I Must Betray You

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history.

Book Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge Ruta Sepetys fan. I knew my library would purchase this book, but I still had to sit on my hands to keep from buying it on release day. As soon as my library had it available, I snapped it up.

Description

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu keeps his dreams and thoughts hidden in a secret notebook he hides beneath the floorboards in his family’s tiny, State-owned apartment. In Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical communist dictatorship, Romanians aren’t free to dream, and such a notebook is a death sentence, if discovered.

Amidst the growing isolation and fear, the secret police offer Cristian two choices: become an informer and gain much-needed medicine for his sick grandfather, or face the consequences of his crime—possessing foreign currency. Cristian carves out a third option: use his position to undermine the most evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to expose his country’s torment to the world, but he’s not the only informer in Romania. He’s not even the only informer in his own family.

Characters

Cristian describes himself as sarcastic and sharp, but in the totalitarian environment he lives in, that sarcasm rarely leaves his mouth. It hides on the pages of his notebook and in the depths of his thoughts. I wouldn’t label it sarcasm so much as poignant truths. His distaste for the government’s strictures creates tension with his need to protect his family—and the pretty girl in a neighboring building.

The other characters encompass a wide variety of reactions to tyranny—rebels, cowards, black market entrepreneurs, and the defeated, who live with no spark left in their eyes.

Plot

The plot moves at a heart-racing pace, following Cristian as he simultaneously informs on the American diplomat’s son while trying to communicate with the diplomat himself. The more he uncovers the truth, however, the more danger he is in. When revolution finally hits, Cristian learns the true cost of freedom.

Writing Style

 After reading a lot of sub-par free fantasy, this gem was a refreshing change. Ruta Sepetys is a master of mood and metaphor. The characters’ fear and tension come across in every word, and her prose is the perfect balance between efficient and artistic.

Conclusion

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history. It’s easy to look at the tyrannies of the past and dismiss them as far-off tragedies, but these events happened relatively recently—a poignant reminder that evil has no expiration date. With varied and deeply human characters and a plot packed with intrigue, I Must Betray You is a must-read.


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I Must Betray You

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Book Review: Out of the Easy

A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love just about everything Ruta Sepetys writes. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Cover Description

“It’s 1950s, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get into an elite college, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodly, the brusque madam on Conti Street.”

Characters

Josie is a kindhearted and sharp-witted bookworm willing to do whatever it takes to make more of herself than her callous mother believes she can. She is so relatable as a character, it feels like her string of bad luck could happen to anyone. Her foibles make her human—daydreaming about her imaginary respectable father, predicting which books customers will buy, trying to get herself out of trouble without harming the only people she considers family. Josie is sweet, but she had the grit to get through the challenges life throws at her, and she’s not afraid to pull out her pistol when needed. The other characters are as quirky as one can imagine in a tale set in a city that is itself a character.

Plot

The plot is a steady cascade of minor mistakes and bad luck that make you ache for poor Josie. In my head, I kept thinking, “Don’t do that!” but I understood why she made the choices she did. The intrigue builds at a solid pace, and Josie gets herself increasingly tangled in it. The story itself is very approachable. It depicts a brothel without being grossly erotic, a murder without being gory, a romance without being schmaltzy, and a class war without being stereotypical. The ending ties the loose ends without feeling forced. A great read from start to finish.

Writing Style

Ruta Sepetys writes with the perfect balance of beauty and clarity. Her prose is precise, and her descriptions delve deep into the narrator’s mindset. Characters leap off the page until you can pick which actors would play them in the movie.

Conclusion

Filled with intrigue and set in remarkable 1950s New Orleans, Out of Easy is a quick read with just the right pacing and dynamic characters that tear through the pages. A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I highly recommend.


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Out of the Easy

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Book Review: Salt to the Sea

After I turned the last page, I was so upset there wasn’t any more that I made my husband hold me for a solid half-hour.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

After reading Fountains of Silence, I had to read another by Ruta Sepetys. This one did not disappoint. After I turned the last page, I was so upset that I made my husband hold me for a solid half-hour. Though I have a stack of books waiting to be read, I wanted more of this one.

Back Cover Description

“Winter 1945. Four refugees. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war.

As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

But not all promises can be kept.”

Characters

A lot of characters act in the pages of this book, but with creativity and skill, Sepetys brings them all to life. Each minor character has a quirk that allows the reader to keep track, and each of the perspective character’s voices is distinct enough that the narrator is clear even if you don’t read the chapter headings.

The main characters are all moving toward the same goal—the Wilhelm Gustloff—but each of them flees a different past. They carry their guilt, fear, in grief in different ways, and their backstories come to light throughout the book. Much like The Things They Carried, you can tell a lot about each character based upon what they took with them, and what they risked to keep it. Eva, for example, risks her place upon the boat by waiting for her mother’s silver.

I liked the author’s inclusion of the delusional German sailor. Constantly teased and never taken seriously, he wasn’t a “villain” per se, but his sick mind served as a reminder that evil is a machine with gears both large and small.

Plot

The innocent refugees are trapped between two evils—the invading Russians behind them, and the Nazis in front of them. They each take their chances with Germany. The tension is high throughout the story; I couldn’t help rooting for each of them as they ran from the horrors of their pasts straight into the jaws of the future.

The story depicts a tragedy that was six times deadlier than the Titanic, yet remains obscure. I love reading about WWII because there are so many aspects of the global conflict. Not only did this story move me emotionally, it educated me. I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, but now, as I often do after reading, I wonder why there isn’t a blockbuster movie about it.

Writing Style

Sepetys uses multiple perspectives for this tale—the right call for a story like this. Because of the shifting perspectives, the chapters are short. In theory, that should make the book easy to put down. I knew I was in trouble about two-thirds in. I spared a token glance at the clock, but I knew I would stay up to finish it. No regrets. Sepetys writing is beautiful and powerful.

Other

I love the cover with the shoes. The “shoe poet” is one of my favorite characters, and the different shoes on the cover highlight the different backgrounds of each character.

Conclusion

You really should have stopped reading a while ago and bought the book, but if you’re not convinced yet, let me add that this book joins only four others with the rank of Binge Read. An incredible read from an incredible author.


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Book Review: The Fountains of Silence

When your criticism of a book is wanting more, you know it’s a good one. If you’re looking for a story to make your heart pound with apprehension and burst with love at the same time, look no further.

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The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

“Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into the country under the welcoming guise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.” – Amazon Description

Me: Nooooooooo!

My Husband: Are you okay?

Me: I finished the book.

I am not a binger. My husband can watch an entire season of a TV show in one day. I’m lucky to get through half an episode. I say this so when I tell you I binge-read this book, you understand the implications.

Two subjects, whether fiction or non-fiction, never fail to cause an abrupt end to my to-do list: World War II, and La Guerra Civil de España (the Spanish Civil War and subsequent years under El Generalísimo Franco). A summer in Madrid was enough to capture my heart, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Alas, student loans kept further study abroad experiences beyond my reach, so I learn vicariously through books.

Many readers know of the Spanish Civil War thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, but life under the dictatorship is often overlooked. This book fits into the gap, telling the stories of young people who inherited the consequences of the previous generation’s war. Their struggles are no less impactful for taking place in “peace time.”

The setting made this book a guaranteed win for me, but the writing itself gave it the addictive quality of heroin. Originally, I was bummed this book wasn’t written in Spanish. Now I’m glad I read the original English. Sepetys’s prose is a work of art, beautifully constructed. Her entrancing narrative voice presides over the storyline, yet each character’s perspective is unique. For example, she uses the phrase “hair as black as crude oil” when writing in the perspective of the young Texan.

I felt part two wrapped things up rather quickly, but I was okay with that because after part one I was dying for a happy ending. If I had to list a criticism, it would be that the dialogue of the younger characters, Rafa and Buttons, was so similar it made it hard to separate them as distinct characters. Both speak with the boundless enthusiasm of energetic youths, but when the story switches to Rafa’s perspective, we meet a thoughtful young man braving to transcend his troubled history. Other characters note the dichotomy between his past and his carefree personality, but they could have been better blended. I would have also liked to see more of Daniel’s mother’s reaction to conditions in her home country.

When your criticism of a book is wanting more, you know it’s a good one. If you’re looking for a story to make your heart pound with apprehension and burst with love at the same time, look no further. I highly recommend The Fountains of Silence, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

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The Fountains of Silence

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