Writing and publishing a novel in English is a daunting process, but imagine being faced with the task of writing one in your second, or third language.
For some authors, writing in another language is a way for them to break away from the country, culture or background that they come from. It can give them the ability to speak about forbidden or taboo subjects, and it can create the distance necessary in order to talk about things that are too difficult to talk about in their mother tongue. For Oana Orlea and Lena Constante the distance created by a second language is vital. It is what enables them to speak out against the regime under which they grew up and lived for the majority of their lives.
Born and raised in Romania in the early 1900s, Orlea and Constante both grew up in a period where the concepts of imprisonment, exile and forced work camps were widely practised under dictatorial rule. In Romania, the Communism regime dominated the 20th century up until the Revolution in 1989. Many people were imprisoned or killed for political, economic or unknown reasons, and prisoners were subjected to consistent beatings and torture until they confessed to things they had not done. Arrested and imprisoned, two women, Oana Orlea and Lena Constante, experienced the torture and ill treatment that millions were exposed to. Years later, they then both went on to tell the rest of the world about these experiences… in French.
Lena Constante was born in 1909. Sentenced to twelve years in prison, she was forced to spend most of her time there in solitude. She was submitted to constant beatings and torture until she finally gave in and confessed to false accusations. In 1990 she published her autobiography “L’évasion silencieuse” in Paris.
Oana Orlea (real name Mary-Joan Cantacuzino) was born in 1936. At the age of sixteen, she was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. After settling in France in the 1980s, she published several books, under a pen name, based on her experiences. The most famous, “Les Années volées. Dans le goulag roumain à seize ans” is an autobiographical account of her time in prison.
By writing these autobiographies in another language, both women distance themselves from the country and culture they come from. They are therefore able to find the security and confidence to speak out against their repressors. This distancing also enables them to write about parts of their lives that are too harrowing and difficult to talk about in their mother tongue, the language with which they have grown up, in which they think, and which is the most intimate and personal to them.
Undergoing the huge task of writing in a second language shows the determination of these women to reveal details of life under dictatorship rule, and their refusal to be repressed. Their stories demonstrate their courage whilst in prison, and on speaking out afterwards.
Written for Razz by Kelly Robinson.