Thursday, April 17, 2014

Romanian poet, dissident Nina Cassian dies

BUCHAREST, Romania - (AP) -- Romanian poet and translator Nina Cassian, who obtained political asylum in the United States after the Communist-era secret police found her critical poems scribbled in a friend's diary, has died in New York City. She was 89.

Her husband, Maurice Edwards, told The Associated Press she died at home Monday from a heart attack.

The Securitate found her poems in 1985 in the diary of Gheorghe Ursu, who was questioned and later died after being beaten by a fellow prisoner. Cassian, then visiting the United States, was granted asylum.

In 2003, the Securitate officers who ordered Ursu's beating were sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Romanian authorities confiscated Cassian's apartment in Bucharest and her assets after she was granted asylum and her books were removed from bookshops.

She married Edwards, an author who was then the Brooklyn Philharmonic orchestra's artistic director, in New York when they were both in their 70s, he said.

Born into a Jewish family in the Danube port of Galati in 1924, Cassian joined the Communist Youth Wing when it was outlawed by the pro-Nazi government. She said she was attracted by the ideas of equality and lack of racial prejudice.

She debuted with "Scale 1:1" in 1947 which was badly received by the critics because it ran against the Socialist grain of the time. She then wrote a series of books that were flattering to the regime, as did many Romanian writers, arguing it was the only way they could survive artistically.

Romanian President Traian Basescu sent his condolences to her family, hailing her as a poet, writer, translator and songwriter appreciated in Romania and the US.

"Nina Cassian, who lived, loved, wrote, smoked, drank, and played more than any of us has gone - simply, swiftly, at home, the way she had hoped to go," said documentary maker Mona Nicoara, a friend.

"She had always been fragile, one way or another - yet it was hard to think of her as anything short of immortal."

Cassian also wrote children's books and translated Shakespeare, Moliere and Bertolt Brecht, and her work was published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications.

She wrote 50 books, including a volume of poems in English in 1998 called "Take my word for it," and "Continuum" in 2008. Her last book was the 2013 "C'รจ modo e modo di sparire" -- a compilation of her poetry between 1945 and 2007 translated into Italian.

She is survived by her husband. A memorial service will be held Tuesday at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York before the ashes are returned to Romania.

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