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Interview with Horia Gârbea

Award-winning Romanian writer Horia Gârbea is known for his diverse literary talents, and over the the past three decades has produced acclaimed poetry, short stories, novels and 16 stage plays, as well as translating a host of Shakespeare’s classics and other works.


He started off writing poetry, which he feels is a natural place for budding writers to start.


“I think there is a general fact that poetry is the art worthy of the youth. I started writing poetry, but after that I wrote plays for theatre and then finally, when I was about 40 years old, I wrote some short stories first and then two novels. And then, after the birth of my son, I wrote a fantasy novel for children and young adults,” he said, speaking ahead of his appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“So, I like poetry, I wrote a lot of a poetry. I also had some poetry translated into other languages: Swedish, Serbian, Chinese, Spanish, German and so on,” he said.


When he switched to writing plays he quickly found success, with his plays performed regularly on big stages in Romania, as well as in the UK, France, Serbia and Bulgaria, among other countries.


“And after that I wrote some short stories and some novels, but I prefer writing short stories. My style is adapted to short texts,” he said, adding that his last story collection contains 10 stories, and is entitled Pies for the Royalty.


On another side of his literary endeavours, Gârbea helps edit a weekly literary magazine in Bucharest called the Luceafarul de Dimineaţă. And in addition to all his writing and editing, he holds a PhD in civil engineering and is a professor of environmental engineering in Bucharest.


On the literary translation front, Gârbea was part of a team that recently did new translations of the complete works of William Shakespeare, with Gârbea himself translating several of the major plays and sonnets.


In addition to Shakespeare he has also translated the works of writers like Jacques Copi, Pierre Corneille, Machiavelli, Dario Fo, Eduardo de Filippo, Tennessee Williams, Marivaux and Normand Chaurette.


Translations play an important role in Romania’s literary scene, both from Romanian into other languages and from other languages into Romanian, he said.


“There are a lot of translations and a lot of translators. With only about 20 to 25 million speakers of Romanian all around the world, we need to translate and to be translated. So, this activity developed very much, especially after the Romanian revolution [in 1989], because before the censorship was strong enough. But even in that time they were many translations, starting with the Russian language translations.”


Nowadays Romanian bookshops are full of translations from a host of languages, including French, English, German, Spanish, Turkish, Bulgarian and Hungarian.


“And a lot of Chinese books have been translated into Romanian too with success,” he said, “including for example the works of Mo Yan.”


Since the rise in digital publishing, the number of new domestic titles being published each year has exploded, he said.


“We have a lot of titles. And not all, of course, are good. I think that many are medium or weak books, but almost everybody is writing. Because there is this possibility to print immediately. Anybody can get an ISBN and print 100 copies or 150 copies of their book,” he said.


“Before the revolution, or immediately after the revolution, it was possible to print and to sell maybe 10,000 or 20,000 copies of a book because there were only a few books published. And when a book was a good, it spread very quickly. And before another book was published, there was a gap. Now, every day, every day, the publishing houses print and put on the market many, many books.”


This phenomenon has brought about a strong regionalisation in the market, where writers gain footholds in their own areas but struggle to move beyond them,” he said.


“So, the sense of values in literature has changed. Also, because each group has it leaders, its gurus. And they fashion their own understanding of literature.”


Gârbea said that in this new publishing world there are large quantities of poetry also being published “even though this poetry is not the idea of literature agreed by a lot of people, and by poetry many people understand many things. So, it’s a very, very large display of styles.”


He himself does not intend to join the flurry of new poetry publishing, however.


“I don’t like to write a lot of poetry, as some poets do. I prefer to write only when I have a powerful idea,” he said.



Horia Gârbea will join Chinese author Stanley Chen on Saturday, December 5 at 5pm (Beijing time) to  discuss “Diverse Genres, Translations and Cultivating Literary Scenes”. In conversation with Zhang Weina.


EU-China-litfest 25: Diverse Genres, Translations and Cultivating Literary Scenes