Interlude – what makes an author Romanian?

I’m taking a little extra time to finish my current book, but since I’ve promised something every Wednesday, I thought I’d talk about how I’m defining a Romanian author for this challenge.

The two authors I’ve read so far, Liviu Rebreanu and Matei Călinescu, are unquestionably Romanian. They spoke and wrote in Romanian and identified as culturally Romanian. At this point you might think, well, duh, that’s what being Romanian is. But it’s not always that simple.

On Transylvania

In my write-up of Forest of the Hanged, I mentioned that Transylvania was part of Austria-Hungary at the start of World War I and only became Romanian territory after the war. But both before and after the war, both Romanians and Hungarians have been there. That’s still true today.

The reverse is also true: in Hungarian towns close to the Romanian border, there are large numbers of Romanian speakers. We can find similar stories in many towns near national borders around the world, especially when those borders have changed somewhat recently.

Transylvania particularly interests me because it’s where my wife was born and raised. In fact, when people ask her where she’s from, she answers with Transylvania, not Romania. I’ve mentioned before that she’s a native Romanian speaker, but she’s also a native Hungarian speaker. She has both Romanian and Hungarian ancestry, among other things. Her whole life, people have asked her if she feels more Romanian or Hungarian. And her whole life, she’s refused to take sides, so to speak (she’s also a Gemini, so that could be a factor).

I say all that to illustrate that there are people in Romania who share that cultural identity with other identities. And while my wife identifies right down the middle, that’s not true for everybody in that situation.

Some of my wife’s friends from her hometown identify more strongly with their Hungarian heritage and consider Romanian a second language. So are they just Hungarians who happen to live in Romania? Not exactly. Even if they primarily feel Hungarian, they don’t have the same experience of Hungarian-ness as someone who grew up in Hungary. They’re still existing in Romanian culture to some extent.

Let’s take one of my wife’s favorite contemporary authors, György Dragomán, as an example. Although that’s clearly a Hungarian name and he writes in Hungarian, he was born in Transylvania and lived there until he was a teenager. And although he now lives in Budapest and has done so for decades, a lot of his work takes place in Transylvania. He probably identifies as culturally Hungarian, but it’s not like he can erase his lived experience of Romania. So for this challenge, I think it’s fair to consider him a Romanian author. Is this foreshadowing for a future book for the challenge? Maybe.

On Moldova

To be clear, I’m referring to the Republic of Moldova, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union (Doesn’t ring a bell? Ask your parents). But before World War II, most of that land was—wait for it—Romanian territory. Not to mention there’s a region in present-day Romania known as Moldavia in English, but as Moldova in Romanian. Hence, the need to clarify the place I’m referencing.

Excluding the disputed Transnistria region, most Moldovans speak Romanian. Or at least something very close to it. Close enough that I’ve seen the same English translator’s name on books both by Romanian and Moldovan authors, anyway. But there is an ongoing debate whether there’s an independent language called Moldovan or it’s just Romanian in a different hat.

The same debate happens regarding cultural identity. The consensus among Romanian speakers seems to be that they aren’t culturally identical with their Romanian neighbors, but neither are they entirely separate. I don’t have the personal angle on this that I do with Hungarian speakers in Transylvania, but my conclusion is similar: if they’re writing in Romanian, that’s enough for me to consider them Romanian authors.


Basically, an author needs to have one foot in Romanian-ness to be considered a Romanian author for this challenge. For most authors, that will either come from speaking the language or from spending time in Romania.

Of course, there are those who disagree with my criteria. This book review offers a thoughtful counterpoint where the reviewer takes issue with the inclusion of an author who left Romania and wrote in English in a scholarly discussion of Romanian literature. And in that context, I can see where the reviewer is coming from. For scholarly work it makes sense to be more precise. But since an important part of my book challenge is to expose myself to different perspectives, I’m keeping my more expansive criteria in place.

What’s next?

My write-up of Zen Beyond Mindfulness will be up next week. I’ll also announce the next book in the challenge, plus a twist I’m adding for this month. Stay tuned!

Do you identify with more than one culture or know someone who does? How does that affect your experiences of those cultures? Share your thoughts in the comments!





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