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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 8 months, 1 week ago

24 January 2023 I MUST BETRAY YOU by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel, February 2022, 336p., ISBN: 978-1-9848-3603-8


“Under the spreading chestnut tree

I sold you and you sold me

There lie they, and here lie we

Under the spreading chestnut tree”

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)


“I always feel like somebody's watching' me

And I have no privacy

I always feel like somebody's watching' me

Who's playing tricks on me?”

– Rockwell (1984)


“Totalitarianism is a form of government and a political system that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual and group opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high if not complete degree of control and regulation over public and private life. It is regarded as the most extreme and complete form of authoritarianism. In totalitarian states, political power is often held by autocrats, such as dictators (totalitarian dictatorship) and absolute monarchs, who employ all-encompassing campaigns in which propaganda is broadcast by state-controlled mass media in order to control the citizenry.”

– Wikipedia




For me, I MUST BETRAY YOU was a visceral experience, not merely a read. Set in Bucharest, Romania in the fall of 1989, seventeen year-old student and aspiring writer Cristian Florescu is blackmailed by the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. He is compelled to spy and inform on his family, friends, and neighbors, and on the family of a Bucharest-based American diplomat.


Like the best historical fiction, this first-person story brings the reader into another time and place. It is agonizing to read about how the people are deliberately deprived of food, medicine, electricity, and consumer goods by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. News, books, TV, and music are controlled or unavailable. Family members routinely take turns waiting for hours in shop lines to get scraps of food. 


Meanwhile, Cristian, his family, friends, and neighbors constantly feel the never-ending squeeze of not knowing who is watching them and reporting them to the secret police. What could they be reported for? Any of Ceausescu’s million little rules. Imagine being deprived of every right enumerated in the American Bill of Rights. Imagine sustaining yourself on watered-down broth and crumbs of bread for days on end. And imagine being a hormonal teenager coming of age and trying to survive under such an unforgiving and barbarous system.


I MUST BETRAY YOU begins just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall and the Communist governments in Europe surrounding Romania are heading for successful revolutions. Cristian and others surreptitiously listen to the news on illegal radios, wondering what will take place in Romania. The action ramps up and becomes breathtaking as they become immersed in the tidal wave of revolution. Young, unarmed teens and university students eventually take on Ceausescu’s military and help bring about the downfall and execution of the dictator. 


Pay particular attention to Bunu, Cristian’s beloved grandfather and mentor, who lives with Cristian, his sister Cici, and their parents in a tiny apartment. (Cristian’s bedroom is literally a closet.) Bunu is a sharp old cookie who is recognized as a threat to the regime.


Middle schoolers and teens are the target audience for this gripping, impeccably-researched, not-to-be-missed historical fiction saga. Many will become excited by learning about another period in history and will become sensitized to authoritarianism in all its guises. .


The brutality of the Ceaușescu regime, juxtaposed against the universal experience of Cristian and his friends in adolescence, in the days before and during the Romanian revolution, make this a breathtaking read you will not soon forget.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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