Romanian Women's Transnational Performances
Escapes from Communism in Memory as Dowry by Nina Cassian and Lady in Red by Mircea Nedelcu, Adriana Babeti and Mircea Mihaies
Costinela Dragan (University of Bucharest)
Migration has been always seen as a process of re-defining, re-shaping one’s identity within given systems of values. The first important wave of Romanian immigrants arrived in the USA after World War II, and later this process of dislocation from the home territory was seriously affected by Ceausescu’s Communist regime. The totalitarian governance had a traumatic impact upon the Romanian society and many people had the dream to escape from their life full of constraints.
The two books I will present underline the condition of women as migrants: the female writer Nina Cassian and the character Ana Cumpanas in the novel Lady in Red are both “chased” by Ceausescu’s regime and find a refuge outside the country’s borders.
Nina Cassian is an ex-dissident who migrated to the New World to escape communism. Her approach to the exilic experience allows an incursion into the “diaspora” semantic field, and from her three-volume book Memoria ca zestre (Memory as Dowry) we can observe how women’s performances are conditioned by the social and cultural practices that emerge in women’s transnational migration, how the New World is constituted as a place, a narrative of displacement, always recreating the endless desire to return to “lost origins”. She questions herself: “Shall I return home? Where? Back to solitude? With my freedom threatened by Ceausescu’s horrors and exasperation? I must not forget: I reached a point without return” (1987). This nostalgia for lost origins, the “return to the beginning” is like the imaginary in Lacan – it can neither be fulfilled nor requited. Hence it is the beginning of the symbolic, the infinitely renewable source of desire, memory, myth, search, discovery – in short, the reservoir of Cassian’s cinematic narratives.
Femeia in rosu (Lady in Red) by Mircea Nedelcu, Adriana Babeti and Mircea Mihaies is a puzzle-book that tells the story of a Romanian immigrant woman – Ana Cumpanas – who goes through a whole series of migrant experiences to finally cross borders back to her native land; she manages to “return to the beginning” to die at home. The peak of her life is reached at the highly symbolic point where, dressed in a red evening gown, she facilitates the killing of her lover, the famous gangster Dillinger. The female character has a split identity and a personal philosophy of life; she performs according to the norms and intensity imposed by her migrant experience. Reading Lady in Red we find descriptions of revolutions from the Eastern-European countries, many quotes of anti-communism militants (Havel, Michnik, Leszak) and the image of a terrific communist Romania dominated by assassinations and uncertainty (moment that culminated in 1989 with the Romanian revolution).
In this paper I am not trying to draw a comparison between Nina Cassian as a writer and the main female character of the second book. My target is to show how the condition of the migrant women (perceived as a home worker confined to the domestic space in a totalitarian area dominated by a supreme leader) changes across borders, how this migrant experience varies across the world, how it differs in Communist Romania (until 1989) from democratic America. I will attempt to show that women’s national and transnational performances are directly conditioned by the social, cultural, political and educational contexts that cause them.