The Rapidian

Romanian immigrant's memoir describes totalitarianism through a child's eyes

Immigrant Carmen Bugan describes her life as the child of a Romanian dissident.

/Courtesy of Carmen Bugan

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Book Details


Title: Burying the Typewriter: A Memoir

Author: Carmen Bugan

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Price: $15

ISBN: 978-1-55597-617-0

Where available: Order at area bookstores; Amazon

Contacts: To get in touch with Carmen Bugan, email Erin Kottke at Graywolf Press, [email protected]

/Courtesy of Carmen Bugan

Carmen Bugan and her family emigrated from Romania to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in November 1989. The family fled Romania after years of harassment for her father’s anti-Ceausescu protests. Carmen, born in Romania in 1970, is a writer, mother, and wife.

Give readers a one-sentence description of your book:  Burying the Typewriter is about totalitarianism through a child’s eyes.

What does the title mean? The title of the book comes from actual experience: My father and mother typed anti-Ceausescu leaflets on an illegally-owned typewriter (all typewriters needed to be registered with the police). My father buried the typewriter in a hole behind the house in the morning, and then unearthed it at night. There are photos of the buried typewriter in the book; I found those photos in the secret police archives, taken by police when they arrested my father and searched the house for evidence of “crimes against the socialist government.”

Where did the idea come from for your book? The idea came when I got pregnant with my first child and began thinking that he will need to know where I come from, how I came from a small village in Romania to Grand Rapids, why we never go back to Romania to live.

How did writing this book change you? In the process of writing the story of my childhood I also wrote the story of my parents, and especially my father’s struggle against communism, so I feel enriched by having found a way to honor them for the way they lived their lives.  I also received access to some 1,500 pages of secret files kept on my father by the Romanian secret police (Securitate), and I understand much better now just how much suffering my parents endured for expressing their political ideals.

By writing the story from a child’s perspective and by remembering my own early childhood, I feel lucky that I was able to recapture the magic of feeling rooted, of having a large and happy and loving family around, and not knowing at that stage about my father’s troubles with the government.

Finally, I feel that I was able to tell one of the many stories of immigrants. Though what my father did in Romania was a unique, heroic act, many of the people from the Romanian and eastern European communities around here have also fought against dictatorship and have paid with exile for that. So I felt that I also told a more representative story, and one in which we surely take pride.

What was it like for you and your family to relocate to Grand Rapids? We were welcomed by Faith United Church of God, a very loving and caring church community. They took us from the airport, exhausted and scared, on Nov. 17, 1989, and helped us learn English, find jobs, and provided essential companionship for us. It has been now more than 23 years and not one anniversary passes without us talking about just how grateful we are. We wanted to give back to the community through our work: my mother and sister as nurses, me as a teacher (GRCC and GVSU), my brother as a soldier, my father as a cleaner of Mayflower Congregational Church. My parents are now retired and you can see them on the Belmont walking trail almost every day.

What writing projects are you working on now? I am putting the very final touches on a critical study of Irish poetry; this is my doctoral dissertation I have written at Oxford University and it will be published as a book this September. I am in the process of placing a second collection of poems with a publisher and I am beginning to outline a book about a journey to the Iron Curtain, based on my father. My first collection of poetry, Crossing the Carpathians, was published in 2004.

Where are you living now? In 2000 I returned to Europe, first as a graduate student and a creative art fellow at Oxford, and then as a writer in Geneva, Switzerland, near where I now live with my Italian husband and two children. In my immediate family we speak four languages—English, Italian, Romanian and French—and the children thrive with all of them.

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