Prison Diary VII. My Life in a Story / Angel Santiesteban

Norman Manea

Norman Manea

Recently I’ve been reading the book “Mandatory Happiness” by the Romanian writer Norman Manea, deported as a child with his family to a Ukrainian concentration camp, and the way the author masterfully describes an everyday story under a totalitarian government has caught my attention in a powerful way: the Romanian political police arrest an artist who collaborates with the opposition and subject her to continuous torture sessions, a constant ritual day and night, in an attempt to drive her mad. These old-school KGB techniques are applied under the advice of the entire socialist camp, including Cuba, of course.

In the first story of the book, captivating from the very beginning, “The Interrogator,” an obscure character of the political polices — superbly characterized — after brutally torturing his victim, says:

“Maybe we’ll let you go. Although we could also condemn you. Not necessarily for political crimes. We’re looking for something else. We still haven’t decided. I’ve been frank with you. Don’t kid yourself, I’m not always honest (…) The freedom to work, the freedom to love, the freedom of creation. Nice, no? It’s normal that artists, for all you are and especially for all you are not, become rebels.

“In short, the artist is a precursor or a straggler.

Whatever you are, you’re a being outside the ordinary. You haven’t found your place, your tranquility, your harmony. You’re not understood in your profession, your family, the laws; you’ve chosen a completely different form of vanity. Art, clearly, has as its starting point a dislocation, an inadequacy, an uprooting. But fed…

(…) You have established, you have confirmed. That you’ll always be in the opposition, I mean. Freedom (…) It is normal that you’re with all the dispossessed (…) In the end, the books are filled up there.”

Norman Minea, like a prophet, wrote a part of my immediate reality, or simply bore witness to the many times they suffered the persecutions, the torture and the punishment in his country. The only thing I know of socialism. And what always lines up, even though we are separated by continents and time: the same way to silence dissonant voices.

I simply ask for an ode to Norman Menea.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats. La Lima Prison. March 2013

29 March 2013