Romania's National Day: Books to consider for the upcoming break
The upcoming break occasioned by the public holidays of November 30 and December 1 can also be an opportunity to do some reading on Romania topics. We outline below some suggestions, from recent history books to translated Romanian fiction and personal accounts of experiences in the country.
Children of the Night. The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania by Paul Kenyon
Paul Kenyon, an award-winning journalist who reported from danger zones around the world, first arrived in Romania in 1994 "as an adventurer-correspondent of the old school." The country piqued his interest and, having personal reasons to return as well, he kept coming back to Romania over the years. He calls Romania "the most beautiful and misunderstood country in all of Europe," and his 2021 book Children of the Night, recently released in Romanian translation, takes readers through the country's history, with a focus on the 20th century and some of its leaders. In a "gallery of bizarre characters and movements," the book showcases figures such as King Carol II, the antisemitic Iron Guard leader Corneliu Codreanu, general Ion Antonescu, who oversaw two successive wartime dictatorships, and Nicolae Ceaușescu. More on the book here.
In Search of Romania by Dennis Deletant
Historian Dennis Deletant, who this May received Romanian citizenship, published this year another book on Romania, chronicling his first-hand experience of the country during the Communist era. In Search of Romania invites readers to ponder life under Ceaușescu's dictatorship, with all the challenges individuals had to face, the role of oppressive institutions like the political police Securitate, and the legacy of that era in the country's transition to democracy.
Deletant's other books on the country include Romania under Communist Rule; Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-89; Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 1948-65; Hitler's Forgotten Ally. Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania, 1940-1944; and British Clandestine Activities in Romania during the Second World War.
Romania's Holy War: Soldiers, Motivation, and the Holocaust by Grant T. Harward
Author Grant T. Harward used his time as a Fulbright scholar in Romania in 2016-2017 to research this dark episode in the country's history. Making use of official military records, wartime periodicals, soldiers' diaries and memoirs, and interviews with veterans, the book addresses "the myth that Romania was a reluctant member of the Axis during World War II" and looks at the motivations of the Romanian soldiers who supported the war against 'Judeo-Bolshevism.' The book won the 2022 Barbara Jelavich Book Prize, awarded by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).
Rakes of the Old Court by Mateiu Caragiale
Mateiu Caragiale's 1929 novel, an iconic work of Romanian modernism, was released in English last year, translated by Sean Cotter. The work, which follows four characters through the bars and brothels of Bucharest, opens a fictional door to a "Levantine" city starting with its motto: "Que voulez-vous, nous sommes ici aux portes l'Orient, oú tout est pris á la légére"- Raymond Poincaré (We are here at the gates of the Orient, where everything is taken lightly). The novel was voted the best of Romanian literature in a 2001 survey by cultural magazine Observator Cultural, a testament to its enduring appeal and impact.
A Stake in Transylvania by Arabella Mcintyre-Brown
A personal experience of Romania shines through in this book by the British writer who moved from the UK to a village near Brașov. A Stake in Transylvania is the English-language edition of her 2016 book Din Liverpool în Carpati. It explains why she decided to move to a remote mountain village in the Carpathians, and why she felt at home here. A Romania Insider profile of the author is available here.
Ronald Mackay, who taught at the Foreign Languages Faculty of the University of Bucharest in the 1960s, describes his experiences of the country in The Kilt behind the Curtain: A Scotsman in Ceaușescu's Romania. An interview with the author is here.