The Black Envelope (book)

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Date: 1986

Region: Europe

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature


Artist: Norman Manea

Confronting Bodies: Council for Socialist Culture and Education

Dates of Action: 1986

Location: Romania

Description of Artwork: While Manea's writing does not criticize the leaders of the communist Romania he lived under directly, he does write about life under the regime. In The Black Envelope, he not only writes on the negative aspects of daily life in contemporary Romania, but makes parallels to between it and Nazi Germany.

The Incident: When Manea submitted the novel in 1985, he was expected not only to have the work submitted to the censors, but to self-censor himself as well. When the manuscript was sent back to him, 80 percent of the text had objections written over it. Words such as "food lines" and "anti-Semitism" had been deemed unacceptable and he had basically been asked to rewrite most of the book.

After the novel had been revised and rejected several times, the publisher found a new censor to look over it. This censor demanded even more outrageous revisions. He saw the link Manea had made between Romania and Nazi Germany. He demanded an anti-fascist movement be included, even though Romania never had one. Hitler and Stalin's differences were to be clearly defined. The negative view of daily life was ordered to be eliminated. Characters on the brink of suicide would need to be changed to be more positive.

Results of Incident: Menea followed the orders of the censors and had The Black Envelope published. In late 1986, he emigrated to the United States. Even though he got it published, he considers The Black Envelope to be corrupt and now expresses a very pessimistic view of communist censorship.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.