Beautiful & misunderstood: British journalist explains Romania to foreigners in new book
Veteran BBC journalist Paul Kenyon’s latest book, Children of the Night: The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania, seeks to explain Romania to foreigners, looking back into the country's history from the Romans to Ceaușescu.
Kenyon arrived in Romania in 1994 “as an adventurer-correspondent of the old school,” looking forward to telling the story of a land undergoing dramatic changes. Post-revolutionary Romania was home to democratic hopes obtained through bloodshed, omnipresent communist blocks, and a 136% inflation rate.
Prodding Bucharest’s underside, the journalist found glimpses “into the true essence of the country; exotic, daring, cosmopolitan, a crossroads between East and West, a kaleidoscopic mix of cultures and ethnicities whose most ancient peoples could trace their blood back to Ancient Rome."
Intoxicated, not only with the country but also with the one who would become his wife and to whom he would dedicate the book in question, Kenyon kept coming back to Romania over the years. He says that Romania is “the most beautiful and misunderstood country in all of Europe, a land of adventure and romance,” a place of great history, and yet bursting with change.
Since then, Kenyon has become a best-selling author and a BAFTA-winning journalist, reporting from danger zones around the world, most recently in Ukraine in 2022. He says Romania’s history is rich with strange, colorful characters.
During the book launch, which took place at the British ambassador’s residence in Bucharest to a select auditorium made up of members of the political, cultural, and diplomatic elites, Kenyon drew a parallel between the recently passed Queen Elizabeth II and Romania’s own Queen Maria, a British import herself.
Kenyon says Romania’s political elites have tried to line their own pockets from times immemorial, lacking the notion of public service, something that Queen Elizabeth and Queen Maria both shared. He believes that public service is still in its infancy in Romania, much as it is in other young democracies across the world.
Prefaced with explicative maps showing Romania’s history as a land nestled between three empires – Ottoman, Austrian and Russian –, Kenyon’s book is not only a love letter to Romania, but also an introduction to the country meant primarily for those who don’t know it intimately.
Informative, but narrated in a personal tone, Children of the Night might find a larger audience than similar books, like Robert D. Kaplan’s In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond or Keith Hitchens’ The Romanians series. Less academic and more akin to Sir Patrick O’Brien’s 1854 Journal of a Residence in the Danubian Principalities, Children of the Night should find its way onto numerous nightstands, and even those most familiar with Romania and its history could find themselves unable to put it down.
(Photo source: Paul Kenyon Twitter)