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2014 Graduate Student Essay Prize

The Sixth Annual Graduate Student Essay Prize was presented to Roxana Lucia Cazan for her “Jewish Motherhood, Heritage, and Post-memory in Anca Vlasopolos’s No Return Address and Haya Leah Molnar’s Under a Red Sky,” a chapter from her dissertation on Contested Motherhood: The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity, and Identity in Contemporary Romanian-American Literature and Culture, which she has been completing at Indiana University Bloomington. Oscillating between disciplines and geographical scales, Cazan’s essay gave a truly transnational, comparative, and global edge to Romanian Studies. Cazan examined the meaning of motherhood in a complex prism of Romanian state communism, Jewish identity, the Shoah, communist pro-natalism and post-memory. The essay was impressive both for its conceptual approach and its contents. We learn about two fascinating books by Anca Vlasopolos (No Return to Address: Memoir of a Deplacement) and Haya Leah Molnar (Under a Red Sky: Memoir of A Childhood in Communist Romania), which, in turn, entices the reader to discover and read these books independently. Dealing with two periods of repression – the Fascist period (1920s-1940s) and the early Communist period (1950s-1960s) – Cazan reflects on identity, gender, and memory. What does a memoir by a Romanian Jewish émigré tell us about modern Romanian history, society, and debates about the past? Quite a lot: Cazan’s piece challenges more comfortable boundaries of what constitutes Romanian Studies. Not only is her work interdisciplinary, but the subject matter under investigation highlights that ‘Romanian Studies’ has a global, transnational dimension to it, and thus forces us to re-examine what and where the boundaries of Romanian Studies lie. The author and protagonist of the first novel under investigation (Vlasopolos) is a point in case: a Romanian Jew of Greek origin who leaves Romania with her mother in the early Communist period having lived through the earlier Fascist period. They end up in Detroit, via Western Europe, where Vlasopolos marries a German-American and starts a family. In this intricate web of travel, exile, and memory, Vlasopolos writes her memoir reflecting on a ruptured 20th century. Such stories and Cazan’s masterful analysis compel us to think of Romanian Studies not as an isolated field, but one that is marked by war, exile, movement, cross-border experience and multifaceted identity. Interdisciplinary and very ‘fuzzy round the edges’, Cazan’s work reminds SRS how exciting, diverse, and multifarious research in and around Romanian Studies is. Long may it continue.


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