I Must Betray You
by Ruta Sepetys
Hardcover- $14.99

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  "" by ebach (see profile) 01/31/22

At a neighborhood picnic last summer, one of my neighbors introduced himself in his accented voice and said that he's from Romania. "Have you heard of it?" he asked.

I was surprised he asked me that and said, "Of course!"

He told me that most people he talked to in the United States didn't know that Romania exists, let alone its history.

And that is why Ruta Sepetys wrote I MUST BETRAY YOU. People need to know about Romania and its little-known history, in particular 1989, when, after many years of Communist rule and Stalin-like repression, its citizens finally revolted and overthrew Ceau?escu.

But I MUST BETRAY YOU is historical fiction. It is about a 17-year-old boy, Cristian, who lives in Communist Romania and takes part in the revolution. While Cristian is fiction, the history is fact.

Cristian lives with his family in a concrete apartment block, where the Communist rulers have decided they and their neighbors should live. Communist rulers make all decisions; there is no freedom. There is also very little heat and electricity. And no one can trust anyone, not even their own family members.

Just before Christmas 1989 Cristian hears that others are revolting, and he joins them. Many years later, when archives are accessible, he learns hard facts about his family, facts they felt were necessary for their safety under Communism.

Although I MUST BETRAY YOU is classified as a young adult novel, Sepetys is known as a crossover author. That is, adults as well as young adults read and enjoy her books.

As an adult, I can honestly say, I found this book both interesting and unputdownable. And that, from me, says a lot. I have not enjoyed young adult books since I was 13. I resisted reading Sepetys's other books for that reason, but now I will.

I won this book from bookishfirst.com.

  "Heartbreaking historic fiction about a country we know little about." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 02/10/22

I Must Betray You, Ruta Sepetys, author; Edoardo Ballerini, narrator
This author has a knack for bringing interesting history, not often widely known, to the young adult audience. She writes with a style that is easy for them to identify with and enjoy, as they learn about different cultures and ways of life. This story is brutal, however, and probably needs to be read with appropriate guidance. Romanians lived through almost two and a half decades of a dictatorship that robbed them of their ability to think, speak or move about freely. They were under the yoke of the rule of sadistic monsters who lived high on the hog while the citizens scrounged for their basic needs and feared for their lives almost every day because of the ruthless, draconian rules. The world leaders, as they did during the Holocaust, chose to overlook, or turn a blind eye to simply not see what was really occurring in Romania. The reality they believed they witnessed and the leaders they welcomed, did not reveal anything, whatsoever, that had anything to do with the real brutal life there or the suffering of its people. Creature comforts were unavailable. Food was scarce. Enemies were everywhere, driven to terrible behavior by a drastic need to get something to help them to survive. Betrayal became commonplace for all.
Using a teenager able to think for himself because of the encouragement of his free thinking, independent grandfather, who became a victim of this horrific dictatorship, the author reveals the artificial shroud surrounding every citizen of the country, as almost everyone had eyes on everyone else. It was impossible, however, to protect oneself. Because of the awful conditions, people, friends, family members, betrayed each other to gain some benefit, so small that it could be for a pack of Kent cigarettes that could be used to bribe corrupt, sadistic officials in order to get some extra access, even for a bit of cooking oil or something so important like lifesaving drugs. Women were used as baby machines, men were work horses, children were brainwashed with propaganda, but fear is what conquered an entire population. People were arrested, people disappeared, people were beaten and tortured and there was no one to turn to for help. From the time the vicious, uneducated Ceausescu’s and their followers took over, until their executions, life was brutally and shamefully almost unsurvivable in Romania, and largely unknown to the rest of the world.
The story is told through the eyes of Cristian, a 17-year-old who has never known any other life than that under the Ceausescu’s. When he is suddenly called to the principal’s office and questioned by the Securitate, he is forced to become an informer, partly to save his grandfather from his life-threatening illness, and partly to save himself and his family from punishment. It is almost impossible to obey all the rules, so most people secretly disobey some. He has been turned in for possessing a foreign stamp and an American dollar. He does not realize how many informers there are in his country, nor does he understand that almost everything he and his family does is written down in a file and stored to be used to coerce them into obedience. They have no secrets. He has no idea who is really watching him, but he knows that someone has betrayed him. Whom can he trust? It turns out that he can trust almost no one, and almost everything he does is illegal.
In a country that has no heat in the winter, little food, erratic electricity, starving dogs that attack humans for sustenance, and no exposure to the outside world to compare their lives with the lives of others, Cristian suddenly learns about life elsewhere when he meets the son of the American family his mom works for as housekeeper. Now he learns about the secret police in his own country and all that he has to fear and do to stay safe.
When the Romanian Revolution finally takes place, it overwhelms the establishment, as the citizens, students and military finally rise up to face the demons who lived in the castle while they lived the life of cavemen. Still, supporters of the government held on even after the Ceausescu’s were gone, and for years after, corrupt elements of society ruled the country and its people so they continued to suffer.

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