An interview by Victoria Cușnir
Talking about books from the Republic of Moldova, one has to mention Cartier Publishing House, founded by Gheorghe Erizanu in 1995. He subsequently opened, one after the other, several Cartier bookstores, selling exclusively books in Romanian language. Some of these had to be closed in the meantime, but the stores In the Hall and In the Center remained. As for the profile of the publishing house Cartier, Erizanu has devised the following collections: Cartier istoric, Cartier educațional, Rotonda (contemporary Romanian literature), Biblioteca deschisă (contemporary universal literature), Codobelc (children’s books), Cartier popular, Cartier de colecție, etc. Their books are being distributed in Romania by Codex 2000 and can be found in all large bookstores. Worldwide delivery is available (except for Russia and Belarus) via the cartier.md. website.
Victoria Cușnir: How big is Cartier in relation to the other publishing houses in Moldova and what is your percentage of the annual editorial launches?
Gheorghe Erizanu: We are in the top 5 publishing houses in the Republic of Moldova, with a market share of about 3% of editorial launches, at national level. This is what the statistics look like. I might seem mean, but, to be correct, I should also mention the fact that, in the Republic of Moldova, we have books printed in 10-50 copies: theses, poetry books for the satisfaction of personal pride, memories and memoirs, jubilee books, “scientific” books. These books don’t end up in bookstores. They don’t have visibility. They don’t sell. But they are included in the statistics. We have over 200 publishers, many of them working rather as custom-made print services providers. Therefore, euphemistically speaking, the statistics are a bit distorted.
Victoria Cușnir: Cartier becomes each year the leading publishing house of a certain segment. 2018 I think was the year of the novels published by Cartier, in 2019, I discovered the very consistent Cartier istoric collection. And yet, Cartier’s poetry collection is most admired, on both sides of the Prut. Is this the result of a strategy or is it a natural phenomenon?
Gheorghe Erizanu: There’s no such thing as hazard. I’ve been publishing novels since our first year of existence.
For example, “Gesturi. Trilogia nimicului/ Gestures. Trilogy of nothing” by Emilian Galaicu-Păun, an author who now has his third title with Cartier Publishing House. History books have also entered the Cartier istoric collection since its inception.
The first editions of Eric Hobsbawm‘s fundamental contemporary history – “The Era of Revolution (1789 – 1848)”, “The Age of Capital (1848-1875)”, “The Era of Empire (1875-1914)”, “The Era of Extremes (1914 – 1991)” – were published in the 2000s, just like Turchetti’s “Tyranny and Tyranny”.
Gheorghe Crăciun‘s “Introduction to the Theory of Literature” appeared in 1996 or 1997. Alexandru Mușina‘s “Essay on Poetry” is yet another of our early years’ titles. The list can continue. I never strived for admiration of the Cartier books, not even for the poetry books, be it one bank of the Prut or another. We worked, from the very beginning, for a single cultural, commercial space.
Since the first book published in 1995 (“Lunatic of the Scythian Night” by Nicolae Popa), a poetry volume, we have sold in all good bookstores in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. Over a quarter of a century of effort and perseverance, certain years stands out, at times; years I could see as “a Cartier year of novels”, “a year of the history book”, “a year of the book of poetry”, or “a year of the essay book”. We do what a publishing house must do: we select manuscripts and publish books, in our collections. Some are rather fruitful years, there are poorer years too, depending which collection we are talking about. In the Rotonda collection, we have princeps editions of Romanian literature, including poetry, prose, essay. Cartier de colecție is the top collection of the publishing house. It is perceived as being a collection of poetry, but it was conceived as the haute-couture collection of the publishing house, which would include our absolute best in terms of writing, of message and the best we can offer on the level of graphic, typographic concept, quality of polygraphy materials. The collection is numbered. The first 30 volumes were anthologies of poems, by masters of Romanian literature. At present, we are charmed by Cristian Fulaș’s new translation of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” and find it suitable for being included in Cartier de colecție. And we’re going to have some more, surprise, prose-titles in this collection.
Victoria Cușnir: Nowadays, self-help books and pulp fiction seem to be the most sought after. You are selling poetry. Does poetry help you resist, or do you help poetry to resist? Gheorghe Erizanu: In my opinion, professional development guidebooks, motivational literature are nothing but noble scams, they’re made to sell. The editor gets his money, and the reader gets the impression that one can achieve everything by reading a single book. But pulp fiction has now declined. It’s not any longer what it used to be in the 90s. Sandra Brown remained with her 4 novels written in English. In the ’90s, on the Romanian book market, there were a dozen of novels by Sandra Brown; the author did not even know she had written those. Returning to your question, poetry does not help us resist. Poetry books do not circulate widely. But poetry means opening a language. Deprived of poetry, a literature is stopped from evolution. The novel speaks of the maturity of a certain culture. But it cannot appear without poetry. We pay special attention to poetry books because we were ambitious to prove that poetry also has a place of honour in the shelves of bookstores. We wanted to take the book of poetry onto the eye-level shelf. If we have succeeded in doing this, it’s fine. I hope others will follow. By the way, we’ve done this even before Cartier de colecție: in the 2000s, we had our Poesis Collection. At those times, Emil Brumaru’s poetry appeared at peripheral publishing houses, in tiny editions that not all bookstores took. We offered to publish it in an anthology, in good polygraphy conditions, in 2 volumes, we made it a boxed set.
Victoria Cușnir: Cartier really seems to be an ideal place, which gathers first-hand poets, both from the Republic of Moldova and from Romania. Is poetry different, to the right and to the left of the Prut?
Gheorghe Erizanu: I avoid comparisons. I don’t like geographical anthologies. I was in the fifth or sixth grade when all the icons, books, magazines were removed from the church in Pererita. I took a magazine, probably “Luminătorul”, containing a poem by Radu Gyr. It was an ode to Marshal Antonescu. There was no difference at all between Gyr’s ode and the odes dedicated to Lenin in our school textbooks. Just the language, the natural flow of the language differed. In Bessarabia, great effort was needed to return to the naturalness of language, to the freshness of language great Romanian poems possesses. “Your Name” by Grigore Vieru, published in 1968 represented our luck. Romanian poetry was rehabilitated at that moment, in Chișinău. We caught this last train. Let’s not forget about the fight – the word expresses exactly the notion, between the Transnistrian and Bessarabian writers of the ’50s. If the language of Tiraspol had won that battle, “Your name” might have never existed. Then there was the effort to synchronize the ’80s generation in Moldova with the poetry of the ’80s generation in Romania. In the ’90s, poetry from the Republic of Moldova and Romania were already a unitary whole. Dumitru Crudu and Marius Ianoşi were already conceiving common manifestos, drawing directions for Romanian poetry, entirely. The early years of vulgar capitalism did injustice to the ’90s generation. Poetry was the last thing people were concerned about in those years. But, still, there were poets, on both sides of the Prut, who were ambitious, keen on writing poetry. This is the reason why we considered it was necessary, as a gesture of recovery, to publish “Anthology of the ’90s Generation” in Cartier de colecție; working with anthologists Adrian Ciubotaru, a careful connoisseur of poetry from Bessarabia and Răzvan Țupa, on the other side of the Prut River. You will not differentiate between the poetry written on this or the other side. It’s just good poetry. Maybe Alexandru Mușina was a bit right when he said that Bessarabians will inculcate Romanian literature vigour. He said that in 1993. Now Romanian poetry editors publish Bessarabian writers without making the difference of the place of birth.
Victoria Cușnir: Studying several charts from the last few years, I find that in quite a large proportion the promoted books seem to be nothing but maculature. When and how did books become rather maculature than literature? Are publishers or writers to blame for this?
Gheorghe Erizanu: There are all sorts of charts. If we are talking about the top sales in bookstores, they very clearly express the position of the respective bookstores. A bookstore, like a publisher, can make a book selection, a sales strategy. If the maculature, as you call it, takes the front row, it could also be the fault of the booksellers, not necessarily the publishers. The problem with the selection of books is not only that of the publishers, but also that of the bookstores. It’s a rather complex one. We are talking here about the hygiene of reading, and this must be cultivated, educated: through books read in kindergarten / nursery, at school, at university, through bedtime stories mothers and fathers tell, later on through the chronicles of literary criticism in the press (be there any), through the cultural news broadcasted by news agencies, by TV and radio stations. Through the prizes offered by the creative unions, through the reading clubs– in case they haven’t been completely swallowed up by the cenacles–, through bringing together writers and readers, through cultural events, through the statements made by politicians.
Victoria Cușnir: To what extent do manuscripts sent to Cartier become books?
Gheorghe Erizanu: I don’t have any statistics. And I don’t even want to have any. There are a lot of manuscripts that don’t end up as books. To make it clear, we receive at least one manuscript proposal, every day. And we publish about 80 titles a year. No big deal, many manuscripts rejected by us are accepted by other publishing houses. A good manuscript will not be wasted.
Victoria Cușnir: What do you usually expect from authors, but especially from their books? Gheorghe Erizanu: From debutants I do have some expectations: I expect them to work with the editors, to be cooperative, to shorten, to rewrite certain passages, to accept changed titles. I expect them to be persistent, to give the first book to the publishing house, having the second manuscript ready. We have to be aware that literature is not the most lucrative field. I expect them to write as form of therapy, not out of personal pride. I expect Cartier authors to surprise with every new volume or, at the very least, to maintain the level of the previous works. To know that the post-publication phase is as demanding as the writing of the book. To write a book every three years, not a book every year. Plus all the expectations that concern the debutant author.
Victoria Cușnir: Some writers are constantly migrating from one publishing house to another, some who have a permanent visa with you. How do you explain constant movement versus fidelity of authors?
Gheorghe Erizanu: In our area, editorial tradition is new, still shaping up. Of course, every publisher here aspires to be like a German publisher, who has a portfolio of 20 permanent authors, whom he grows, promotes, for whom he searches for new markets. The author has no idea and, anyways, I think he shouldn’t be interested in the editor’s efforts to promote him. Of course, it’s painful when you invest in an author and he then leaves, taking everything with him or her. But life is tough. Who said we live in romantic stories? It’s like in football: a good player goes to big championships, to big clubs. It’s just that the publisher doesn’t have the monetary rewards like the football club that raised the player. I don’t think it’s worth putting such clauses into contracts. I prefer to avoid wasting time with judgments and it don’t know what truths. There are authors who want to publish their books on their on, from their own money. I don’t publish at the expense of the author. For many years. So then he’s forced to go under the umbrella of another publishing house.
Victoria Cușnir: In the context of the war, there is more and more talking about an educational, civic and character-forming role that people of culture and, in particular, writers should play. To what extent does a country’s literature build its people?
Gheorghe Erizanu: We don’t need to go too far. Romania is built by the 1848 revolutionaries; they were ministers, diplomats, historians, writers, poets, and playwrights. I believe that Romania remains indebted to Vasile Alecsandri. The current Republic of Moldova was created by the poetry of 1989. The answer is obvious. We don’t even need to refer to the current Russo-Ukrainian war.
Victoria Cușnir: Speaking of the boundaries of a literature, are they only related to language or is it also the content?
Gheorghe Erizanu: Great, imperial languages have much greater possibilities than the small ones. In order to get over the border, a language spoken by a smaller number of people needs to invest much more effort. Sure, content matters. On the other hand, the literatures of the imperial languages (let’s use this term) are rather closed and self-sufficient. Literatures from small countries are clearly more open. There are advantages and disadvantages. On the other hand, a Romanian publisher starts with 500 or 1000 copies to a population of 20 million, whereas a Hungarian publisher starts at 5000 copies to a population of 9 million. We still have a lot of work to do in our own garden, before we can look over the fence.
Victoria Cușnir: Which of the Cartier’s novels could be as relevant, worldwide, as those of Tatiana Țîbuleac, and what is the way to “grant them a visa”?
Gheorghe Erizanu: Tatiana Ţîbuleac makes the stars turn around her. She has written a very good text, a short text. She was open and actively participated in the promotion. She went to some major literary festivals, found some very good and insistent translators and some very good foreign publishers. Romanian literature has a lot of good writers ready for export. It takes a little effort from the state structures for them to enter the foreign market. Promoting literature requires a much smaller effort from the state than promoting wine or tourism. We would be now among the first great literatures of the world, had we invested in literature as much money as much as has been invested in promoting wine and tourism.
Victoria Cușnir: There has been a lot of talking about the EULP Prize – the European Union Prize for Literature. The novel “On the Opposite Lane” by Oleg Serebrian, one of an emotional density and admirable consistency, has been nominated twice for this award, both by the Republic of Moldova and by Romania. It was rejected both times, because its author occupied certain political positions. To what extent do you think the regulations of these awards do actually support true literature?
Gheorghe Erizanu: I look at awards as a way of promoting literature. The fact that Oleg Serebrian’s novel was selected and included on Romania’s shortlist is already a great success. The novel is now being translated in Poland and is in reading procedure at other publishing houses abroad. The idea of the European Union Prizes for Literature is to support the promotion of literature in different countries. There are very clear rules here. The writer should not have been translated much, should be at the beginning of his career; a writer, viewed as a long-term investment. The fact that good writers have important governmental functions in the Republic of Moldova can only make us happy. We can also see the positive side of things.
Victoria Cușnir: Looking at the books awarded by the Writers’ Union, who are the writers who set the tone for Bessarabian literature since independence?
Gheorghe Erizanu: The writers who set the tone for literature from the ’90s onwards were of different kinds. In the early years the eighties writers recovered ground from previous generations. I think this was the last literary struggle in the Republic of Moldova. Millennials didn’t even try to go onto this battlefield, they synchronized and melted into Romanian literature. In their literary struggles, geography no longer matters.
Victoria Cușnir: How about the change in attitude of the state and of the readers from one decade to the next?
Gheorghe Erizanu: Until 2012, when we had the Regulation of the National Publishing Program, approved (the regulation was elaborated by the Union of Publishers of the Republic of Moldova since 1998), the state policy functioned as expressed by the former Deputy Prime Minister Stepaniuc: “The state’s money goes to the state publishing houses”. Or the idea of the National Publishing Program is that the state’s money is invested in books, which compete against each other for a correct selection. A published work arrives in public libraries with a 40% rebate and reaches the shelves of the bookstores, where it is sold at the market price. This mechanism works well at present. There was a syncope, when Minister Pogolșa wanted to change the conditions of the program. So, I can’t talk about decades, but rather about time spans when things went better or worse. And during these time spans, the reader grew old, left the country, lessened.