Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Q&A with Colin W. Sargent




Colin W. Sargent is the author of the new book Red Hands, which focuses on Iordana Ceausescu, the daughter-in-law of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Sargent's other books include The Boston Castrato. He is the founding editor and publisher of Portland Magazine, and he teaches writing at William & Mary.


Q: How did you first encounter Iordana Ceausescu, and at what point did you decide to write this book based on her story?


A: After the bloody 1989 revolution in Bucharest, the world was searching for Iordana Ceausescu and her son, the only grandson of the tyrant dictators Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. There were signs in the subways: “Death to the Dracu grandson.” Tracking them down was blood sport. Paris Match asked, Where are they?


As the founding editor and publisher of Portland Magazine, I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years. The cool thing about Maine is, you never know who’ll wind up here. I was introduced to Iordana by the Romanian race car driver Catalin Tutunaro.


During our chats, I kept asking Iordana what was happening as she was on the run from the mob who was shooting at her car. It was excruciating for her to relive those moments, but she was finally able to say that the window on her side was shattered by a bullet.

Covered in broken glass, she huddled down instead of moving to the other side. When I asked her why she didn’t move to the other side of the car she said, “Because there was blood there.”


Q: Would you describe the book as fiction or nonfiction, or as a balance between the two?


A: I think of fiction as a delivery system, a texture that stars dialogue, the story’s skin.


When I watched One Night in Miami by Regina King–a terrific show with dialogue between real people in Miami after Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, I thought this is a perfect example. Regina King got into that hotel room in 1965 and took down all that dialogue from Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown without being noticed–even though she was born in 1971.


This is called American Drama genre. Fiction takes you into that private locked hotel room. So there’s a real sense of evolution here.


Tim O’Brien says fiction is better than the truth. He’s worked on it!


Q: How did you research Iordana’s life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: My library grew four-dimensional. I used direct interviews, newspaper accounts from the time, listened to music and watched movies from the time, including French New Wave cinema, a favorite of Iordana’s.


I tried to see what she was seeing. My library became Bucharest, and Lake Snagov, and Timisoara. We shared each other’s histories. My wife, son, and I got to know Iordana and Dani as friends.


Q: The writer D.D. Johnston said of the book, “A tale from last century and a warning for this one, Red Hands is a novel of rare power that teaches us much about Romania and even more about ourselves.” What do you think of this description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: We’re learning in so many ways that there is no “them.” This story is about all of us. We’re all susceptible to falling under the spell of a cult of personality.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: When I write every morning, it’s 1822. I’m in Italy with Lord Byron. He’s wearing a disguise.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Iordana dares to say, down deep, that she’s not a perfect person. What’s that worth? When she knows there’ll be trouble, she still follows her heart.    Follow her: https://www.amazon.com/Red-Hands/dp/190995439X


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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