Discussion : Why I Feel Hesitant About Reading Books Set in my Country

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Is this going to be controversial? Maybe. Do I have bad intentions with this post? Not really. It’s just my way to get some things off my chest.

I’m from Romania, a little country from Eastern Europe, that seems to be known for few things besides Dracula, therefore the books set in my country are usually about Dracula and not much else??? 

I’m going to be frank with you, I don’t read many books set in Romania because most of the ones that I’ve heard of, turned out to have very bad characterizations. They might have amazing plots and be inspired by a part of my history, but should I feel good about it if the representation is stereotypical or even worse, harmful? 

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For example, We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (a book that I read a few pages from the sample just to see if it was as bad as the blurb and the reviews made it to be. And spoiler : it was.), its purpose was apparently to reduce xenophobia in their country (UK) against Romanians and with this purpose in mind they went on to write a book about a Romani boy from Romania who was forced by his (obviously bad) parents to marry a girl at a young age, a boy that is bullied by his British peers because of his broken English, a book that included slurs, xenophobia and racism.

And now I want to ask how is this helpful? How does it help solve the xenophobia in UK? How is this good Romanian rep? How is this good Romani rep? Romanians don’t do arranged marriage and while arranged marriages were a tradition among Romani people, many of them renounced that, those being very isolated cases.

And even if you wanted to present this exact rep, are you the right person to write about it considering you probably don’t know much about their traditions or motivations? If you wanted to help raise awareness on how bad xenophobia was, why didn’t you focus more on the positive aspects, some that you’re also more familiar with : on the great Romanian specialists that are working in many countries including UK (as doctors, scientists, nurses and whatever else), on positive relationships between British and Romanians, on a story where a Romanian is actually helped to fit in by a fellow British instead of writing this book where the MC is bullied and then finally when someone decides he’s worth it (which has white saviour written all over it), he’s just taken back to Romania by his parents that want to marry him off, alas never integrating in UK. What message are you trying to send?

What I mean to say is this book isn’t exactly The Hate U Give. The intentions were good because Romanians experience lots of xenophobia and it should be combated, I think it’s the general case with many Eastern Europeans, actually, but the execution was very poor.

This is a review written by a fellow Romanian on this book, where she stated that this book made her question and doubt who she is (and how her nationality impacts who she is – in a bad way), she wrote something about this book making her feel like no matter how educated she is and well prepared, she will always be perceived as a brute. Plus another review that basically says the same thing. I don’t think that’s exactly what we should go for when we try to write about characters that we don’t identify with. I wish I had found a review from a Romani reviewer as well, but I hadn’t.

Most of the times, I don’t read books set in Romania because I’m nervous, I’m nervous that the author will use a part of my history that looks good in a fantasy context and will completely disregard us as people, our identities and everything that we are. From all those books on Dracula/Vlad the Impaler/vampires that I’ve read and that mentioned Romania, I can’t remember any actual representation – not even bad rep. The books kind of just brush past us like we don’t exist. If you’re going to set a book in my country, how is it okay to completely ignore its inhabitants?

Also, I’m always nervous about the other reviewers and readers absolutely disregarding how I feel about those characters or about the way my history was used because I live in a small country that basically doesn’t matter all that much. And I should just get over it because it’s not that bad. 

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Romanian reviewers have talked about And I Darken and its bad rep forever (I won’t include me here because I haven’t read the book, but there are reviews on Goodreads – Sara has a review of it and also linked to a few others), yet yesterday was the only time I’ve seen someone of another nationality (besides Bulgarians who also complained about their bad rep in this book) acknowledge and talk about it. I’m not saying you should hate the book because of the bad representation of Romanians, it’s okay to still like it for other reasons, but you could mention those reviews? Nudge to them? Anything?

To be completely honest, sometimes I’m nervous about how I’m perceived as a Romanian too, considering how media portrays us, how there’s little good rep in books. Sometimes I wonder what you think about me. Sometimes I wonder if when you heard I’m Romanian, you thought about all those stereotypes – thieves, stupid, brutes and put me in one of those boxes too.

 

How do you feel about the books set in your country? 

Have you encountered any bad representations of your country? 

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38 thoughts on “Discussion : Why I Feel Hesitant About Reading Books Set in my Country

  1. Kat Impossible says:

    I understand not being happy with representation of your country. The only time mine is mentioned is when they talk about World War II, Nazis or deign to mention our Emperors. But honestly, I don’t feel like people get our imperial history, they just throw us in with Germany or pretend we are Germany. Basically, I have never even read a book set in Vienna/Austria in anything later than the 1950s and like whyyy?
    It’s frustrating when people don’t understand that you can’t just lob all European countries or that distorted stereotypical image you have of them in one pot. It’s not fair, because there are intricacies to evey culture and they could be small details, but still things that make a difference, you know?
    Also, I would never dare have a bad image of a person because of where they come from. Who am I to assume their life story??

    Liked by 3 people

    • Marta says:

      I’m sorry about that, Kat! ❤ But I think you're right that when people don't really know about our countries, they tend to throw us in with our neighbors or any country that they are more familiar with and find weird connections. I just think it's not that hard to research those things and ask people from those countries to read your book and find inaccuracies, I'm sure many people would do it for free just because they get to see their country represented well in books.
      That's because you're a nice person and not a xenophobe, but yeah ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. tornpagesandroses says:

    I personally haven’t read nor heard any books set in my country (Philippines) but I do understand where you’re coming from. I feel like it’ll be full of stereotypical things if they ever use it as a setting for a story unless they really have lived there and know what they’re doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      I don’t recall ever reading any books set in Philippines either, wish I could have said that I’ve seen some rep. Yes, I suppose so! But it’s kind of weird when you write a book on that culture and manage to make it offensive for said culture. I can understand inaccuracies, but making it insulting is really off and sad.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tornpagesandroses says:

        It is. If it manages to be offensive it’s for sure 100% on the author for not researching enough, especially since it’s part of their job. I don’t know how prevalent it is but it happens, even in our world of the internet haha oh well, I guess as long as it’s not intentionally racist/hateful I’m not gonna say anything.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alyssa Grace says:

    Thanks for writing this post! While I’ve visited Romania and found things to like and dislike about it like any country, I wouldn’t presume to know enough about it to judge whether the rep in a particular book is good or not. I’m disappointed to see that some authors end up writing stereotypical portrayals even with good intentions.

    I’m Cantonese and sometimes see a diluted version of this when authors write about Hongkongers or Chinese people in general. I don’t think the problem is as big for us as it is with small countries like Romania because Cantos are a lot more visible in most English-speaking countries, but it does annoy me whenever authors confuse Cantonese and Mandarin, give one of their characters a lousy stereotypical name, or write ABCs (Americans Born Chinese) to all be crazy high achievers focused on studying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      It’s so cool that you visited Romania, I’m sure you found things to like and dislike alike, but I hope you enjoyed your stay! What did you visit, if you don’t mind me asking?
      Ugh, that stereotype about all American Chinese people being super smart and good at math is annoying, I’ve seen it everywhere, in jokes, in books, on television. I can just imagine how tiring it is for you :-/

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyssa Grace says:

        Transylvania! Cluj and a couple other places. Unfortunately didn’t get to see that many ‘sites’ as we were there only a while and spent most of the time visiting friends, but I loved how friendly many people were. At least we get the ‘good’ stereotype in that people generally think being smart is a positive, not that it isn’t still problematic in its own way. :p

        Like

  4. Sahi says:

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about this topic… I think I’m very lucky as an Indian because we do have own voices authors who can better represent our culture or I could always just read books published in India.. I’m hoping there will be a day when all us can see non stereotypical depictions ourselves represented on page and appreciated by everyone..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      No problem! 🙂
      It saddens me that there aren’t more Romanian authors writing in English about modern things, I’d love to see an YA novel. There are quite a few books published in Romanian by Romanian authors, but they are usually from other genres.
      That’s definitely the dream! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. facingthestory says:

    I feel like this is a very important topic that not many people address. I agree with your views and think it’s great that you are expressing your feelings and opening up this discussion. I would also feel uncomfortable reading a book set in my home country (Bulgaria) that only pinpoints stereotypes so I completely understand where you’re coming from!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much, I’m glad you liked the subject! ❤
      I really hope us, Eastern Europeans get better rep in the future and aren't hesitant towards reading those books :-/
      P.S. I love Bulgaria a lot, you have a very beautiful country and you're all super polite! I had a great time whenever I visited.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Andreea P. says:

    I loved this post! As a fellow Romanian, I have to admit that I had no idea other people – as in, not Romanians – are writing books about Romanians or set in Romania, so I cannot really answer the main topic, but I really hate the stereotypes around the world that our nation has and that is something that bothers me and I used to think twice before mentioning I am from Romania on my blog or anywhere online, although I don’t anymore (probably I just got older and don’t really care what people believe anymore, if they are xenophobic that says something about them, not me).

    Anyway, great post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Sadly, I don’t think you’re missing on anything, I wish I could say that I’ve seen any good rep written by other people. I completely agree with you that it doesn’t say anything about us, but about them, because not trying to get to know others and only assuming things based on stereotype is lazy and not okay. I wish more people talked about xenophobia though because I feel like it’s an issue that people ignore because they think it’s not that ‘important’.
      Thank you very much! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Julianna @ Paper Blots says:

    This was such a thought-provoking post! Firstly, it absolutely SUCKS that you have to even feel hesitant about reading books set in your country. Authors should *automatically* be expected to do proper research on ALL of the marginalizations they represent so that no one is hurt.
    Also, it’s sooo horrible that the bad representation of Romanian people in And I Darken is hardly mentioned at all except by ownvoices Romanian reviewers, and for that I’m truly sorry.

    I, personally am Chinese and it can be extremely infuriating to see characters based off of stereotypes who don’t go further than that because it just gives off the impression that *all* Chinese people are automatically what their stereotypes are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you so much, Julianna! ❤
      Yes, proper research is so important and I hate it whenever it's ignored. I think Alice Oseman did amazing with research and using sensitivity readers for every rep that she didn't identify with. It was so superb and she proved that it's totally possible to write about other reps without offending people.
      YES, exactly that! It's hurtful to read about stereotypes because it makes you wonder if that's what you are as well. Things are never as easy as that, nobody is really that stereotype.

      Like

  8. Camilla @ Reader in the Attic says:

    Personally speaking I don’t feel hesitant to read books set in my country, but I get what you’re saying. I remember I had quite a heated conversation about And I Darken on the book club created by you (especially because I didn’t know a thing and I even misread something written 😟) .

    From my Italian perspective, there’s no book I’ve met, written by non- Italians, that is not a stereotype. Or always base their fantasy world on the most know things (colosseum, gladietors, Venice, carnival) like Nevernight or AENTA. While Italian history is much more big than that. But also, right now my country is showing what years of ignorance have done and I higly doubts that writers will catch that.
    Also, every stereotype is profoundly truthful (but usually much more darker) but also really wrong at the same time.
    Like yes, we eat pizza and pasta but is not like our only food (this is an innocent stereotype), some Italians are passionate (but that’s usually just abusvie and toxic behaviour and misogyny) and mafia is real and everywhere (is not cool but brutal and people usually are culprit to associate with it).
    But also is not like every street is high fashion and people go around dressed by fashion designers. The majority of population not even dream to enter such boutiques 😂
    And those are just few examples

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marta says:

      I’m sorry, Camilla! I always felt weird about romances that focuses on mafia and usually try to underwhelm how bad it is and romanticize something that’s totally bad.
      And the whole everyone is super rich and has high fashion clothes seems harmful as well. Sorry that you have to see these things all the time. I hope you get to see more great rep and something that’s not among those stereotypes you mentioned!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Camilla @ Reader in the Attic says:

        I worry more about the mafia thing that the clothes, to be honest. The clothes thing is another fact interesting to discuss and quite nuanced, especially for italians youth. But there’s this strange idea that Italy=boutiques everywhere 😂

        Like

  9. Ruby's Books says:

    Finally at my computer. I absolutely love this post. I didn’t even know the first book exists, but the thing that makes me mad is that people confuse and mix up Romani and Romanians a lot. And you know, in the age of the Internet, it is offensive. Just google stuff, people.

    About And I Darken though. I’ve read the book and I’m probably one of the very few Romanians, if not the only one, that gave it 5 stars. And here’s why: it made me curious. Like Sara said in her review, I was ready to DNF the book probably after the first two or three chapters, because I too was offended. And I was talking to my mom about it and about the fact that I thought it was really crappy representation and she said something that made me decide to keep reading it. She said “well, what if this is a good place to start a conversation about what really happened?” My mom and I don’t always have the same taste in books, but when we do read the same book we agree almost always. And like every time, she was right. I ended up actually liking And I Darken not because of how it represented out national hero, but because it made me curious about what actually happened, beyond the super patriotic tales or the horror stories Vlad’s enemies spread. That is the only true reason why that book got the highest rating from me. I’m an insanely curious person, so when a book, no matter how offensive it is for me at first, gets me intrigued and makes me want to inform myself and form my own opinions, it is enough for me to give it a high rating. Of course, unless it gets way beyond offensive, but that’s another story. I hope that makes sense in any way, shape or form.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Ah, Ruby, I’m sure the book has its good points and I’m not saying books can’t be good even if the rep isn’t exceptional. I guess with And I Darken, I’d just rather read a fantasy book that has nothing to do with romanian history because that’s kind of how I see the book – though I’m sure it’s been categorized as Historical Fiction.
      I might read it at some point, but right now it’s not exactly on my radar. I’m happy that you ended up loving it though ❤

      Like

  10. Marie says:

    I am so happy you wrote this post, Marta, you did such a brilliant work with it overall and I loved reading it. ❤ I'm glad you spoke your mind on this topic! ❤
    I completely agree that, if an author wants to set a book in a particular country, it's so important to pay attention to the actual country, its inhabitants, its culture as a whole. Obviously they can pay attention to the history of the country, but also need to do their research right and to know what's history and what's actual present, to check with sensitivity readers and people from there to see if nothing is hurtful. This is so important.
    It's definitely important to try and point out potential issues within a book, even if you're not directly concerned by the bad representation. I always try to check a few reviews to see if there's anything I might have missed, but I'm not perfect and I know I might forget to mention something, sometimes. But I'm doing my best and it's important to be aware. ❤
    I understand your fears about being stereotyped, but like Kat perfectly said, who are we to imagine and pretend we know someone, just because we know where they are from? No one can ever assume anything and nor should they. Also, you're awesome. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much, Marie! And thank you for the support you offered since I was truly nervous about writing this post and now I’m really glad that I did write it (which is because of you and your kind words <3)
      YES, I suppose authors aren't as careful with their research in this case because they think we might not read these books, which isn't the best reasoning, but I'm sure it happens.
      I think you're one of the reviewers that cares a lot about many reps, even those you don't identify with, you're super careful and this post is not directed at you in any ways ❤
      Aw, you're awesome too, little marshmallow ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marie says:

        You’re so welcome, you always write such fantastic posts ❤ ❤ I feel like it's so important to be careful though, I mean they are authors and it definitely is part of their job to do these kind of things and research beforehand.
        Aww you're too sweet, I'm trying my best, I know how hurtful these things can be for some people and I definitely want them to have a heads-up 🙂 ❤ ❤

        Like

  11. NeriSiren says:

    The last book I read that was set in contemporary Lithuania really bothered me. It was Dear Fang, With Love, by Rufi Thorpe, and it made present-day Lithuania sound so grim and depressing, as though it was still under Soviet occupation. One of the main characters even conflated Lithuanians with Russians at one point, and that is a HUGE no-no.

    I’ll admit, the last book I read that was set in Romania was one of those fantasy types that focus on witches and fairies and vampires. It was called Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, and I did think the human protagonists were well developed as non-stereotypes, but I fully understand that my perspective is an outsider’s perspective, and I can’t say if the book really authentically or accurately portrays Romanian culture and history.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on these books!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      OH GOD, I really hate it whenever an author does these things, why is it okay to make a character confuse between countries like that? I think it’s quite a general knowledge that Lithuania is an independent country.
      The only book I’ve read that was set in Lithuania was Between Shades of Gray and it is about the soviet occupation, I really loved reading it because I didn’t know a lot about this aspect from World War II. The book seemed very well researched and respectful, you might try it! Though you’re surely more informed than me and might spot inaccuracies that I’ve missed.
      I haven’t heard of this one before, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for letting me know! ❤

      Like

      • NeriSiren says:

        Thanks for the suggestion! I have tried to read Between Shades of Grey before, but it hit a bit too close to home. I could too easily imagine my own family being held at gunpoint by Soviet officers and my own brother being separated from us. I’ll try again someday, though, because it’s an important book.

        Like

  12. Charvi says:

    Honestly I am so bad I have no idea where Romania is and haven’t really read anything about it. The problem of sterotypical or no representation is a really important subject for many minor communities. It’s really sad how a badly representative book can make you doubt yourself and your country. Really hope that you all get better representation soon 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much! ❤
      I really hope authors will try to do more research and in general, be more careful with the way they write every kind of rep because this is the most important thing! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Nicci Boyle says:

    Oh wow, this is a thought-provoking post! I can honestly say that when I think Romanian I don’t think “thieves, stupid, brutes”, that’s ridiculous and horrible. Trying to stereotype an entire country is ridiculous. I didn’t even know that WAS the common stereotype of Romanians! Yes, I’ve heard it applied to the Romani (sadly) but I think for most Brits the Romanian people and the Romani are different.
    I’m sorry that your country and fellow countrymen are portrayed as such. 😦

    That said, I totally understand the hesitancy in reading a book set in your country. I’m Scottish (but live in England) and I have A LOT of issues with historical romances especially those set in the Scottish Highlands. They often make me stabby and it’s usually because the books are not written by someone who is actually British thus it’s stereotype paloosa! More often than not, it’s painfully obvious that they’ve never set foot in the UK. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much for your comment! ❤ It means a lot to me to hear it because my parents used to work in England around 2014 and the atmosphere was kind of awful when it came to Eastern Europeans. I really hope things are changing though! Yeah, I feel like those stereotypes are more frequent with Romani people (which is bad), but also many countries don't make the distinction either.
      I can understand your hesitancy as well, I feel like The Outlander made the Scottish Highlands a very popular setting for romance books, but I'm sure many of them aren't very well researched :-/

      Like

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