To quote the author:
“ …when adversity is drawn out of the shadows and recognized, we endure that human beings living under oppression – past and present – know they are not forgotten. Together we can shine a light in dark corners of the past. Together, we can give history a voice.”
The author hopes through the reading of her book, readers will be inspired to research the fall of communism in Europe and the incredible fortitude and bravery of the Romanian people. This fictional story is based on a time in our recent past when the people of Romania lived under the brutal Ceausescu regime. The author paints a vivid picture of what life was like, and although the people endured much deprivation, the worst was the atmosphere of fear and suspicion thrust upon them when the regime forced citizens to become informers. No one was above suspicion, not even family and close friends.
In this fictional story, seventeen-year-old Cristian is forced to become an informer when he is found with an illegal American dollar bill. We see Cristian’s mental anguish as he navigates this new secret life, and the effect on his relationships and sense of self. The choice before him: betray everyone he knows or do what he can to undermine the regime. His first-person narrative is interspersed with reports on him from the Securitate, the secret police of Romania.
Despite the regime’s efforts, contraband made its way into Romania in the form of magazines, books, and movies, which exposed the young people to a world beyond their borders and gave them a hint of what it was like to be free. Cristian was also exposed to the ways of the West through his mother’s work cleaning for an American diplomat. In 1989, when they heard the news that communist countries around them had fallen, it was a spark of hope, and the beginnings of what would be a bloody revolution. History tells us that the regime fell, but the price was high. The epilogue takes place 20 years later, when Cristian is able to access the historical archives and discovers some shocking truths. It was a tense and sobering end to the book.
This is teen historical fiction, but I very much enjoyed it, despite it not being my preferred genre. This was an exception. The chapters are short, and the plot fast-moving, especially in the last half. I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. His relationships with his family, especially his much beloved grandfather, were endearing. He has the typical teenage concerns overshadowed by this brutal life. This would be an excellent book in a school curriculum or for parents to read and discuss along with their teen, as a starting point to learn more.
I applaud the author shedding a light on this dark time in history. In the author notes, she highlights the amount of research she did to ensure her story was historically accurate. I’m old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism and recall the Romanian uprising in the news. In 2019, my husband and I also had the opportunity to visit a Communist museum in a former Eastern Bloc nation, a memorial in the actual building where atrocities took place. Included were video recordings of those imprisoned, interrogated, or tortured. It was a devastating experience, but one we were glad to experience. History that is forgotten is doomed to be repeated.
The deep desire to be a free people is built into the human spirit. In 1989 the Romanian citizens rose up against a totalitarian government. Although the circumstances aren’t the same, we are currently watching the events play out on our TV screens as average Ukrainian citizens rise up against the Soviet invaders, using all means at their disposal to defend their right to be free.
*This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, be sure to read her review to see what she thought!
Looking back on history is as the author says a way to both remember and learn, to try and stop atrocities, to be aware that things can happen under the cloak of suspicion, fear, and the manipulations of the press, the new sources, and the population. Romanians living in the country while it was still under Communist rule, know exactly what a terror filled life produces.
If communism is Paradise, why do we need barriers, walls, and laws to keep people from escaping?”
Ruta Sepetys takes us there in the year 1989, and introduces us to a young man, Cristian Florescu. Only seventeen, he and his family have lived under the terrible dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a ruthless man who has dominated his nation through force, fear, starvation, and deprivation. He has closed off the country and turned the secret police into weapons, threatening the populace, inducing people through fear to spy on one another. Neighbor turns on neighbor, children against family, and even husband against wife. Cristian has a dream but he realizes that Romania is a dreamless country, but his beloved grandfather inspires him. But the police engineer a way to drawn Cristian into the maw and by blackmailing him, Christian becomes what he hates. The stakes are high and Cristian finds himself caught in a web of who do you trust?
He wants to be free; others want to be free and as news trickles around Europe about other Communist satellites breaking free, he has hope. As revolution approaches, Cristian wants to save those around him especially a girl he has fallen in love with. However, revelations are about to come as he and thousands of other rises up against the totalitarians they have been ruled by. It’s a bloody battle, many in fact, but freedom is within their grasp.
“The State controls the amount of food we eat, our electricity, our transportation, the information we receive.”
This is a YA book that packs a punch. Ruta Sepetys creates an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, want, and loss. She vividly portrays what it was like living under a despot and the Communist way of life. She effectively points out how the elites lived magnificent lives while the commoners suffered and struggled. It is a story our young people should acquaint themselves with, especially those who think communism is the way to govern.
Jan and I were quite moved by this story, and enjoyed our few hours spent reading it. It’s short but definitely manages to make one aware that what was in the past can happen again if we are not vigilant citizens.
Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were convicted of genocide as it was believed that 60,000 people met their deaths under his vile rule. He and his wife were executed and were put to death by a firing squad in 1989.