I MUST BETRAY YOU
Written by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Penguin, February 1, 2022
My star rating – 4.5 stars
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?
I feel like it’s been all too long since I’ve read a Ruta Sepety’s book! I love historical fiction and, I firmly believe, that she is one of the best historical fiction authors out there!! This one was no exception.
When you think historical fiction, you probably think World War 2. It’s the most common time period covered in the genre as far as I can tell. Of course she’s written books regarding World War 2 but, she’s covered so many other times and places around the world. United States in 1950, Spain in 1957, the Baltic Sea in 1945. In this book, we’re in Romania in 1989. An entire nation is struggling to survive under the fist of communism, wondering if the world knows how bad their life is. I was very young at the time of these events. Too young to understand or remember. So reading this was beyond interesting!
Cristian is a teenage boy living in a one bedroom apartment with his mother, father, sister, and grandfather. They live in fear, their every move being watched, wait in lines for hours for the smallest rations of food, never knowing when the electricity will be turned off, and always afraid to speak their minds. To make matters worse, the grandfather has leukaemia and seems to be worsening every day. Cristian is blackmailed to be an informer in exchange for medicine for his grandfather, forcing him to be one of the people he hates most.
The balancing act of being an informant was fantastic. He wanted to fight for his freedom. His grandfather is one of the most fearless and outspoken people he’s ever met and Cristian too shared the same thoughts. The first hand perspective of a characters inner turmoil kept me reading as quickly as I could. On one hand he had no choice. He was forced to give the government information or else him and his family would be punished. If he gave information, he could save his grandfather. But he wanted his freedom and kept nudging the boundaries of his duties to see what he could get away with and how he could turn the situation to his advantage. Even the smallest and most inconsequential things could force someone you love into being a target of the government. Cristian had to decide if he was going to remain quiet or fight. He had to decide if he was willing to face consequences and if their collective voice was loud enough to be heard.
In all her books, there is a common theme that I love. She speaks of revolutions, suffering, torture, war, and heartache. But, through all of this, she focuses on the fight. The unbreakable human spirit that can’t be contained. Love, loyalty, friendship, and family can overcome anything. People can come together to console and heal. They can also come together to form a voice and generate power.
The author always writes teenagers in a very realistic way. I’m not sure how to explain this but I’m going to try. Normal teenagers worry about things like relationships, school, parents, money, their future, and so on. The characters she writes about aren’t normal teenagers. Well, I mean they are, but they’re living in unusual circumstances. Instead of their worst fear being grounded and told they can’t hang out with their friends on a Friday night, these teenagers are fearful of their lives and wonder when they’re going to get their next meal. At times they seem normal and, at other times, they’re forced to be mature for their age. It’s really interesting to see the things that force their growth and the things that allow them to be a normal teenager.
As hard as it can be to read, I’m happy she’s so I afraid to hold back. This was raw, dark, and painful. An entire nation struggling to hold onto hope and live a life of freedom. There’s intricacies of family and country as well as knowing when to push and pull. I absolutely loved this!
Until next time, happy reading!