Cornel Mihai Ungureanu: In the Ninety-Sixth Day I Did It!

Xenia Karo: What should we talk about, when in fact everything is limited to simulation?

Cornel Mihai Ungureanu: The percent of simulation on our lives, from a school exam to a female orgasm, is not negligible. There is a time for the real exam, there is an authentic orgasm too. I prefer the authentic. This is the core of life, it is always there, in everything that I write. I prefer the times when the authentic wins over simulations, but even when the authentic loses, I still bet on it.

X.K.: How do you cope with living in Romania at this time? Do you feel oppressed?

C.M.U.: I would cope better, at first sight, if I compromised more. Except that refusing to compromise or keeping compromises inside reasonable boundaries gives me balance. Having good friends was an asset for me, and I took advantage of this chance to become what I wanted (from a point on) to become: a writer. (...) Writing was a shelter to me, a way to run away from growing up, from responsibilities, but also from a society that is corrupted and askew, a society to which I could not adapt, not during Communism and not after it. (...)

X.K.: How important is the experiment in your books?

C.M.U.: I never set about experimenting. I wanted to tell the stories that I have lived, heard, invented; I am certain that if I like them, others will  enjoy them too. I was never happy with my early writing. Without Corina's urgings and Dan's appreciation I would have never tried to publish in a literary magazine. To make a book from Letters for Cristina was not an experiment for me, although the reactions that such an epistolary novel, written in a moment of profound internal crisis, will provoke, are unpredictable. When I talk about an original author, who manifests his originality, I don't say that he is experimenting. I love a woman, I do not experiment a love story.

X.K.: Do you ever argue with anybody? With whom?

C.M.U.: I have argued, very rarely, only with the women whom I loved. Some rows have exhausted me, they only led to a fulfillment of the need to have the last word; so I have forgotten them. Others were miraculous and I am remembering them with fondness.

X.K.: How did you come to Craiova and why did you stay? Or is the exile, the isolation, an idea that stimulates you?

C.M.U.: My parents were living in Craiova. I was brought up by my maternal grandmother. I spent my childhood and my teenage years in Alexandria, where I graduated from high school. I came to Craiova to be admitted to university, and then I stayed. I feel at home in this town, I like it, I can feel it, I feel, with most intensity, its charm. Not its ugliness, not its dirtiness. I used to think that I could make a Miraflores out of the district Craiovita Noua, and it was not so long ago when Corina was translating in English the names of other districts: The Red Valley, for instance, but also Brazda lui Novac sound great. It is possible to write a great novel here.

X.K.: Are you a writer made of obsessions?

C.M.U.: I am not aware of having obsessions, and I am not interested in them. I feel disquiet. I have questions. Depressions, Moments of happiness. Friends. I am interested in: God, death, old age, the woman, the Bible, the big love.

X.K.: I recall a intervention of yours where you were projecting the ideal receiver: "I think that a correct reading supposes the existence of an attentive, interested audience, a coherent critical mechanism, based on solid traditional foundations, probity and professionalism, a complex of factors that I am not sure can happen completely in today's Romania". With the books that you have published so far, did things happen as they should have? How did they survive to the faults in reception?

C.M.U.: I did not think, before my books were published, about what it would have been good to happen to them. They had zero distribution, they could not and can not be found in bookshops. Corina distributed a book of mine by leaving it on a bench in front of the public library, for the first stranger who dared to take it. I gave books to friends, I sent copies to some critics. I was happy with all the reviews, even more since they were coming, in most cases, from people whom I had never met.

Let me tell you a short story! A few evenings ago I was in a bar where I had never been before, together with a few friends. At a table close to ours there were two young men, dressed in trendy or fancy clothes, I am not sure which is the right word. We were talking about our things, they were talking about theirs. At one point, there was a second of silence at our table, and then we could all hear one of the two saying: "On the ninety-sixth day I did it!". His voice had sounded clear, triumphant. We exchanged smiles and, interested in the continuation, we postponed resuming our own conversation. (One of Dan's reasons for reading books is to peep at other people's lives). I was thinking that he was talking about a woman, and, ready to be fascinated, I was waiting to hear what had happened in the ninety-five days that preceded the victory, and, why not, how did the miraculous day number ninety-six unfold. But he was talking about a strategy game, a game on the computer.

I am giving one example of a situation where things are not as they seem, to express my faith that similar things are happening in our literature, which is divided more by a lack of communication than by aesthetic criteria. I have noticed this, to come back to your question, seeing that my first books have received enough and selfless attention, that they were enjoyed and they did disappoint, therefore that they have passed well through the faults of reception.

X.K.: Do you want to leave Romania?

C.M.U.: I would like to travel. To feel on my own skin, to see with my own eyes, to touch with my own fingers, to step with the soles of my own feet on each stone in this world. If I want to emigrate? It is not one of my aims. But I am not a person who refuses a challenge either.

(Interview by Xenia Karo published in Mozaicul and on