Recommended reading on Romania?
August 20, 2015 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Romania next summer for a wedding and I want to learn more about the country, it's people and their culture. Since my travel itinerary will be decided for me I'm excluding travel guides (unless one of you insists that they are indispensable). What I'm interested in are good popular histories, novels set there or written by Romanian authors, or any other books you think would help me understand the place better.
posted by drzz to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Anything from Mircea Eliade and Marin Preda should get you started.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:56 PM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Know who Ilie Năstase is. Even though it's been 40 years since Năstase was at the top of his game he remains a national hero as the best tennis player to ever come out of Romania.

Invariably when I meet someone from Romania, they ask me if I have heard of him and I always get a surprised smile when I say "You mean the man who beat Stan Smith and Björn Borg in the Wimbleton finals?"
posted by three blind mice at 1:04 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, you will hear so many references about Dracula that you might want to read Bram Stoker's Dracula.
posted by Kwadeng at 2:06 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Herta Müller, the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, while German-speaking, was born in Romania and lived there under the Ceaușescu regime. Many of her books focus on that time. I read The Appointment (in French, so I can't comment on the quality of the English translation), and liked it, though it's not exactly light reading.
posted by snakeling at 2:40 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you’re not averse to poetry, some authors to look at might include Nina Cassian, Marin Sorescu and Ana Blandiana.
posted by misteraitch at 3:48 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia link that has a broad overview and offers many Romanian rabbit holes to fall down and then explore: Culture of Romania
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:57 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

For the WWII era, I recommend The Great Fortune and The Spoilt City, the first two volumes of Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy. (You may as well go ahead and get the whole trilogy, because you're going to get hooked and want to find out what happens to Guy and Harriet.)
posted by languagehat at 6:00 AM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've always been interested in what's been up with the Roma in Romania. Bury Me Standing has some issues but it's a really interesting read as a jumping off point. I liked The Historian which is a mystery book (sort of a long one) which looks into the (somewhat imagined) history of Vlad the Impaler. Eminescu's poetry is worth looking at. He was on the money (as in on the bills, not right about his views which were often racist). His views are not unproblematic. Ionesco and Codrescu are people you might actually enjoy reading. Codrescu's book The Hole in the Flag: a Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution is very readable.

Do you know where you will be? Many of the destinations in Romania have their own interesting and sort of stories (Iași is very near Moldova, Timișoara was the birthlace of the revolution, Braşov is all about the "Dracula castle) and people could suggest stuff that would take place where you are.
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Jessamyn on different stuff for different regions (and different interests - for example, I could recommend quite a bit if you are into Romanian literature until cca 30 years ago, but not much recent stuff, etc. Also, if you read anything other than English - a lot of stuff in German, for example, especially on Transylvania. I could also hook you up with a good Facebook feed thing in German).

Also, feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions - I live in Sibiu, Transylvania, and my knowledge of other parts is fairly hazy, but I can ask around, plus I have opinions!

Here some stuff:

Some Films:

Moartea domnului Lăzărescu. Depressingly accurate, more like a documentary than a feature film. My opinion: it’ll further your understanding of life in Romania and Romanians if you watch it like I did: I saw it as a homesick Romanian whilst in the UK, and remember noticing little bits of very 'lifelike' humour which did not survive the translation, and also glimpses of humanity in the darkness, frequently from the same source as the dehumanizing treatment the film focuses on.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. If the above was depressing, this one is ... more so. Also has a docu-feel about it. Whilst the actual events depicted (illegal abortion) are a thing of the (communist) past, the interpersonal dynamics are still there. On the positive side, you have the quiet, unassuming abnegation, on the negative side, the power relations, particularly the gender relations. It’s a good and illuminating film, but I can’t really recommend it, it's too harrowing.

On a somewhat lighter note (though still full of fuck-upedness of a different nature), you have California Dreamin’, a sort of war drama-comedy. A NATO military train headed to Kosovo gets stuck in a small Romanian train station because of bureaucracy and small-time functionary power-tripping.

Gadjo Dilo, a sort of French-Romania-US(?) co-production is enlightning re. Roma-Romanian relations. Sadly.

Quite a few others, if you are into films, listed here.


Lucian Boia (basic Wikipedia entry here) is a cultural historian; and quite a good source for the identity-narratives that are currently circulating/ have circulated until recently. His History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness blew my mind when I first read it a few years ago. I haven’t read Romania, but have heard good things about it. If you read in languages other than English, he’s been translated a lot into French and Spanish, some Dutch as well, I think. I definitely recommend him as an alternative to the other rather nationalistic texts on Romanian history out there. Or the overly jaded views on current Romanian issues (not that these are inaccurate necessarily, but it can become too much after a while).

Corneliu Leu Elective Affinities. Don’t know the writer, but had him recommended.

Anything by Emil Cioran. To really understand (a lot of) Romania, you need to really, really get him and with him first, and only AFTER decide that enough is enough and that he can be quite annoying.

Amazon page of Mircea Cărtărescu.

An English friend sent me this. Haven’t read it, but it sounds interesting.

Oddly enough, when I am away from home one of the writers who feels very ‘Romanian’ is Milan Kundera. Maybe there is a kind of Easter European perfume to his books or something.

Some translated poems by M. Eminescu, the big Romantic 'national' poet. People will be impressed that you know of him.

Some other English translations on the same website; here is the link for Nichita Stănescu, my personal favourite .

There are also Romanian jokes, theater, fairy tales, carols, music on the same site.

Dennis Deletant is a UK scholar and author who published some Romanian language books as well as a number of studies on modern history. The link is to his Amazon page; prices are prohibitive, but maybe you’ll get lucky.


Big one for folk music is Maria Tanase. You’ll probably hear a lot of folk music if you go to a wedding, though not probably her. Still, she is a good reference point for the kind of rhythms etc. you might expect.

Other folk singers I like/ have recently seen (all are on youtube):

Sofia Vicoveanca from Moldova, here one of her best-known songs (very old recording), Nicolae Furdui Iancu (good singer, but kind of annoys me for uber-patriotic feelings, so won’t link, but he's worth checking out), Maria Butaciu Povestea puiului de cerb (have someone translate this to you over a glass of wine – tears guaranteed), Ioan Bocșa (essentially a song about cheating; for once though, the comments are mostly positive, all about the wonderful Romanian soul, WTF!), Mioara Velicu (song about having a painful back and curing it by dancing), Grigore Leșe, Dumitru Fărcaș. There's tons, actually, and this could get quite boring, so I'll stop now.

Here’s a good general playlist. This is a good channel for Romanian folk music, some hidden gems.

Do let me know if you want more stuff - I tried to restrain myself!

PS Another good search term is Taraful din Clejani. For music, I mean.
posted by miorita at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

« Older Is Facebook rummaging through my phone?   |   Internet access icon for iPhone Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.