The main character of the novel is the narrator, aunt Eszter, who lives in Tiszatab (the original names were changed in the novel to protect the anonymity of the people involved). Aunt Eszter tells her story as a woman who leads a traditional peasant life. She recounts her family history and the history of Tiszatab simultaneously. The novel begins with World War I and ends in the present. With the exception of a single character, the story of the novel takes place in Tiszatab. The novel does not have a chronological or linear narrative. The chapters are organized around diverse topics (family life, love, and the narrator’s troubled marriage with her husband, the social order of the village, giving birth to her children, the emigration of her son, etc.)
Aunt Eszter was born at end of the 19th century in Tiszatab, where her family had been living for decades. When she was roughly 15 years old, her studies were interrupted as a consequence of her aunt’s order, and she returned to her village. This transition had a huge impact on aunt Eszter’s life, and it gave her a new perspective (that of an educated person) on the traditional life of the Hungarian peasantry. In the novel, she reflects on this shift several times. The main events of Hungarian history (1918, 1956) are only part of the background of the novel.
This work was finished in February 1988. It was published in Budapest on 17 July 1988 in the twenty-fifth issue of the weekly national youth magazine Magyar Ifjúság (Hungarian Youth), the periodical of the Hungarian Union of Communist Youth. In her writing Gyimesi condemns the fact that a Hungarian intellectual who had suffered no harm as a result of his/her previous actions should declare himself/herself a “Transylvanian refugee.” She understands the existential insecurity of the individual in question, the fear of losing one’s job in the near future, the worries about one’s children’s possibilities of further studying in Hungarian and also the fear that one’s children might be placed in faraway Romanian regions after graduation. In spite of this, besides the numerous arguments in support of emigration, Gyimesi calls for remaining in the home country. She points to the fact that leaving the country only results in a greater reduction of the already thinned and weakened Hungarian minority and the space voluntarily given up by the addressee only increases the control the communist regime has on those left behind. Gyimesi even passes a judgment on the person embracing the role of the “poor Transylvanian refugee.” She reproaches that he or she is not hit harder by the disadvantageous situation than what is generally implied by minority existence in Romania. She goes on to reproach that the addressee never – either individually or jointly – stood up publicly – by means of petitions or memoranda –, never did anything in order to ensure that constitutional rights regarding the use of the mother tongue, education, and cultural life were respected. The consequences of these efforts would have been labelling as “nationalist” at most, but “having to put up a daily fight for the rights stipulated in the constitution is not a natural thing and is also very tiring.” She states that the “refugee” did not only flee from the common disadvantageous situation but also from the responsibility he/she as an intellectual owed to the Hungarian ethnic minority and indirectly to the nation (ACNSAS, I017980/1, 138–141).
This text published in Hungary in July 1988 rendered Gyimesi’s situation at the time even more difficult as she mentioned the violation of human rights in Romania in various respects, thus adding to the series of accusations brought against her. Already in 1987, the Cluj county Securitate had transmitted her case to the directory board of Babeș-Bolyai University and instructed the rector to commence disciplinary procedure against her. In this regard mention must be made of the disciplinary meeting of 26 July 1988 when the Executive Board of the University Senate issued a last warning to Gyimesi, and disposed that a three-member committee should supervise the conduct and professional activity of the professor, suspending her academic status until a decision was reached (Cs. Gyimesi 2009).
At the end of the 1980s, the “letter” and such writings in general had the value of a gesture; standing up for one’s views, expressing one’s opinion was in itself an irregular act – their main merit was the disruption of the silence of dictatorship (Király 1993). Relatively few people could hear about or read the critical writings of the final years of dictatorship. In an attempt to compensate for this public ignorance, Gyimesi published in 1993 her volume Homesickness in the Home Country containing her works written in the 1980s, considered in the context of that time as dissident, including studies, private and public correspondence, and texts of lectures and conversations, along with her shorter works written after the collapse of the Communist regime up to the summer of 1992 (Cs. Gyimesi 1993).
The first free elections in Czechoslovakia after 1948 took place in June 1990. During his first visit to Prague after the fall of the communist regime, Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg signed the Czechoslovak election program. This artefact was lent by Jiří Hromada, a leading activist for the rights of sexual minorities and former president of the national organization of the Czech gay and lesbian movement, for the exhibition dedicated to Allen Ginsberg. The exhibition, organized from January to April 2018 by the Centre for Queer Memory, was related to Ginsberg’s visit to Prague in 1965. At that time, Ginsberg was elected “King of the Majales” within students’ May Celebrations “Majales”, and then was expelled from Czechoslovakia for alleged indecent behaviour. The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a lecture dedicated to the events of 1965. Other objects that the Centre had in its collections were presented during the exhibition as well, such as the Ginsberg’s poem “Kral Majales” written in 1965 and visually arranged by the painter Robert LaVigne.
The exhibition in Răscruci displays first of all the spiritual and material assets of Hungarian communities living in the Transylvanian Plain. In this region up to the mid-twentieth century every wealthy family usually had a clean room, which, as a general rule, was the place for displaying and storing the family’s material assets, Sunday church outfits and the dowry which was prepared over the years. In less well-to-do households the clean room was decorated mainly before the red-letter holidays, at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, and, for the most part, the exhibition displays the items against this festive background. Nevertheless, apart from various wall-hangings, decorative wall plates, and pear-shaped pottery jugs, ornate beds, tables, skilfully carved chairs, benches, storage benches, and cabinets, the clean room also gave a home to everyday objects, kitchen utensils and instruments used for spinning and weaving.
Of the geographical and cultural regions presented within the ethnographic collection, the traditional home furnishing displayed in the room of Răscruci – part of the material culture of the Transylvanian Plain – is among the most interesting. The villages of the Transylvanian Plain, even in the period following the Second World War, were rarely the object of thorough, systematic ethnographic research. As this region is inhabited by a community marked by differences in language, culture, and religion, it was avoided by most researchers. The exploration of the culture of Hungarians living in the Transylvanian Plain began relatively late, in the interwar period. The study of ethnographer Gertrúd Palotay on the embroidery of Sic, published in 1944 (Palotay 1944) captured the interest of Zoltán Kodály as well, who concluded that if the embroideries of the region were so wonderful, their folk music must be similarly rich. Encouraged by Kodály, composer and folk music researcher László Lajtha visited first Sic and then Sânmărtin. Attila T. Szabó conducted toponomastic and linguistic research on a regular basis, and in 1944 he published an article in the Erdélyi Múzeumi Közlemények (Transylvanian Museum Journal) entitled Unknown Embroideries of the Transylvanian Plain. Despite the initial display of interest it was not before the development of the dance-house movement following the events of 1968 that this area re-captured the attention of researchers. Prior to the change of regime the ethnographer and museologist Károly Kósthe younger was preoccupied rather by the culture of objects, whereas, beginning with the 1980s the ethnographer and university professor Vilmos Keszeg conducted significant research into belief in this region.
From the ethnographic point of view there is a distinct characteristic area within the Transylvanian Plain, comprising eight villages: Răscruci, Bonțida, Luna de Jos, Tiocu de Jos, Borșa, Feiurdeni, Câmpenești, and Măcicașu. These settlements are represented in the room of Răscruci. In these localities they generally did not use black for weaving or embroidery, except for wool weaving. They used the same set of motifs as the neighbouring villages, but in the case of embroideries we meet the red-blue colour combination and the pierced part was usually highlighted by grey. This method also dominated in the embroidery of women’s blouses. This area was mainly characterised by ong-waisted garments, whereas the neighbouring villages typically preferred short-waisted dresses. With the exception of Sic, every village used all-white embroidery as a general rule. The practice of wool processing has been preserved in these villages even to this day. Even today we can find fur bedspreads, fur tablecloths, and hand-woven over garments in any traditional rural household. As sheep breeding was quite common in this region, in Lacu, for instance, even sacks were woven from wool. Farmers living here usually had a large number of sheep and at the time of sheep shearing and harvest Romanian women from Maramureș came here to wash the wool. This work was usually remunerated with wool. In the manufacture of woven fabric the “fuzzy technique” was characteristic. The first such piece was collected by Tamás Hofer in Răscruci, and later placed in the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest. According to Edit Fél, the first information on this weaving method date back to the fourth century BC: this explains why the fuzzy pillow edges caused a stir in the professional sector, since it was hitherto unknown to experts that this particular weaving technique was also used in Hungarian-inhabited areas.
The physical and spiritual heritage of these rural settlements was considerably richer than that of the neighbouring noble villages, as the maid servants who sewed the garments of noblewomen also recreated their favourite motifs for their own use. The noble villages also imitated and followed the culture of the aristocracy. The textiles known as “written” double chain stitch patterns are a more vigorous, peasant-style version of aristocratic embroidery. In Răscruci red was usually the colour used for needlework, whereas in the neighbouring villages people used black or red, though the red-blue combination was generally preferred in embroidery. The elbow-sewn shirt was a common item in the eight villages represented in the room of Răscruci. The men’s and women’s leather waistcoats and jackets are worth mentioning; these items stand out with their tailoring, embroidery, and decoration. As far as footwear is concerned, villagers usually wore boots that they had bought in the market in Cluj, which they set aside for festive occasions only. On weekdays, during summer people went barefoot for the most part, and in winter they wore sandals.
The inhabitants of the Transylvanian Plain also purchased painted dowry chests at the Cluj market. These were generally manufactured by craftsmen in Cluj. The ceramics on display are mostly the products of major pottery centres of the nineteenth century. The interior walls are decorated with pear-shaped jugs and plates from Turda, Bistrița, and Dej. These were usually purchased at fairs or bought from wandering pottery masters in exchange for wheat. The early 1900s marked the disappearance of rural pottery workshops in Răscruci and Sic. The last one in Cubleșu Someșan ceased to exist approximately a decade ago when the last potter passed away. The room of Răscruci presents the details of peasant society, an almost bygone era. To this day the priceless inherited repository of culture, experience and values passed on to the inhabitants of this region constitutes an integral part of everyday life. This invaluable heritage can only be used meaningfully by locals if they know how to lead a responsible life in the community and society they were born into.