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“Continental Drift – Colliding Continents, Converging Cultures” – Constantin Roman

February 19th, 2003 · No Comments · Books, Diaspora, PEOPLE

IOP Publishers (Bristol & Philadelphia) 2000. pp. 211 – ISBN 0-7503-0686-6

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Constantin Roman is Romanian Honorary consul in the English university town of Cambridge where he was awarded a PhD for pioneering work in the field of geophysics in 1974. For over twenty years, he has been an independent consultant in oil exploration and his reputation as a successful oil finder has enabled him to settle down comfortably in a pleasant corner of England after many vicissitudes.

Dr Roman’s memoirs were published in 2000 by an Anglo-American scientific publisher. The title, Continental Drift suggests that plate tectonics, his field of expertise, dominates the book. In fact while frequent attention is given to his scientific ideas, how they were applied, and the collaboration with eminent scientists which resulted, the fascination of this book is to be found in its account of how the human spirit managed to triumph over considerable odds.

Roman is a determined and ingenious Romanian with a gift for striking up friendships with the eminent and the humble and also a genius for improvisation which has extricated him from tight corners. Such survival skills, when not leavened by strong moral qualities, have produced a rather sinuous Romanian, immortalised by the playwright Caragiale, and much seen in the politics of the country for the past seventy years. Roman’s ability to triumph against the odds and make a new life for himself in a land very different from the one he left, while retaining a strong moral formation and a desire never to lose touch with Romania, is a gripping and inspiring tale.

Roman describes ‘the DNA signature’ provided by his ancestors who regularly found themselves on the wrong side of authority for religious and later political reasons.

The stratagems needed to overcome a Kafkaesque bureaucracy and obtain a passport, permission to leave the country, and a plane ticket in order to take up an invitation to attend a palaeomagnetic conference at Newcastle university, make absorbing reading. Human agency could still defeat the most opaque of bureaucracies. The Latin temperament of the Romanians may explain why Nicolae Ceausescu, the peasant shoemaker who acquired the reins of power in 1965, was determined to impose a brand of national Stalinism, in which all traces of nonconformity were erased.

Imagining what might have occurred to a free spirit like Roman if entombed in Ceausescu’s Orwellian system is a depressing thought. It is worse to contemplate that there were probably many other outspoken young Romanians who in nearly every case were crushed under the iron heel , broken or compromised by the system.

In the most entertaining part of the book, Roman describes how, as a young ingénue, he arrived on the shores of England, describing his reactions to the social customs, eating habits, and landscapes and buildings of this curious island.

Rueful accounts are provided of British insularity and bureaucratic rigidity, which qualify his enthusiasm, for English ways. But he became sufficiently attached to Britain to make his home there even though he was determined not to renounce his Romanian nationality.

His greatest trouble arose from his refusal to give up his Romanian nationality. He was menaced on a number of fronts: by Securitate operatives masquerading as diplomats keen to end his flouting of socialist order and drag him back to Romania; by a prospective mother-in-law who refused to allow her daughter to marry him unless he accepted British citizenship; and by officials of the British Home Office who assumed that his desire to retain what he saw as his unalienable right of birth, his nationality, might stem from communist loyalties.

Afterwards Goodman decided to champion Roman’s cause, writing to the head of the Home Office that ‘He is a man of impeccable character and he is clearly determined to belong here and make a significant contribution to our national life’.

Upon graduation, Roman set up his own oil consultancy business when a slump in the industry meant there were few job openings. He believed he made a success of it because of ‘the convergence of two most improbable spirits the obduracy, imagination and resourcefulness of the Romanian character, grafted on the liberalism, precision and luminosity of a Cambridge mind’

Constantin Roman writes with candour, wit, and humility. His remarkable life story unfolds with effortless simplicity thanks to his ability to write mellifluous English influenced by Romanian cadences.

This is a book which should interest the Romanian public at home and abroad as well as the general public- academic and non-academic.

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Thomas Gallagher (Bradford University)
t.g.gallagher AT bradford.ac.uk
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