Culture, Travel & Sport

An introduction to Romania in five books

Romania. It’s come a long way these past 30 years, but can still often be the victim of awful, outdated stereotypes, from Dracula to stray dogs and abandoned orphans.

Make your own mind up about Romania by taking a literary journey through the country’s history, culture, politics and even food with these five very different and yet all compelling books, each offering a unique perspective on this often misunderstood nation.

The latest in our Five Essential Reads series, these five books each provide a unique lens through which to view Romania, whether through the intimate recounting of personal experiences, the thrilling pages of fiction, or the savoury exploration of its favourite dish.

In Search of Romania, by Dennis Deletant 

Few foreigners know Romania as well as Dennis Deletant, who in 2022 finally penned a memoir retelling a wide variety of vignettes from across six decades of travel to Bucharest and beyond. Deeply personal and at times wonderfully amusing, outrageous (in every sense of the word) characters abound but it’s often the everyday details of life in communist Romania that make this volume such a perfect description of a much-misunderstood country.  

Along the Enchanted Way, by William Blacker

A reactionary but highly readable memoir that is a love letter to the bygone ways of life in the Romanian countryside. Blacker lived among the Roma gypsies and Romanian peasants, immersing himself in their traditions and daily struggles. The book is a poignant reflection on the inevitable change brought by modernity to these secluded communities. It’s a narrative that’s both personal and profound, filled with vivid descriptions of the enchanting landscapes and the resilient spirit of the Romanian people.

Bottled Goods, by Sophie van Llewyn

Set during the 1970s, Bottled Goods is a novella that packs a powerful punch. Through the eyes of Alina, a young woman whose life is turned upside down by the defection of her brother-in-law, we experience the oppressive atmosphere of the time. Van Llewyn’s storytelling is sharp and concise, offering a glimpse into the complexities of family loyalty, freedom, and resistance. The book’s magical realism elements serve as a metaphor for the escapism that many Romanians yearned for during the stifling communist regime.

In Europe’s Shadow, by Robert D. Kaplan

Kaplan’s book is a profound examination of Romania’s complex past and its geopolitical significance. The author weaves a narrative that spans history, politics, and personal anecdotes, painting a multifaceted picture of the country. From ancient times through the dark days of communism and into its post-Cold War transformation, Kaplan’s insights into the Romanian psyche and the country’s strategic importance are both enlightening and thought-provoking.

The Making of Mămăligă, by Alex Drace-Francis

These are good times for mămăligă, a simple dish of polenta or porridge made with bright yellow maize flour that for centuries was a staple of the Romanian diet. Having been all but banished from the menus of urban Romania’s better restaurants for decades—deemed a peasant dish unworthy of sophisticated diners – it has recently made the most unlikely of comebacks. It can also boast this fascinating biography, which traces the complex history and cultural relevance of this most simple of dishes. 

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