Great books about Romania in English

So far we have published four lengthy reviews of great books about Romania in English:

Romania: Borderland of Europe By Lucian Boia

Rates of Exchange By Malcolm Bradbury

Romania and the European Union: How the Weak Vanquisjed the Strong By Tom Gallagher

Along the Enchanted Way By William Blacker

Over the next couple of months we would like to get that number up to ten or so, and to come up with a list which – if not definitive – will at least constitute an essential Romanian reading list of about ten books anyone looking to understand the country should read.

Other suggestions so far include:

Kyra Kyralina by Panait Istrati

The Hooligan’s Return by Norman Manea

A History Of The Roumanians by R. W. Seton-Watson

Please feel free to add any more ideas of your own…

24 thoughts on “Great books about Romania in English

  1. Another good book, although is this one:

    Although it’s meant as a Travel Guide, it’s much more than that. And, the best part about it, is that it’s written by an American who, like you, already has a life in Romania (in another city, Cluj), has already seen a LOT of the country, and likes to say things straight forward.

    His blog is quite good too.

    P.S. As a “Bucurestean”, being away for 9 months already, I’m itching BADLY to come back for my 2 weeks vacation ! Someway, somehow, I am Bucharest intoxicated. Probably one of the few people in Bucharest that actually love the city 🙂


  2. One of my favourite books about Romania is ATHENE PALACE by Countess Waldeck (I forgot her first name). It’s a fascinating account of Romania in 1940 when the author, a German-Jew who was naturalised as an American and came here with AP. Although a Jew she managed to converse openly with the German commanders, as well as the other key players, and the fact that she wasn’t deported or shot says something about Romania’s ambiguous status in WW2.

    She manages to convey a light tone that is also historically relevant and is much more interesting to read than the depressing Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning.

    But my absolute number one favourite book about Romania has to be DRACULA by Bram Stoker. Okay it’s not really “about” Romania, but it is set here and it’s a surprisingly good read for a Victorian novel.


  3. Hello Craig!

    I very much like this initiative! I suggest some great classics of Romanian literature:

    Enigma Otiliei (Otilia’s Enigma) by George Calinescu (1938)

    A story in the style of Balzac, with many typological (and memorable) characters in the Bucharest before the WWI. Plots of a family trying to get their hands on the money of an old man, and a nice romance between a young idealist student in medicine and the girl of the old man.

    Morometii (The Moromets) by Marin Preda (vol. I 1955, vol. II 1967)

    If I had to choose one novel in Romanian literature, I would choose this one.
    The universe of a Romanian village from the Danube Plain, a universe well known by the author who was born in a village in Teleorman. A traditional peasant community seen as a “miraculous” world, settled, led by old rules and common sense, eternal. I don’t mean it is an idyllic world. There are wonderful scenes, like the family’s morning departure to the field, to reap the wheat, or the peasants discussing the news in front of the blacksmith’s workshop. This world is crumbling on the eve of WWII. In the second volume (published in 1967), the village is presented in the postwar period, the beginning of collectivization and communist propaganda. It is not as good as the first volume, but very interesting because it concerns the early communism period in the countryside.
    The central character of the book, Ilie Moromete, is magnificent, a character of universal class.

    Ultima noapte de dragoste, intaia noapte de razboi (Last Night of Love, First Night of War) by Camil Petrescu, 1930

    A book consisting of two parts. The first part is a love romance between two husbands, who were poor students when met each other, but the entry in the fashionable world, through inherited wealth, will make their relationship gradually deteriorate, until they split up and divorce. The second part evokes significant scenes from the front during the WWII. It is an intellectual drama of lucidity, of jealousy, with a man eager for love, honor and truth.
    It is a social, psychological and documentary novel, very evocative for that epoch (Bucharest well presented) and intelligently written.

    What do you think? Maybe I will come up with more.


  4. I am sorry, I proposed some Romanian novels, without thinking whether there are English translations available for them or not.
    I totally agree with the suggestions made on Facebook:
    Mihail Sebastian’s Journals, The Story of My Life by Queen Marie of Romania, Kira Kiralina by Panait Istrati and anything by Mircea Eliade.

    After a little search on the internet I’ve found out about the following existing translations of Romanian literature in English, all very good ones:
    Moara cu noroc (“The Lucky Mill”) by Ioan Slavici

    Antologie de nuvele romanesti (“Romanian Stories”) translated by Lucy Byng, a compilation of stories by Costache Negruzzi, Ion Creangă, Ioan Slavici, I.L Caragiale, Mihail Sadoveanu, Ioan Alexandru Brătescu Voineşti and Marcu Breza. It seems perfect!

    Izvor, tara salciilor (Izvor, the Willows Land) of Martha Bibescu, published in English for a number of times. I’ve never read it, but I would like very much to.

    And there is even an English version of Amintiri din copilărie by Ion Creanga (“Recollections of Childhood”) also translated by Lucy Byng, issued in New York in 1930.

    As for the history books, I know a very valuable one, but I don’t know whether it was translated or not: Istoria Romaniei by Mihai Barbusecu, Dennis Deletant, Keith Hitchins, Serban Papacostea and Pompiliu Teodor.

    That’s all for now…


  5. Here is a book which may interest you, though I wouldn’t call it a “great” book. Romance Language by Alan Elsner.

    It is a historical romantic fiction novel set at the time of the 1989 revolution. Without giving too much away, the plot goes like this: an American journalist falls madly in love on first sight with a Romanian poet in the full throes of the revolution, they are separated but not before a child is conceived, who later travels to Romania to get to know her father. The plot sounds promising if you are into romantic fiction, but the characters lack depth and both the style of writing and plot are way too cliched to lend the novel any credibility. Which is a shame because the author is familiar with Bucharest having spent some time there and the historical account seems to be fairly well researched and accurate, though I am far from an expert on this.

    So, I recommend this if you are a fan of romantic fiction, don’t have too high expectations of the credibility of the plot or depth of the characters, or greatly interested in 1989 revolution, otherwise give it a miss.


  6. I enjoyed foarte mult this book THE RETURN by Petru Popescu. He travels with Ceausecu as a journalist and later defects in the 70’s. Although he speaks and writes good English he still teaches himself to write in English so as to be published. Early 90’s travels back to Romania. He comes to grips with emotions at Cimitirul St. Vineri at his long dead twin brother’s grave and also his father’s. The brother lost to polio because the vaccine (though available) was withheld from the country. The father, cold and philandering, but always the writer was wanting some confirmations from the father. A really touching book.


  7. Did anyone suggest Between the Woods and Water by Patrick Leigh Fermur? Great descriptions of Romania between the wars. Very much a posh boy on his travels but a posh boy who can really write. Wonderful descriptions of a world long vanished and great depth of cultural and historical knowledge.


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