'I have lived, alone, in a cell, 157,852,800 seconds of solitude and fear. Cause for screaming! They sentence me to live yet another 220,838,400 seconds! To live them or to die from them' - from "The Silent Escape". Victim of Stalinist-era terror, Lena Constante was arrested on trumped-up charges of 'espionage' and sentenced to twelve years in Romanian prisons. "The Silent Escape" is the extraordinary account of the first eight years of her incarceration - years of solitary confinement during which she was tortured, starved, and daily humiliated. The only woman to have endured isolation so long in Romanian jails, Constante is also one of the few women political prisoners to have written about her ordeal. Unlike other more political prison diaries, this book draws us into the practical and emotional experiences of everyday prison life. Candidly, eloquently, Constante describes the physical and psychological abuses that were the common lot of communist-state political prisoners. She also recounts the particular humiliations she suffered as a woman, including that of male guards watching her in the bathroom.
Constante survived by escaping into her mind - and finally by discovering the 'language of the walls', which enabled her to communicate with other female inmates. A powerful story of totalitarianism and human endurance, this work makes an important contribution to the literature of 'prison notebooks'.
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(156mm x 235mm x 23mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A powerful testament to the uncanny resilience of the human spirit. Constante relates in mesmerizing detail the eight years of solitary confinement that she suffered in Romanian prisons after being convicted in the Stalinist show trials of 1948. After more than three years of "interrogations," she was tried, convicted of treason, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. The hardships that she encountered included nearly constant surveillance, extreme cold in winter and heat during the summer, food deprivation, beatings, the inability to meet her basic requirements for hygiene, lack of basic medical and dental care, sleep deprivation, near total sensory deprivation, and forced adherence to arbitrary rules that controlled every aspect of her daily regimen ("It was forbidden to cry...to shout...to laugh"). Despite the insanity of her daily existence, Constante develops methods for implementing her"silent escape" - an escape within. She fills her empty hours with "work." She writes, in her mind, stories, poems, puppet shows, and dramas, which she then memorizes. Her escape becomes most tangible when she learns Morse code and is able to communicate with those in the cells around her. Once she has learned to "listen to the walls," she has indeed escaped from the solitude that is her main torment, and she becomes a member of the prison community. The facility with which Constante describes her imprisonment and her intense awareness of the rhythms of prison life at times seem to transport her narrative into the realm of poetry. Her images are as strikingly clear as a painting by one of the Dutch masters, and her words demand to be read out loud so that one can experience the oppressive repetition created by their meter. It is rare for such an important historical document to be rendered with such profound artistic integrity. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Lena Constante
Lena Constante, an artist and writer living in Bucharest, won the Association des Ecrivains de Langue Francaise's 1992 Prix Europeen for this book's French edition. Franklin Philip is a freelance translator living in Boston. Gail Kligman is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.