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Cristina A. Bejan

Translator’s Note: Octavian Paler

“Am învățat” [“I’ve Learned”] by Octavian Paler is also known as “Avem timp” [“We have time”]. I started working on this translation about fifteen years ago when I began to learn Romanian in earnest. I am a heritage speaker, born in the USA to a Romanian father and an American mother in the early 1980s at the height of the Cold War. My father had defected from totalitarian communist Romania and with his renunciation of his homeland came a decision not to raise his children speaking Romanian. Also, he was labeled an “Enemy of the State” by the Romanian government, which meant that if he returned to Romania he would be thrown into prison, so teaching his children Romanian seemed rather pointless. But after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, my father could finally return to his country of birth, and he brought his American family with him. Family visits in the 90s, combined with Romanian students and professors coming to study on an exchange program started by my dad, meant that the Romanian language began to enter my life. I remember working on my first poetry translation in high school: a Mihai Eminescu poem with my dad’s help. In the 2000s I began to live in Romania on my own for extended periods and make a concerted effort to master my paternal tongue. It was in this decade that I discovered the poem “Am învățat” by Octavian Paler.


At this point, I was translating poems for fun and to practice the language, but had no intention of ever publishing these efforts. I shared my translation of this poem with my dad via email across the Atlantic and he gave me feedback. We had a very fruitful dialogue about it and, given the subject of the poem, it was especially meaningful. This translation of “Am învățat” is my first acceptance of a poetry translation in a literary journal. When I received the invitation to create an audio recording of the poem, I initially thought I would read it with a disclaimer that I am a heritage speaker. But my parents happened to be in Denver, Colorado, USA for the holidays and I thought of how cool it would be for my father to read it, as it is a translation that I had shared with him and only him in the first place. Since we renewed our dialogue about the poem, he informed me that we have a personal connection to Octavian Paler that I never knew. Emil Constantinescu, one of the Romanian professors that my father brought to the USA in the 90s, returned to Romania, became rector of the University of Bucharest, and initiated freedom protests criticizing the initial post-communist Romanian political leadership: demanding true democracy. Paler was part of this freedom movement and a close friend of Constantinescu, our family friend who went on to become the first president of Romania without dubious ties to the country’s communist past.

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