Exclusive Interview with Stela Brinzeanu – Author of Bessarabian Nights
EMDAD RAHMAN gains a fascinating insight into Moldova’s culture, and its struggle against human traﬀicking
Bessarabian Nights is the powerful debut novel from Stela Brinzeanu, who hopes to shed light on Moldova’s plight of human traﬀicking.
This is the debut novel of the Moldovan who has lived in the UK for over a decade, following a decision to escape the stiﬂing environment of her home country, where superstitious and predetermined attitudes are rife.
Brinzeanu conducted extensive research in order to write Bessarabian Nights, and travelled back to her home country to speak with many women who have lived the nightmare of being forced into human traﬀicking and prostitution.
Narrated from the perspective of the ghost of the country, the novel oﬀers a unique angle on the culture clash between East and West, giving critical insight into the culture of Moldova, the author’s home country and a place that is as fascinating as it is disturbing. Moldova, despite being the gateway to modern Europe, is still mired in medieval superstition, where ingrained customs and irrational beliefs can make or break someone’s day and an unyielding fatalism dictates destinies.
Bessarabian Nights probes issues which bedevil contemporary Moldova, a country largely ignored by Western media. The book incorporates powerful themes of identity crisis, displacement and insanity.
During a night out whilst on holiday in Milan, Ksenia is drugged and abducted by a traﬀicking gang who force her into prostitution. When Ksenia’s best friends, Larisa and Doina, hear she is missing, they vow to ﬁnd her, no matter what.
The three girls’ friendship goes back to early childhood, growing up together in a rural village in Moldova. As girls they were inseparable, but following an incident with the village voodoo witch, Larisa leaves for the UK, full of resentment for her home country and branding her people superstitious, old-fashioned and fatalistic. Doina later joins her in the UK, searching for a better-paid job in order to help support her paralysed brother.
As the Moldovan police give up looking for Ksenia, her best friends travel back and forth from Italy to Moldova to continue the hunt. While Larisa searches high and low, she witnesses ﬁrst-hand the misery of her own people abroad and their struggle to survive in an alien world.
The girls’ persistence, love and dedication eventually pays off and, two long years after her abduction, Ksenia is rescued from her traﬀicking ordeal and repatriated to Moldova. However, she faces further hard times as her family and community fail to support her rehabilitation process. Their lack of empathy for her traumatic past leads her to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, sent to an asylum, and then taken to a monastery to help unburden her of her inner demons. Tragedy soon strikes the trio, and those left in the wake of the unthinkable must re-appraise their views on culture and identity, and of Moldova itself, before making life changing decisions in order to move forward with their lives.
Stela was born in Moldova and aged 18 she moved to the UK where she studied media at Westminster University. Stela engaged herself in TV production and a Diaspora magazine for European Moldovans. She joined Channel 5 as airtime management and left in 2012 to complete her novel.
Stelas’ inspiration for writing the novel stems from a distinct childhood memory. “As a child growing up I remember a local girl who was five years older than me. She was lovely, sociable and pretty and inspiring. Then just like that, one day she disappeared.
“There were plenty of false and malicious rumours circulating and she was criticised by the majority of our locals. Nobody bothered to look into the situation and the family did not speak about the matter.
“The girl herself had been polite, a regular churchgoer but her single mother was a heavy drinker. She received little or no sympathy or support there. So she suffered in silence and never talked to anyone. She absorbed the sniggers, the whispers and the barbed comments.”
Stela was hurt by this, “It was painful for me and I told myself that things should not be like this. Although at that young stage of my life I didn’t understand everything I knew something was not right. The memory has stuck with me.”
Stela tackles the morose issue of human traﬀicking in Moldova: “In my homeland there is an NGO called the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which helps young girls and women who return to Moldova after being traﬀicked I was surprised that many of them refuse to go home. The shame is just too much for them, they are shunned by their communities and even their family members. They have to put up with lies and false rumours about their character and they don’t have many who befriend them.
In their overview of Moldova the IOM states that “widespread poverty and lack of job opportunities has caused many Moldovans to look for employment overseas. In addition, the high number of irregular migrants has allowed criminal organisations to exploit an already vulnerable group.
“Moldova has, by far, the greatest number of victims of trafficking in the region. The government is trying to improve migration management through enhancing the development impact of migration, ensuring protection of migrants' rights and combating trafficking in persons.”
Moldova is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania and is one of Europe’s poorest countries. The country is split between ethnic Moldovans and ethnic Russians. Domestic violence is rife in Moldova,” say’s Stela. “It is not reported and victims have little confidence and support.
According to a 2011 World Health Organisation report Moldova’s per capitaalcohol consumption "is the highest in the world. Moldova also has the fourth highest rate of smoking in Europe.
Stela has written this encapsulating novel to “get people talking.”
“Young girls are often traﬀicking by those they trust the most, family members, relatives, friends and partners.
“I want to generate debate and get the ball rolling on this issue. In Moldova, people always blame external forces for problems such as this. Our people are very superstitious in their culture and it’s time we took full responsibility for actions related to such heinous crimes.
Stela spoke of the Parliamentary elections in November. “We have a strong Russian presence but wish to be a part of the EU and we need highly visible economic projects in Moldova. Projects need to be funded to tackle Domestic Violence and alcoholism. Above all, education is the key to changing attitudes and raising awareness. We have a heavy drinking culture which needs to be curbed for the prosperity of the nationals as well as the country.
Stela has more interesting writing projects. She hopes to complete novels on the exploitation of men and also the “trend of eastern European women seeking rich husbands for financial gain.”
Stela is dedicating herself to helping those who have faced the horrors of human traﬀicking and sexual exploitation. Her message to victims is: “It’s not a shame, come out, speak out and get the help you deserve.”
When Stela doesn’t write or bake polenta cakes, she’s likely to be practicing kryas or skipping or – most probably – cleaning her flat. She is currently working on her second novel. The book is published by Lightning Source, RRP £8.99 paperback, RRP £3.99 eBook) and is available from 20th March 2014 online, at retailers including Amazon.co.uk and can be ordered at all good bookstores.
International Organization for Migration -www.iom.int