He left Romania in 1986 with a DAAD-Berlin Grant and in 1988 went to the US with a Fulbright Scholarship at the Catholic University in Washington DC.
Manea's most acclaimed book, The Hooligan’s Return (2003), is an original novelistic memoir, encompassing a period of almost 80 years, from the pre-war period, through the Second World War, the communist and post-communist years to the present.
Manea has been known and praised as an international important writer since early 1990s, and his works have been translated into more than 20 languages. He has received more than 20 awards and honors.
Born in Suceava (Bukovina, Romania), Manea was deported as a child, in 1941, by the Romanian fascist authorities, allied with Nazi Germany, to the concentration camp of Transnistria in the Ukraine with his family and the entire Jewish population of the region. He returned to Romania in 1945 with the surviving members of his family and graduated with high honors from the high school in his home town, Suceava. He studied engineering at the Construction Institute in Bucharest and graduated with master’s degree in hydro-technique in 1959, working afterwards in planning, fieldwork and research. He has devoted himself to writing since 1974.
Manea’s literary debut took place in Povestea Vorbii (The Tale of Word, 1966), an avant-garde and influential magazine that appeared in the early years of cultural liberalization in communist Romania and was suppressed after six issues. Until he was forced into exile (1986) he published ten volumes of short fiction essays and novels. His work was an irritant to the authorities because of the implied and overt social-political criticism and he faced a lot of trouble with the censors and the official press. At the same time that sustained efforts were made by the cultural authorities to suppress his work, it had the support and praise of the country’s most important literary critics.
After the collapse of the Ceaușescu dictatorship, several of his books started to be published in Romania. The publication in a Romanian translation of his essay Happy Guilt, which first appeared in The New Republic, led to a nationalist outcry in Romania, which he in turn has analysed in depth in his essay Blasphemy and Carnival. Echoes of this scandal can still be found in some articles of the current Romanian cultural press.
Meantime, in the United States and in European countries, Manea’s writing was received with great acclaim. Over the past two decades he has been proposed as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature by literary and academic personalities and institutions in the United States, Sweden, Romania, Italy and France. Important contemporary writers expressed admiration of the author’s literary work and his moral stand before and after the collapse of communism: the Nobel laureates Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, Octavio Paz, Orhan Pamuk, as well as Philip Roth, Claudio Magris, Antonio Tabucchi, E. M. Cioran, Antonio Munoz Molina, Cynthia Ozick, Louis Begley and others.