Back in ’89… (Demo)

By Dana Tudose Tianu

Writer T.O. Bobe went to high-school in the mid 80s and could not have imagined how his life would change at the close of 1989.

But the predictable and limiting options that would have been in store for him, as for millions of other young Romanians back then, shifted into something completely different that December. Many new doors opened in the life of a man in love with reading and writing. 

In December 1989, T.O. Bobe was 20 years old. He worked in the Constanta Harbor, for a company exporting cars, from Dacias to trucks. His job was to keep records of all incoming cars, sign them in when they arrived from the factory into the Harbor, and sign them out when they were loaded on ships. His office consisted of a metal box in the middle of an immense parking lot. He and his colleagues worked in shifts day and night, but sometimes weeks would go by before he’d have actual work to do. When there wasn’t any, he read. During the winter, they would improvise a stove out of a metal barrel and use pieces of wood found around the harbor. 

Dana Tudose-Tianu spoke to T.O. Bobe for our OZB readers. 

Dana Tudose-Tianu: How did you end up working at the Constanta Harbor? 

T.O. Bobe: I got a job there in the fall of 1988, after flunking college admission twice. I was pretty happy though, because I had a job where I had time to read and study. We only had 3 hours of electricity each day, one in the morning and two in the evening, from 8 to 10 pm. 

Reading had been a refuge and entertainment for me during my teen years. My family was modest, my parents were workers and writers seemed to me, back then, an inaccessible caste. I had written poetry already, but I knew that in order to be a writer in communist Romania, a lot of compromises had to be made. I wouldn’t have made them just to see my name on a book cover. 

DTT: How was the first decade after the Revolution? How much did you get to practice your vocation – writing? 

T.O. Bobe: In 1995, I got a job as a literary secretary at Teatrul Mic in Bucharest, after starting my Masters’, only because I would have otherwise starved. I didn’t have a scholarship anymore and my mother could barely survive on unemployment. There, at Teatrul Mic, I met a former college mate, who ultimately helped me get a job at ProTV, where I worked until 2001, writing mostly for entertainment shows like Jeopardy. My first book, Bucla (Curl) was published in 1999. Back then I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I’m a man who writes and, every few years, publishes a book. 

I wrote movie scripts in 2001-2003, but none of them got into production. In 2003, right before I left to Germany for a creative residency, I wrote the script for a series at prima TV, for a few months. It was the first time I felt like and was actually paid as a screenwriter. 

DTT: What have the past 30 years meant to you, from the perspective of living out your love for literature ? 

T.O. Bobe: The last 30 years have increasingly meant more and more anxiety and uncertainty, when it comes to the role literature plays in our society. If, in the early 90s, when I was studying, literature meant everything to me, now I hardly can grasp its meaning. What good is it to read, when there’s almost no one around to talk about a book with? So many books are being published, everyone reads something else. If you publish a book and are lucky to have 1000 people read it, it will be forgotten in less than a week. 

DTT: Could you name 2-3 people who played an important part in your life and career?

T.O. Bobe: All my jobs were more related to surviving rather than planning out a career. I never planned to have a certain career. But when it comes to literature, I had many miraculous meetings, starting with my high school professor, writer Eugen Lumezianu, then my college friends, of which almost all became great writers: Răzvan Rădulescu, Svetlana Cârstean, Cezar Paul-Bădescu, and many others. 

Then, I met Mircea Cartarescu at the Letters literary group (Cenaclul Litere). Without him, I wouldn’t have debuted as a writer. In the early 2000s, it was Herta Muller who gave the opportunity for a creative residency abroad – and without it I don’t think I would have ever made the time or gotten the courage to begin writing prose. 

T.O. BOBE (born Teodor Dobrin, in February 1969, in Constanta), is a Romanian writer, screenwriter, copywriter and editor. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Letters of the University of Bucharest. He authored and co-authored both prose and poetry books. Among his individual published works are: Bucla (Curl), Darul lui Moş Crăciun (Santa’s Gift), Cum mi-am petrecut vacanţa de vară (How I spent my summer vacation), Contorsionista (the Controsionist). His poetic work has been included in the « 111 most beautiful love poems in Romanian literature”. Bucla (Curl) was translated into German and English. 

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