The Brown Bag Book Club will meet in person at Parr Library on Thursday, April 27, at noon, to discuss I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Across Eastern Europe, communist regimes are beginning to collapse from within. Yet under the oppressive and megalomaniac dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania exists in a bleak and grey dystopia. The central protagonist is teenage Christian Florescu, who aspires to be a writer. However, he is coerced by the secret police to become an informer, reporting on the family that lives in the American embassy (where his own mother is employed as a maid).
Christian is nonetheless secretly defiant, and does his best to maintain relationships where everyone is under a veil of suspicion, even family members. The one person close to Christian that openly champions the cause of liberty and free thinking is his grandfather Bunu, who is old and ailing. He also starts a romantic relationship with a shy classmate Liliana, all the while struggling with his conscience to keep hidden that he is being blackmailed by the government. The fact that the secret police is the only conduit for his grandfather’s medicine further strains his resolve and psyche.
All the while, tensions are swelling throughout the country, as Romania balances on the precipice of a revolution. Ruta Sepetys vividly evokes a grim narrative of a nation haunted by repression, censorship, and toxic mistrust. Ultimately, the collective yearning for liberation prevails.
Part espionage thriller and part bildungsroman, Ruta Sepetys’ fifth novel, I Must Betray You, focuses on a lesser-known aspect of Cold War history and provides a window into the chilling reality of 1980s Romania, the dictator who fooled the world and the events that led to his downfall.
The novel is a master class in pacing and atmosphere. Much of the book unfolds slowly, creating a foreboding sense of rising tension, until the dam suddenly breaks. Months of caution and paranoia cascade into a frightening series of bloody protests.
As a writer of historical fiction, Sepetys’ greatest strength is her dedication to research. The novel’s diaristic tone and its laser focus on one boy and one country’s story don’t leave much space for the broader context of historical communism and Marxist ideologies within the narrative, though copious endnotes are packed with tales from Sepetys’ research trips across Romania, photos from the period that offer profound visuals and plentiful source notes.
“When we don’t know the full story, sometimes we create one of our own,” Cristian writes in the novel’s final moments. “And that can be dangerous.” I Must Betray You makes its potent message clear: If the truth sets us free, its power comes from how we choose to wield it. – BookPage
Ruta Sepetys (Rūta Šepetys) is an internationally acclaimed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction published in over sixty countries and forty languages. Her books have won or been shortlisted for over forty book prizes, are included on over thirty state reading lists, and are currently in development for film and television.
Ruta is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. Born in Michigan, she was raised in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She has been invited to present at NATO, European Parliament, the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, and Embassies worldwide. She was awarded The Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Fellowship for her studies on human resilience. The New York Times Book Review declared, “Ruta Sepetys acts as champion of the interstitial people so often ignored—whole populations lost in the cracks of history.”
Ruta lives with her family in the hills of Tennessee.