Romanian literature draws heavily on the country's rich folkloric heritage coupled with its turbulent history as an occupied country inhabited by a persecuted people. In 15th-century medieval society, when writings were still scripted in Slavonic, an oral epic folk literature emerged. The miorita was a simple folk tale detailing life in the fields or on the mountainside.

Writings in Romanian, initially religious, took shape around 1420. Modern literature emerged in the mid-19th century in the shape of romantic poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-89), who captured the spirituality of the Romanian people in his work (see p33). Eminescu's grand disillusionment with love, interwoven with folk myths and historical elements, characterised his major works.

During the latter half of the 19th century the influential Junimea literary society (1863), of which Eminescu was a member, was founded by Titu Maiorescu (1840-1917) in Ia$i. Maiorescu was a literary critic who condemned the growing influence of foreign literature on Romanian writers. Perhaps the Romanian writer best known internationally is the playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912-94), a leading exponent of the 'theatre of the absurd', who lived in France after 1938.

The quest for 'national values' ensued in the prewar period with novelists like Cezar Petrescu (1892-1961), Liviu Rebreanu (1885-1944), and Mihail Sadoveanu (1880-1961).

Romanian literature became a tool of the Communist Party from 1947 onwards, with few works of note emerging and much repression of dissident voices. Andrei Codrescu was exiled to the USA in 1966 and went on to write numerous books about Romanian-related issues.

Contemporary Romanian literature looks to the future as much as the past. The energy of today's writers is epitomised in the two poetry volumes, Young Poets of a New Romania, translated by Brenda Walker, and An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry translated by Andrea Deletant.

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