Romanian literature has only one surrealist in the true sense of the word: Gellu Naum. Unlike other avant-garde writers of the inter-war period, such as Tristan Tzara, Ion Vinea, and Ilarie Voronca, Naum was, as Nicolae Manolescu puts it, ‘an innate surrealist in poetry, prose and drama.’
Naum’s surrealism is defined as ‘the constant endeavour to liberate human expression in all its forms, a liberation that is inconceivable outside the total liberation of the human being.’ He was one of the most radical post-war surrealists, the founder of a Surrealist Party, making no concessions when it came to enrolling and expelling other writers, with an intransigence that is plainly visible in his writings from the inter-war period onward.
The Incendiary Wayfarer (1936), The Freedom to Sleep on a Forehead (1937), Vasco da Gama (1940), and The Corridor of Sleep (1944) are collections of surrealist poems unique in Romanian literature, packed with free association, unreality, and deliberate nonsense.
After the Communists came to power, it was not until 1968 that Naum collected a part of the poems he had published in the 1940s, in the volume Athanor, which led to a rediscovery of his work after an interval of more than a decade of Party-dictated propagandistic literature, during which he published a series of ill-judged books that were quickly consigned to oblivion by both literary history and their author.
The work Naum published after 1970 seem to lose something of its original authenticity, becoming sooner a stylistic imitation of the poetry he had written in his youth.
Gellu Naum also wrote prose, short stories, and plays, which garnered unexpected success in the theatre. He is now perhaps best remembered as the other of a work for children, The Book of Apollodorus, about a penguin from the circus who sets out on a voyage around the world.