Reviews | Why I Came To America To Fail

The Romanian state has done everything – from repression and surveillance to beatings by police and smashing windows in the middle of the night – in the name of the working class. The regime was called “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, but that must have been a grammatical error: it was obviously a dictatorship. more than the proletariat. The workers were kept in misery, ignorance and poverty. They were treated like beasts of burden and told they were lucky, that under capitalism their lives would be much worse. In school, many subjects were covered, but the most taught discipline was the art of cognitive dissonance: how to look at it all and pretend not to see anything. If you mastered the craft, you could survive, even if you were seriously broken inside. I lived in “1984”, I knew it like the back of my hand, long before I discovered the book.

Books. It took me a while to discover them. Because if there was a social class even worse off than the working class in the communist utopia, it was the peasant class.

I was born into a peasant family with little literacy, and there was not a single book in the house where I grew up. Later in life, I would compulsively collect books, thousands of them, in an impossible effort to fill the haunting void of my bookless childhood and adolescence. You could in principle borrow books from the village library, but it was risky. You could be punished if caught reading. It was precious time stolen from productive work; child labor was commonplace in this quasi-paradise.

In the house where I grew up, few words were spoken. The use of words was too demanding a business for people whose main job was mere biological survival. An angry look, a shake, or the occasional thump were much more effective means of communication. Intellectual atrophy in this milieu was a social epidemic. My own early socialization was largely with the cows I associated with. Later in life, I embraced the craft of words in a desperate effort to fix, retroactively, everything that was wrong with my wordless childhood.

In the late 1980s, some of the hoodlums grew weary of the communist experience and realized it would be more fun if they became capitalists. This is how the regime collapsed, under the weight of its own absurdity, catching up with us, the children of utopia, in the midst of its ruins. Not that it hurt us (by then we were too damaged to be hurt by anything), but it left us with a special relationship to failure, an affinity for it, even a special flair for him. Once in utopia, you are doomed; you carry its nothingness in your bones wherever you go.


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