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Călugăru, Ion

(1902–1956), writer, playwright, and journalist. Ion Călugăru (pseudonym of Ştrul Leiba Croitoru) was born in Dorohoi to an impoverished family; he was a top student at the Israelite-Romanian school, where the Jewish community supported him through elementary school. Although he failed to graduate from high school, his Latin teacher, the influential literary critic Eugen Lovinescu, hired him to serve on the editorial staff of the review Sburătorul, in which Călugăru used his pseudonym for the first time (he had published articles in the Jewish newspaper Mântuirea [The Redemption] as B. Croitoru).

Călugăru’s first book of stories, Caii lui Cibicioc (Cibicioc’s Horses) was published in 1923. An active journalist, he contributed political articles, reviews, as well as original literary writings to a number of periodicals; he also edited the review Opinia publică (Public Opinion), published briefly in 1929. Joining the editorial staff of the newspaper Cuvântul (The Word) before it gravitated toward the extreme right, he also contributed regularly to avant-garde reviews such as Unu (One), Integral, 75 H.P., and Contimporanul (The Contemporary). Călugăru was also an overt supporter of the left wing, including communism, in the 1930s–1940s. He became an editor of the Communist Party’s publication Scânteia (The Spark) in 1945. His enthusiastic commitment to the movement’s doctrines ensured him a privileged position after 1948.

After a few attempts at using avant-gardist discourse, Călugăru returned to realistic writing that drew on his personal history. His novels—Copilăria unui netrebnic (A Wretched Man’s Childhood; 1936), Trustul (The Trust; 1937), and Lumina primăverii (Spring Light; 1948)—abound with characters who are poor Jews in small Moldavian towns. The daily wretchedness, the awareness of their marginalization in a world closed to dialogue and intolerant of differences, the lack of hope, the resignation, and latent revolt make up the background, otherwise picturesque, against which the old and the new, religious archaism, and the misleading temptation of the escape into the urban modernity are interwoven.

There is a sickly restlessness in the characters’ lives in the novels Omul de după uşă (The Man behind the Door; 1931), Don Juan Cocoşatul (Don Juan the Hunchback; 1933), and Erdora (1934). The characters oscillate, with their frustrations and resentments, between memories of humiliation and the reality of the sordid metropolis with its ambiguous attractions: dominated by violent and exotic sexuality, the city represents a desperate refuge and attracts the unconsumed energies of those for whom the original matrix of the rudimentary shtetl is not large enough. Călugăru never ceased to suggest the alternative of joining a social movement supported by the ideology of class struggle as a vent for all individuals crushed under deplorable conditions. His literary works became increasingly schematic after 1948; among them, the novel Oțel şi pîine (Steel and Bread; 1951), excessively praised at the time, became a sort of paradigm of the voluntary and programmatic subordination of arts to the propagandistic demands of the Communist regime.

Suggested Reading

Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu, Literatura română şi expresionismul (Bucharest, 1971), pp. 133–144; Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu, “Ion Călugăru,” in Literatura română între cele două războaie mondiale, vol. 1, pp. 346–350 (Bucharest, 1972); Alexandru Mirodan, “Ion Călugăru,” in Dicționar neconvențional al scriitorilor evrei de limbă română, vol. 1, pp. 327–341 (Tel Aviv, 1986); A. B. Yoffe, Be-Sadot zarim: Sofrim yehudim be-Romanyah (Tel Aviv, 1996), pp. 304–312, abstract and table of contents also in English.



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea