Written by reporter Sheilah Kast and her husband Jim Rosapepe, the US ambassador to Romania under President Clinton, this examination and explanation of the formerly communist country offers a view of the country that goes beyond Dracula, Romanian orphanages, and dictator Ceausescu. Kast and Rosepepe specifically set out to illuminate a country, defined by Americans, if they can define it at all, by just a few small bits of history and a now out of date media focus.
Organized regionally, with each chapter concentrating on a different region of the country, Kast and Rosapepe have combined a heavy emphasis on Romania's political history and the people running the country now on the national, regional, and local levels with some anecdotes about their travels through the country while Rosapepe served as the US Ambassador. They offer up not only a different look at Romania than the decayed post-Communist country so many Americans think of, but present Romania as a vibrant, changing, up and coming place full of culture and friendship.
While in some sense the organization fits the book, in other ways it was somewhat confusing as there was no sense of when some of the encounters were happening as each region was so self-contained in the text. Especially in terms of the people in power and politics as it was happening, a better sense of a timeline would have been helpful. The politics overwhelmed the travelogue and regular joe bits of the book as well. And perhaps this was inevitable given Rosapepe's job and the inability to meet people as anyone other than as a foreign government official but it left me thinking that the Romania presented here is not the one that any other American would experience on a visit, an experience that would have been more interesting to me. Finally, I found it distracting, despite the explanation for it in the introduction, to have the point of view and narration change so precipitously, even within the same paragraph ranging from "Sheilah saw" to "Jim saw" to "we saw." This made for choppiness in the text and it probably wasn't strictly necessary for the reader to know exactly which of the authors had which experience. Or maybe it was and the choppiness was unavoidable. Still vaguely irritating though.
Over all, this was a good book about a little known to Americans, little understood country. I could have done with fewer political instances and more anecdotes but I am notoriously leery of any account of governmental politics, foreign or American. I also wish there had been more pictures of the actual people and places in Romania instead of just of Kast and Rosapepe in the country. I'll have to scour the internet for pictures of castles and churches, Bucharest and the countryside, the towns and the people. But in general, this is a book which will appeal to those who have a fascination with international politics and to those who want to know how a country decimated by Communism and a corrupt dictatorship is coming back from that heavy legacy.
Thanks to Bruce at Bancroft Press for sending me a review copy of this book.