Radu Cosasu, a septuagenarian?|
A contradiction in terms...
What we didn’t dream of...
What brings us closer...
What we share as a mystery...
What drew me close to Radu Cosasu?
It could have been the fact that we were both esteemed by Lucian Raicu, this great critic. But it wasn’t that. What drew us closer to each other was our public (and separate) expressions of admiration for Johann Strauss senior (i.e. the one who died at 45 - the junior lived to be 74). This admiration of ours had something of a defiance that made us feel accomplices in a way. It was during that period that I read his book, "O copilarie cu Stan si Bran" ("A Childhood with Oliver and Hardy"), one of the most genuine stories of the generation we both belong to. For me, 11 years older than him, there were also Pat and Patachon, Harold Lloyd and, of course, Chaplin. But Oliver and Hardy remain the most representative.
We also share memories about Radu Alba, this great humanist aristocrat and a discreet dandy.
But this year I read in the "Viata Romaneasca" ("The Romanian Life") magazine a text by Cosasu on the Romanian-born intellectual bourgeoisie in Israel. A beautiful, intelligent, patriotic text on a subject that is now wildly exacerbated by both sides (that is by those who incite the others, on both sides).
And there is something else that we have in common: a grandfather of ours – I. L. Caragiale.
I have known Radu Cosasu since times immemorial. We gathered before the Flood, together with others, in order to build what was then called a "new life". All we got from it was shattered illusions and a grief that still yeasts today in the depths of our souls. After the waters became clearer, Cosasu chose literature as his place for play and freedom. His career was difficult: he got unfair blows and was not repaid in accordance with his merit. But he didn’t give up. Eventually, his talent and charm prevailed and his quotation went ever higher. Undoubtedly, he is today one of the first-class Romanian writers. I admire the briskness of his thought, his sparkling imagination, his refined and efficacious humor, his tender, delicate lyricism, the melancholic mist that sometimes envelops his reverie.
Cosasu’s "formula" is a manufacturing secret that hasn’t been figured out by the critics yet. Rarely can one come across someone capable of being a modernist and a lover of retro props, a refined intellectual and a performance football fan, naughty and wise, romantic and experimentalist.
I am among Cosasu’s fans. I therefore belong to a nice club, by no means exclusivist, together with many other teen-agers of all ages and center-wing extremists.
I am told he turned 70. I think this is an exaggeration. But I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to give him a hug, to wish him to write plenty other nice books and to ask him to find some time for us to chat once in a while, before our time comes.
I share at least three mysteries with Radu Cosasu: the Caragiale mystery, the Bucharest mystery and the "Dilema" [magazine] mystery. I call them "mysteries" because all three of them are, at the same time, obvious and undecipherable. The radiant abyssal depth of the local trifle, the impossible to place picturesqueness of the metropolis on the River Dambovita and the benign irony of a periodical to which Cosasu borrowed some of his own charm – all these constitute, for the two of us, the themes of a tacit complicity. Beneath Radu Cosasu’s virtues (humor, amenity, relativism), deemed "minor" by the idiots, lies, just like beneath the verve of his writing, difficult to equal, a great graveness. A trauma actually. The nimble Mitica (active in any genuine Bucharester) is dangerously doubled by a Kafkian character. They both have to benefit from this impossible cohabitation. The proof is the unique sound of man and writer who can be traced in any dosage. I therefore wish him a happy anniversary, being animated by an honest and robust egoism...
Why do we love Radu Cosasu? Among other things, because he persuades us to discover an entire universe in a common movie scene or in an innocent fragment from Stendhal; life, love and death in a commonplace incident; poetry, wisdom and existential pain in and between his own lines, always surprising. And even if all my contemporaries would deny Cosasu, I wouldn’t mind being left alone, stuck, like on an iceberg, with my love for him.
The admiration with which people who never met Cosasu speak about him can be probably explained by his books: they make all readers fell certain about their being clever. But when one gets to meet him, such certainties disappear and admiration comes from the connection between the books and the man, discreet in what he rejects, adolescent in what he admires. One feels ashamed to tell him how much he or she loves him, knowing how much he hates the unrestrained expression of feelings. But once every 70 years, such a shame is bearable.
I love Radu Cosasu like a brother for his talent and his ever-present humor. Humor is incorporated in his work and comforts us in this world of inconstancies.
I have loved Relu Cosasu since times immemorial – but who doesn’t? Working with him, next to him, was a great privilege. He had – and I hope he still has – the gift to relieve tension, to cast away conflict, to make any enmity look like a trifle. Without being joyous (frankly, I believe he has always been quite the opposite – a fearful person), Relu Cosasu remains a magician of cheerfulness. During the years I spent next to him, his cheerfulness was the coat of arms of a small editorial staff that was facing north. We were so bewitched by his charm that no one noticed how desperate this charm was.
Cosasu seen by the critics...
"His youth is at the crossroads of integral truth... with center-wing extremism."
Yesterday...Ov. S. Crohmalniceanu
Slowly but surely, his narrations become vivid, they acquire a taste for confession, sarcastic glitters and moments of lyrical affection, which flow into long poems resembling Bogza’s, but cleverly and humorously parodied ("Meseria de novelist" – "The Trade of Writing Short Stories" –, "Fictionarii" – "The Fictional"). His way of writing itself betrays an evident evolution, being constituted of a more compact paste with a visibly increased artistry. He ingeniously employs parentheses in switching voices, develops a symptomatic hunger to connect "long phrases" and watches their fondled twist voluptuously. The author of the confession turned, as the confession was rendered, into a first class stylist, the sorts of whom we can hardly see today.
Today... Laurentiu Ulici
Undoubtedly, one of the most important prose writers after World War II, an author of short stories par excellence, an author of a paradoxical originality, built from instinct (nature), outside the somewhat guilty pride (punished almost all the time) of the "what was done", Radu Cosasu is also the former of a style quoted more or less explicitly by many of the good epical writers of the 1980s. Chiefly biographical and relativistic in attitude (hence ironic), his prose cultivates another paradox, perhaps the essential one: it is, at the same time, "old" (in the sense of Caragiale’s statement) and anticipatory. As for the fact that, despite his being an excellent writer, his quotation on the market of the literary criticism is medium at most – this is no longer a paradox; it’s the result of the blindness that traditionally affects us when it comes to acknowledge the value of those whose presence in the public life/marketplace is discreet.
The Bucharest nephew of the aunts in Tel Aviv
Seen by I. Schechter
Beside literature and journalism, our colleague in Bucharest, Radu Cosasu, has three more passionate loves: belota, which he practices, football, which he never practiced, and two aunts from Tel Aviv, who have been his second and third mothers his entire life. Love for one’s aunt is rare these days, when even the respect for one’s parents has become superfluous. During his many visits to Israel, Cosasu figured out that his aunts, who came to the country at the beginnings and worked without airs and without complaining, represent a drop that reflects the big sea. He studied them, he challenged them to talk, he stimulated them to tell their memories, taking the advice given to him, as early as 1956, by the late writer Teodor Mazilu: "Cosasu, if you want to save yourself, describe your aunts."
Aunt Silvi and the other aunt, whom he nicknamed Sanseverina, inspired him; their metamorphoses and his own pertinent observations turned into a splendid book, "Matusile de la Tel Aviv" ("The Aunts in Tel Aviv"). Published in 1992, this book should be reprinted, as it is still fresh and conclusive.
Always arriving there coming from another world, Cosasu was no tourist – he worked, in the sense that he studied people, newspapers, the streets, gathering impressions, appearances, incidents and commented them with his mother and his aunts. The book is a radiograph of the reality in Israel, its encephalogram even. And "doctor" Cosasu’s diagnoses are almost always accurate. In fact, like all of us, he is a bit of a hypochondriac and we all now that the mean reality has the habit of often confirming the fears of the hypochondriacs.
Cosasu is nuanced, original, profound in everything he writes: short stories, essays, sports commentaries. But when he plays the keys of lyricism, he is moving, sublime [...].
(From the "Ultima ora" – "The Latest Hour" – magazine, October 27th, 2000)
Commented by Virgil Duda
[...] Waiting for the passports, I began to visit "Mister Radu" more and more frequently and to ask him questions that haunted me. "The Jews", he told me in his introductory lesson, "always had to live with other peoples. Now, they have to live with the Israelis, a people who is not easy to put up with." An so, one day, he totally amazed me by telling me "I’m not a writer, but a journalist who narrates his life." I still remember how angry I got and, rising my voice up to Heaven, I claimed: "There is no such thing. After six volumes of stories, short stories, sketches collected in ‘Supravietuiri’ (‘Survivals’), you aren’t allowed such verbal liberties anymore. You’re also a journalist, and a good and original one too, but, God forgive me, whether you want it or not, you’re also a writer, an exceptional one even."
[...] Other reproaches: he keeps playing belota and the likes of it, while Tolstoi strived every day to get rid of the cursed poker that destroyed his youth and his power of work; he is crazy about Johann Strauss’ waltzes and Verdi’s operas, and he even knows arias by heart. He listens to modern music (domestic and foreign) for hours, he became a renowned expert in this superficial field, and he even seasons his confessions with unacceptable frivolities; and so on and so forth.
But, I daresay, it is these frivolities that make Radu Cosasu a unique personality, a writer like no other. "Concentrate on uniqueness!" warned us George Calinescu; "authenticity is all that matters", said Camil Petrescu. They are two authors that Relu always believed in.
And Babel or Scott Fitzgerald, who are worshiped by Oscar, were they not intimate to the depths of their heart and fictional to the bone?! Happy anniversary, beloved friend!
(From the "Ultima ora" – "The Latest Hour" – magazine, October 27th, 2000)
Suffering from youth
Radu Cosasu suffers from youth. Whoever wants to understand his writing must take for granted that the author solemnly swore, once and for all, to always stay true to the age of 20 and not cheat it with any other age that he comes across [...]. Nothing enchants this eternal high school student, with black curls of hair blown by the wind, as if he were standing at the window of a train speeding in winter, wearing the glasses of an A student with a contagious laughter, from all his heart, nothing enchants him more than writing (he only writes in pencil, the lines are all straight – the mark of an iron discipline – and he must have had an incredibly passionate and excellent spelling teacher).
(From "Dictionar neconventional al scriitorilor evrei de limba romana" – "Unconventional Dictionary of the Jewish Writers in Romanian", "Minimum" Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1986)
To the attention of the members of... Club 70
Relu’s turn has come to join Club 70. I don’t know how others thought of paying him a tribute, but I, for one, use his own weapons and take his old warning ("everything is a log book") seriously ("Cinci ani cu Belphegor" – "Five Years with Belphegor", 1975). It was a challenging formula, for it settled at an early age a sort of emblem of his entire writing; at any rate, it unveiled the unmistakable conduct and mentality of an individual who’s always up-to-date with the current events in the world (be it the world of literature, of films or of sports). As he is hard to equal in the field of news, I limit myself to reporting some stories of the old days, which may be of interest to him in completing his "log book".
So, going back in time, right to the year of his birth, it is worth noting the concomitant emergence of some future celebrities in the most diversified fields. I would place Neil Armstrong, the one who was to become the first man to walk on the Moon, at the top of my list. The reason I place him first is the crucial astronomical achievement of that particular year – the discovery of the planet Puto, the most remote planet of our solar system, with a movement of revolution of 248 years. Next, the list of those who were born in 1930 includes the Polish playwright Mrozek, the blind, African-American singer Ray Charles, the film director Claude Chabrol. And since where at film, that year marked the film debut of Jean Gabin and the first success of Jean Renoir ("La Chienne" – "The Bitch"). But the one who had a hit was von Sternberg, with "The Blue Angel". Literature, of course, has its own landmarks that year. Sinclair Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize. Surprisingly enough, in his reception speech, he praised a younger colleague, Thomas Wolfe: "His book of debut (‘Look Homeward, Angel’) is so deep and comprehensive, that it captures the entire American existence". Erskin Caldwell wasn’t far away either and was preparing to enter the scene; stimulated by the success of his short stories, he was writing "Tobacco Road". What about us? "Baltagul" ("The Cane") by Sadoveanu (who was turning 50) was on the shelves, "Joc Secund" ("Secondary Game") by Ion Barbu, "Paradisul suspinelor" ("The Paradise of Sighs") by Ion Vinea, "Izabel si apele diavolului" ("Izabel and the Devil’s Waters") by Ion Eliade, "Privind viata" ("Looking at Life") by Garabet Ibraileanu.
But let’s not assume that 1930 was a year of successes only; in spring, Maiakovski passed away, followed by painter Pascin at a short distance.
The chronicle stays open; I promise Relu I will make the necessary additions when we will both join Club 80.
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