I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

Opening Line: Fear arrived at five o’clock.

Cover of the book I Must Betray You by Ruta SepetysThe newest historical fiction from Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, the story of the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and Fountains of Silence, the story of Spain in 1957 while under rule of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Both books are available for check out at the library. I Must Betray You is the story of Cristian, a 17 year old living in Bucharest, Romania in 1989 as Nicolae Ceausescu uses fear to keep citizens in line.  Cristian lives in constant fear, and through being blackmailed, becomes an informer. This book is listed as young adult, but don’t let that fool you. The subject matter is heavy and does not shy away from what life was like in Romania at this time.

Cristian is fearful of everyone around him, and sees enemies everywhere. He is paranoid of the slightest sound, and sees danger no matter where he turns. His sister could be betraying him, his mother, his father, the girl he likes. Everyone is informing on everyone else. Nowhere is safe, no one is safe, and that’s exactly how the government likes it. This story is compelling in more ways than one, and picks up on a piece of history that isn’t as well known. Most people have studied the decline of communism in the form of the USSR, but Romania is often overlooked.

During the book, Cristian must keep secrets from those closest to him, as he attempts to befriend the son of an ambassador with access to select media from America, which shows Cristian a glimpse of the outside world he had never seen before. With courage and sheer force of will, Cristian, along with his friends Luca and Liliana secretly work against the government in an attempt to pursue freedom.

Fall of Communism Flag in Romania with Emblem ripped out
Photo from Vanderbilt University, courtesy of the Michelson Collection

Something that drew me to this book was the cover. I did some research into the flag, and after the fall of communism this was commonplace. Tearing the emblem from the center, leaving the flag with a large hole was another way citizens rebelled. The flag has gone back to what it was before, the blue, yellow, and red stripes, but this flag with the emblem missing is an important piece of history as well.

I recommend this book for anyone who likes history, regardless of age. The protagonists might be young adult, but the story and content can be educational at any age. The story is well written, the characters are insightful, and Sepetys has done her research, making for an immersive experience of what Romania was like in the fall and winter of 1989, all leading up to the revolution in December.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Review by Catherine Nevin

This book is available to Friend Memorial Library patrons. Click here to put the book on hold.

More Information:

Goodreads – I Must Betray you

Goodreads – Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You

Cover photo taken from goodreads.com