Monday, July 4, 2011

An Interview with Bogdan Tiganov

"You're telling us how everything's rosy and how we're the best but I don't see that on the table. My table's empty and I'm hungry. The electricity's gone off. We light some candles. The walls start shaking and so does the floor."
~A Personal History of a City Called Brăila, The Wooden Tongue Speaks, Bogdan Tiganov

Having very recently read The Wooden Tongue Speaks ~ Romanians: Contradictions & Realities by writer and publisher Bogdan Tiganov, I'm honored to have had the opportunity to interview the outspoken author of this original, often arresting work. I must admit that I worried that my questions for Bogdan would not be edgy enough--and they probably weren't--but he kindly completed the interview for me. I should also admit that my knowledge of Romania before reading The Wooden Tongue Speaks was scant; now I feel as if I at least have a sense of the people of Romania, garnered through this author's lucid and evocative work.

1) Welcome, Bogdan. Your book, The Wooden Tongue Speaks - Romanians: Contradictions & Realities is a collection of short stories as well as poetry, set in post-Ceaușescu and post-Cold War Romania. Often startlingly honest, your words depict life in Romania in a realistic way, rather than giving readers a sugar-coated, watered-down version of it. Please tell us something about your background, and the inspiration for this unique collection of prose and poetry, published in 2010.

BT: I was born in a totalitarian state and then spent eleven years as a refugee. Life wasn't easy and hard work and dedication were the only way to get through the hardships my family and I endured. I experienced communism first hand and also went through the exile experience.

As a writer, I'm not interested in sugar-coating anything. There's enough sugar and spice to be had by telling it like it is. I don't want to patronise people through my writing, I just want the writing to affect them. I don't want a neutral reaction to my work. I don't do beach reads.

2) The first story in the book, A Personal History of a City Called Brăila seems at least partially autobiographical and captures the character of a Romanian city most of us know little about. The very next story, An Interview, is about a young woman, Darina, who wants to apply for a job as an au pair in America, and subsequent stories are about a variety of characters with different perspectives (a 43-year-old man who wants to get married to alleviate his loneliness, an old woman trying to apply for disability). Was your goal or intent to bring many everyday Romanian people to life, men and women of all ages?

BT: My goal was to go beyond clichés. Most people know very little about Romania, apart from what a right wing media might focus on (gypsies, orphans, thieves etc). Most of the stories in this book are written from experience, or based on stories I heard from others, showing the character of Romanians, the problems they face, their spirit and humour.

And if it's grim, or upsetting, well that's just the way it is. For millions have left and are leaving Romania in order to earn a living. The old are left behind to deal with their loneliness, middle-aged people are lost in wild democracy, the young dream of instant riches and Western goods.

Another goal was to deliver the literature equivalent of the Romanian New Wave cinema, which has gained positive reviews around the world. The story of the old woman applying for disability allowance, for example, shows the absurdity of a system grounded in deceit, mini dictators in every establishment just waiting to abuse their power.

3) The Poet of A Thousand Love Poems, features a supporting character named Bogdan in it. Are you making a cameo appearance in your own story?

BT: No, I'm not. Bogdan is a popular name in Romania. The story is actually about my childhood best friend, whose name is also Bogdan.

4) Tremendous frustration with life is a recurring theme in your stories. Men anger quickly, curse freely, and resort to alcohol abuse, and violence, domestic and otherwise, often ensues. What social, economic, and/or historical factors created or contributed to this sense of frustration, which you depict so vividly, in your stories?

BT: Romania was an extremely closed off country, more so than other communist states of the Soviet era. Nevertheless, the infrastructure was such that certain individuals had built up their future investments before the Iron Curtain dropped (see Kapitalism Our Improved Formula: So when the Revolution of 1989 happened and Ceaușescu conveniently wiped out, a certain imbalance grew to an unimaginable scale. This is a country in which important people never stand trial. Never. No matter what they do. Here you buy your jobs. When you go for an interview you'd better have lots of money ready. And there is a certain amount of sentimental yearning for the old days, while, at the same time, cheap television programs blast confusion and fantasies into the minds of desperate individuals.

Romanian society is very patriarchal. Alcohol abuse is very common. And when you mix the two you get domestic abuse. The mental health system is extremely poor. Care of the elderly is practically non-existent. These are the themes I dissect in The Wooden Tongue Speaks.

5) Do you think conditions for both men and women have improved in Romania since you wrote this book? Is life less harsh today for Romanian people?

BT: If anything, life is worse. The financial crisis has hit Romania hard. Now the struggle to find jobs has reached a new level of mania. Words like "hope" are brandished far too easily around in the UK. It means nothing to your average Romanian. It's just another word, a linguistic exercise. People there are used to working for nothing. Work in itself is better that sitting around being bashed over the head with expectations from family.

(How sad! That's what I was afraid of. Thanks for your continued frankness, Bogdan.)

6) Poetry also plays a part in The Wooden Tongue Speaks. Some of the stories are formatted in an unusual, poetic manner, and the last section of this book consists solely of poems. Below is the first stanza of HOME, which I can imagine being set to music (in other words, it has rhythm):

Home's like, home's like this
Walking down streets gypsies on
Street corners chasing me
Wanting a lock of hair for good luck.

Here are a few lines from another poem in the book:


Been sticking my neck out
For truth,
Only to be lying
All day long.

Why did you decide to include poetry in this collection?

BT: Originally, this book was two separate collections and the poetry was a full length collection in itself. I first published this book in 2008 and the publishers at the time suggested that combining the two might work best. Being a fan of Bukowski's sprawling works, I agreed and felt that the poetry added something to the stories. A few more angles to the subjects I dealt with. Also, I've written poetry for many years and feel it's one of my strong points as a writer.

(Yes, the poems are excellent, and add another dimension or layer to your work.)

7) Tell us about your company, Honest Publishing, a British independent book publisher, and your philosophy of publishing "uncompromising raw voices".

BT: Having been around publishing since the age of fourteen, I worked out soon enough that publishing, like any other business, is market driven. I realised that rejection wasn't necessarily about not being good enough but about not fitting into a certain program. Not ticking the big sales box. The edgy, independent stuff wasn't edgy enough or agenda free enough for my liking. So I got together with a couple of friends and decided to do something about it.

Honest Publishing is a very small company and we rely on help from volunteers and word of mouth. But we believe in what we stand for. Writing with an edge, distinctive voices that you won't read anywhere else. Stuff the big boys shy away from. We're currently working on our fifth book, Homegirl! by Ryder Collins, and we're looking to sign up a few more writers this year.

8) Bogdan, is there a new book or project in the works, and what are you willing to tell us about it?

BT: There are several projects that I've started in the last couple of years. At present, though, I'm spending time on the publishing rather than on my writing (except for the occasional blog post on the Honest Publishing site). One day I hope to mix the two in a more even fashion.

I'll give you an idea of the stuff I've been working on:

Colour poems - I have about thirty colour poems done in which I explore the relationship between colour and words
Memoirs - mainly of my time spent as a refugee - I want to write a refugee book that's far more rounded than others I've read
Novel - got a few ideas for a novel, the issue is which one will prove to be strongest

Thank you for doing this interview, Bogdan. I enjoyed working with you. Your answers are truly thoughtful and informative, and your ideas for future projects sound exciting, worth the diligence they'll require. And, of course, best of luck with Honest Publishing!


Comments are welcomed and appreciated.


  1. It sounds like a fascinating books, and if I'm honest, I will admit that I love books that take a realistic slice out of life and don't attempt to sugar coat things. I really loved this interview, Suko, and think that Bogdan had some very interesting and important things to say. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. Great interview and an interesting post!

  3. What an interesting interview. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.

  4. Welcome to Bogdan, it was good to meet him, and thanks for being such a great host Suko. This sounds like a wonderful book and is set in a country I know very little of - ignorant of me I know and yet, I would think, fairly typical that the only book I have read which is connected with Romania is, of course, Dracula.

  5. Thanks for reading. As a follow-up we're running a competition to celebrate our first year anniversary:

    I hope you can join us.


  6. Thanks for all the comments. I hope my readers will also stop by Honest Publishing soon.

    Bogdan, congrats on your one year anniversary! I have already "Liked" Honest on facebook. :)

  7. Intreseting interview. Suko, you did great with the questions. The book sounds like an intense and thought provoking read. I always when authors share life experiences such as these.

  8. Nicely done. Great glimpse on what sounds like a much labored upon book. I already like the title and the cover. Good luck to Mr. Bogdan!

  9. great interview-I have not read much or any Romanian lit-

  10. Very interessat post, Suko ! I like what this man says ! Here in France it is more and more difficult to be a refugee. A lot of people come from Kosovo, Serbia, Romania and their status is really hard ! Particurlarly the Gypsies'one ! Nobody to help them !

  11. Hi, have added a link to this interview on my post of this book, which seemed fair as this was where I first heard of this collection. Thanks


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