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?
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.
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?