Goma, Paul. Gherla, in French, 1976. Book
A main figure of the Romanian cultural opposition to the communist regime, Paul Goma began to write his book Gherla during his first trip abroad (between June 1972 and June 1973). The title refers to the name of the Transylvanian town where he was imprisoned between 1957 and 1958 due to his failed attempt to stir up unrest among the students of the University of Bucharest in the context of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The book which represents a personal account of Goma’s experience as a political prisoner in Gherla was published in 1976 and managed to raise the interest of the Western public in what had happened in Romanian communist prisons (Petrescu 2013, 124–125, 121).
Gherla takes the form of a passionate dialogue of the author with himself and focuses on the last two days he spent in prison. The main event of those days was the atrocious beatings Goma received from the prison’s authorities due to his involvement in a quarrel between two inmates. Consequently, he and another prisoner whose side he had taken against one of the prison’s informers were called for questioning. Things escalated and the two were tortured by the prison’s associate director, under the watchful eyes of the prison’s doctor and another guard renowned for his torturing procedures. Upon further instigation by the prison informers, the same two inmates received a second and more brutal beating in the old section of the prison, built in the time of Empress Maria Theresa. During his beating, in which the prison’s associate director and the guards gladly participated once again, the narrator reached the end of his capacity to endure and thus, he promised to himself that he would never forget or keep silent about his torture.
The episodes of Goma’s punishment are retold with many interruptions and deviations that help to describe the larger context of the events: the worsening of prison conditions after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the ruthless repression of an inmates’ rebellion and the increased terror that prisoners were forced to endure from torturers who creatively learned from the Soviet experience. The detours are glimpses into the narrator’s life before his imprisonment to Gherla prison, starting with his time as a pioneer instructor and ending with his trial and conviction.
Beyond the personal drama of the narrator, the book Gherla is also a convincing account of the inner workings of the prison system and of the uncountable abuses that inmates had to endure from the guards and other prison’s officials. Paul Goma is also a fine observer of the little and apparently insignificant details of everyday life in prison, such as personality traits, gestures, reactions, responses, mispronounced words, different behaviours that not only coloured but also disturbed the strict order in Gherla prison.
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- Oradea University Library
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- Marin, Manuela
Petrescu, Cristina. 2013. From Robin Hood to Don Quixote: Resistance and Dissent in Communist Romania. București: Editura Enciclopedică.