Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police, by Carmen Bugan
Carmen Bugan grew up in Romania during Ceauşescu’s reign. Child to political dissidents, her childhood was steeped in fear and worry, as her father in particular found it impossible to keep from fighting the oppressive regime from the inside out. Through Bugan’s childhood, she tells the story of a family labouring under a communist government.
Growing up within the personality cult Ceauşescu employed to keep his subjects under control, Bugan should have been easy to condition. But with her father, who tried but failed to ignore his tendencies to dissent, it was impossible for her to remain completely convinced.
Throughout the years, through hunger and strife, the Bugan family soldiered on, and even when her father was put in prison and her mother forced to divorce and denounce him, they stuck together and battled on towards an uncertain future.
Finally, through the American embassy, freedom for their family was secured. They were going to the land of opportunity. But at what cost? And would their family ever be the same?
What sets this autobiographical book apart from others is not the fact that its tale is different from most. It’s the fact that, despite the alienness of the culture wherein Bugan grew up, it is eminently recognisable to all. Her love for her grandparents, the Christmas rituals (so different from those most of us are familiar with), the holidays and the schools… Bugan possesses the gift of making them all familiar to every reader, despite cultural differences.
The stresses and heartaches, the anecdotes of daily life paint a picture which feels remarkably complete, and draws attention to the differences not by pointing them out, but by allowing them to come to the fore as and when they do.
By taking what appears to be a very laid-back approach to her storytelling, Bugan spins a natural, picturesque tale that lays bare the flaws and horrors of living under Ceauşescu’s communist regime even as it highlights the beautiful moments of her childhood there.
And as the book draws to a close, she touches on the toll Ceauşescu’s government took on her family, on the closeness between her father and the rest of the family, and on the choices they all had to make in the name of survival and in the name of change.
As life-affirming as it is sombre, this book will show all who read it the dangers of totalitarianism even as it takes these effects down to a personal level. A sterling achievement with far-reaching consequences.