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To Romania With Love Paperback – 31 May 2012
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'To Romania With Love is more than a snapshot of a strange country at a strange time; it is a vivid, impressionistic hymn to exuberance, of risks taken, of impulses acted upon. Humming with energy, it is at once touching and funny; a rare, brave and honest account of finding love and holding on to it' --Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph
'Tessa is a compelling writer and an equally compelling heroine: a young woman torn between her ambition and her love, between her sense of tradition and her extremely unconventional nature. An extraordinary achievement' --Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Oscar-Winning Director of The Lives of Others
'Fiercely honest, this story of love across a continent, from one end
of Europe to the other, is all the more compelling because it is true' --Professor Alice Roberts, TV Presenter and Author
'A unique and unusual love story, strikingly told, To Romania With Love is a moving account of an impetuous British girl and her love for a young boy and his beleaguered country' --Hugo Vickers, Biographer and Historian
About the Author
Tessa Dunlop was born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, and studied Modern History at Oxford. She became a broadcaster in the late 90s, and has since fronted history documentaries for Discovery, BBC, and American History Channel. She's currently presenter/historian on BBC2's Coast. She's written for the Times, Guardian, Independent and Mail, and is finishing a Masters at Sheffield Hallam University where her research subject is Queen Marie of Romania. To Romania With Love is her first book. She juggles her time between London, Scotland and Romania.
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I can't say I enjoyed the early chapters; the author's description of working in a Romanian orphanage pulls no punches but her writing style and honesty kept me reading. It's straightforward and factual and yet, and yet, ghastly as it was, still she wanted to return to Romania.
The subsequent story of her return and her meeting with the Toma family and her involvement in their lives is almost painfully honest. There were moments when I felt quite uncomfortable as I read the section where a woman in her mid-20s realises that she is falling for a 17-year old. Why should I feel this way? I don't know, but I had to remind myself that, if the age-difference were reversed, I wouldn't give it a thought. As I read on, the discomfort faded and I found myself rooting for Vlad and Tessa, wanting them to make their relationship work, longing for a happy ending.
I know a little more about Romania now than I did before. I doubt it'll ever be top of my list of places to visit but the observation of how ordinary people coped with the shift from communism to a free market economy does more to flesh out the news stories of the past two decades than anything else I've ever read.
In the end, this is a plain story of real people, love and tears and laughter. I finished it with a smile on my face and I'm glad I read it.
Basically, like most reviewers, I really like it - but with reservations. Dunlop uses first person narration to tell the tale, but occasionally moves into other viewpoints, Vlad's and others. It might have worked had the narrator kept tighter control over the shifting viewpoints, but she doesn't, and it makes for an, at times, awkward read. Tess's feelings for this Romanian boy sound more like infatuation to me - unsettling when you remember that this is a true story. In fact, I wonder whether it is Vlad she is infatuated with or Romania!
But the book still deserves a whopping four stars because it is exceptionally well written (viewpoints aside) with excellent diction, dialogue and a fast pace. The Rich Spoilt West versus Poor Big-hearted East cultural collision makes for a warm and humorous read. It's a marvellous vignette of Romania and her people.
For an author to win my trust, they must first show me (preferably on the first couple of pages), that irrespective of content, they can use language well. This was quickly achieved, here's an early paragraph:
"I didn't sleep that night. Instead I tasted small country apples, learnt please, thank you and I want in Romanian and pocketed several random addresses that all looked the same. I thrilled an old woman with a Murray Mint. Her naked guns contorted with joy and for a brief second she was a child again. I talked all night with no language; soon I was showing a young woman the contents of my bag. I held up a box of Tampax. She nodded sagely and pocketed two wrapped tampons as souvenirs."
We are not spared any of the horror of post-communist Romania, but the story is told through the lives of ordinary Rumanians whom she comes to know. Against the backdrop of an outlandishly dysfunctional country is a moving story of ordinary people struggling to survive and improve themselves, notably to learn English, which is seen as a passport to prosperity. Dunlop has a clear eye and manages to be emotional without being sentimental; we know we are making this journey in safe hands.
Her friendship with a twelve year old boy named Vlad becomes so close that she persuades a Scottish private school to take him on as a pupil, and gets her family to look after him between terms. Later he will come to play a very different role in the author's life, but I've no wish to betray a surprise ending.
This is a delightful, entertaining and beautifully written book which throws light on a country few of us know anything about. Try it, if you like being pleasantly surprised.
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