Translated from the French by Nick Caistor.

Ever since my novel appeared, whenever I meet the public I am asked how much of it is true. Did I really correspond with Nadia Comăneci?

This demand that fiction declare its identity (true or false) is worrying, at a time when the word ‘reality’ is applied to TV programmes in which anonymous people pretend to live their lives in front of the cameras, transforming them into a fiction in which they are the characters.

The foreword I added to The Little Communist made it plain that: ‘The Little Communist Who Never Smiled does not claim to be a historical reconstruction of Nadia Comăneci’s life. Although I have respected dates, places and public events, beyond this I have chosen to fill in the silences of history and those of the heroine with traces of the many hypotheses and bootleg versions of that vanished world. The dialogue between the narrator of the novel and the gymnast is a dream, a fiction, a way of restoring sound to the almost silent film that constituted Nadia C’s journey between 1969 and 1990.’

This dialogue between the gymnast and the narrator, a kind of western ‘Candide’ who undertakes a description of Nadia C’s journey because she has valid doubts about the official versions, was not always in the book. The first version of my text circled around the gymnast’s magical body in the same state of amazement as that of thousands of people since her appearance at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The subject of the novel was herself majestically silent. I then became convinced of the need to create a space for the voice of this body whose opinion was never asked. The character of the gymnast needed to be able to reply to the narrator, to chip away at her omnipotence in the same way one hopes that the voices of all those men and women who lived under communism will one day be heard in all their complexity, so that the west will cease to be the only narrator of history.

Surrounded by other narrators desperate to limit Comăneci by telling her story on her behalf, the heroine of my novel juggles their diverse rewritings: that of Ceaucescu, of communism in Romania in the 1980s; the frenzied rewriting of the female body by those who never tire of commenting on it and giving it a score – sports, politics and media pundits, from the communist coaches to journalists in the west. And finally, the horizon, which the heroine herself rewrites, scything through space and enlarging it with new expressions: the salto Comăneci, for example.

With each new book I write, I pose myself this question: at what level of the real do I have to place myself in order to write it? This novel perhaps illustrates the impossible task of writing a ‘true’ biography, when one is caught between personal accounts (who to believe?), the false promise of the trustworthiness of historical documents, and versions of the same event that change as one travels from east to west.

The fiction I like balks at being restricted to a particular genre. In The Little Communist several forms jostle each other: narrative fiction; a questioning of archives; real political statements, fake correspondences and subjective memories from the communist Romania where I grew up. The career of Nadia Comăneci – one of the last non-sexualised media images of a young girl sanctified by a west in search of a secular angel – inspired the character of Nadia C and this novel, a biography of childhood, or the novel of the writing of a biography.

Lafon-Lola_c_Lynn SKLola Lafon is a writer and musician. The author of four novels, Lafon was born in France and grew up in Sofia and Bucharest. She lives in Paris. Her latest novel The Little Communist Who Never Smiled has been translated into eleven languages and won ten literary prizes in France, including the Prix Version Femina.