This book was one of my most-anticipated releases from 2022, and it did not disappoint!
Book Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
About the Book
Title: I Must Betray You
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):
“Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.
Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?“
Ruta Sepetys has been one of my favorite authors since I began reading her books in 2020. I love how she writes about “hidden history,” how her books appeal to both teens and adults, and how every time I read one, I come away feeling like there are so many gaps in my knowledge of history that it’s pretty much unfathomable.
I believe history is one of the most important subjects to study, because, as they say “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Humanity really never seems to get over its classic pitfalls, and it’s vital that we are aware of history so that we are able to learn from past mistakes and, you know, not make them again. There are so many things that I can’t believe that we don’t learn about in school here in the US.
Anyway, I Must Betray You follows a 17-year-old boy, Cristian, living under Romania’s communist dictatorship in 1989. I don’t know much about Romania, and I certainly did not know about this part of their history.
“If communism is Paradise, why do we need barriers, walls, and laws to keep people from escaping?”
From 1947 to 1989, Romania existed as the Socialist Republic of Romania, adopting the governmental style of the Soviet Union. In 1965, Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and established a “neo-Stalinst” regime. Citizens had very little freedom and the quality of life was very bad.
Reading this book, I was shocked at everything that had been going on in Romania at this time and that I had never heard of. There’s the classic communism bread lines, 1984-style government surveillance and a network of citizens coerced to inform upon one another. Truly a dystopian hell, and yet… I never knew it happened before I read this book. No idea at all.
“The State controls the amount of food we eat, our electricity, our transportation, the information we receive.”
I could tell how well-researched the book was, and the crushing atmosphere could practically be felt through the page (in a good way.)
At times the messages of the book felt slightly heavy-handed and there was a shift in pacing between the beginning and the end, but I was sucked into the book right away and thought it was a great read.
I especially loved the plot point about Cristian’s journal, as well as the excerpts from it that were showcased throughout the book. It added a strong element of verisimilitude to the story, and also helped to accomplish that historical fiction thing I really like where the book makes you feel like maybe, just maybe, these people exist in real life and aren’t just fictional. They feel like they could be real.
“Will you remember me? A boy with wings of hope.
Strapped to his back.
That never had a chance to open, denied forever knowing,
What he could have become. What we all could have become.”
While this book review is not a spoiler review, I will also mention that I thought the ending was well-done. It feels marginally unfinished. There’s no neat and tidy ending.
But the thing is, there really is no way to finish a story like this. History doesn’t wait for you to catch up; it constantly continues to unfold. There are no neat bows or unconditional forgiveness or closure for everyone.
In conclusion, I would recommend I Must Betray You to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
(and also, to all the “but real communism has never been tried !!!” folks out there)
Have you read I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys? If so, what did you think of it?
Read My Other Reviews of Ruta Sepetys’ Books:
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