. Come on, filly, let’s go home.

The noise of the wheels could be heard for a little while, and then silence.

The girl, too, poured a little bit of alcohol from the bottle into her palm and rubbed the belly of the child, who was sitting gravely, without moving a muscle, looking somewhere off into the distance. Of course, if Dad had been home, no tick would’ve stuck to him, it wouldn’t have gone under his skin. He felt a kind of dissatisfaction that everything had ended so simply and quickly, when he had had an excuse to be unhappy, coddled, and important. 


LILIANA COROBCA is a writer and researcher of communist censorship in Romania. She was born in the Republic of Moldova and is the author of the novel Negrissimo (2003), winner of the ‘Prometheus’ Prize for debut fiction. She is also the author of the novels The Censor's Notebook (Seven Stories Press, 2022), which won the 2023 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, A Year in Paradise (2005), Kinderland (2013), and The Old Maids’ Empire (2015). She has received grants and artists’ residencies in Germany, Austria, France, and Poland.

MONICA CURE is a Romanian-American writer, translator, and dialogue specialist, as well as a two-time Fulbright grant award winner. Her poetry and translations have been published in journals internationally, and she’s the author of the book Picturing the Postcard: A New Media Crisis at the Turn of the Century (University of Minnesota Press). Her translation of The Censor's Notebook by Liliana Corobca, Cure's first book-length work of translation, won the 2023 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. She is currently based in Bucharest.

Liliana Corobca

LILIANA COROBCA was born in the Republic of Moldova. She made her debut with the novel Negrissimo (2003), winner of the ‘Prometheus’ Prize for debut awarded by the România literară magazine; the Prize for Prose Debut of the Republic of Moldova Writers’ Union and The Character in Inter‑war Romanian Novels (2003, translated into Italian and German). She is also the author of the novels A Year in Paradise (2005), Kinderland (2013, translated into German and Slovenian), which was a bestseller of Cartea Românească Publishing House at the Bookfest Book Fair 2013, a recipient of the Prize for Prose awarded by Radio România Cultural, and winner of the Crystal Prize at the International Festival in Vilenica, Slovenia, in 2014; and The Old Maids’ Empire (2015). She has also written a three-act monologue, Censorship for Beginners, published in 2014 in Austria. She has received grants and artists’residencies in Germany, Austria, France, and Poland.
 

Monica Cure

MONICA CURE is a Romanian-American writer, translator, and dialogue specialist, as well as a two-time Fulbright grant award winner. Her poetry and translations have been published in journals internationally, and she’s the author of the book Picturing the Postcard: A New Media Crisis at the Turn of the Century (University of Minnesota Press). Her translation of The Censor's Notebook was awarded with the 2023 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. She is currently based in Bucharest.