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Children of the Night: The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania

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The only country in Eastern Europe to speak a Latin language, Romania has always felt itself different, and its unique fate has been to experience some of the most disastrous leaderships of the last century. In the First World War her German king remained neutral until 1916. The interwar rulers form a gallery of bizarre characters and movements: the corrupt King Carol; the The only country in Eastern Europe to speak a Latin language, Romania has always felt itself different, and its unique fate has been to experience some of the most disastrous leaderships of the last century. In the First World War her German king remained neutral until 1916. The interwar rulers form a gallery of bizarre characters and movements: the corrupt King Carol; the antisemitic Iron Guard led by Corneliu Codreanu; the vain general Ion Antonescu who seized power in 1940 and led the country into alliance with Nazi Germany. After 1945 power was handed over to Romania's tiny communist party, under whom it experienced severe repression, purges and collectivization. Then in 1964, Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power. And thus began the strangest dictatorship in recent European history. Children of the Night is also a personal discovery of this extraordinary country, bringing together Paul Kenyon's eye for the private vices and kleptocratic tendencies of despots with a heartfelt exploration of the fate of one Romanian family in particular.


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The only country in Eastern Europe to speak a Latin language, Romania has always felt itself different, and its unique fate has been to experience some of the most disastrous leaderships of the last century. In the First World War her German king remained neutral until 1916. The interwar rulers form a gallery of bizarre characters and movements: the corrupt King Carol; the The only country in Eastern Europe to speak a Latin language, Romania has always felt itself different, and its unique fate has been to experience some of the most disastrous leaderships of the last century. In the First World War her German king remained neutral until 1916. The interwar rulers form a gallery of bizarre characters and movements: the corrupt King Carol; the antisemitic Iron Guard led by Corneliu Codreanu; the vain general Ion Antonescu who seized power in 1940 and led the country into alliance with Nazi Germany. After 1945 power was handed over to Romania's tiny communist party, under whom it experienced severe repression, purges and collectivization. Then in 1964, Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power. And thus began the strangest dictatorship in recent European history. Children of the Night is also a personal discovery of this extraordinary country, bringing together Paul Kenyon's eye for the private vices and kleptocratic tendencies of despots with a heartfelt exploration of the fate of one Romanian family in particular.

30 review for Children of the Night: The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru

    This is very much a popular history book. It reads almost like a novel and the author is clearly a talented storyteller, it's one of the most readable history books out there. It's the perfect book for someone that has a curiosity about Romanian history but does not know much about it and prefers not to read dry historical tomes. The book traces modern history of Romania from the XIXth century to the present day and focuses on the major characters that influenced said history. Each era has its ma This is very much a popular history book. It reads almost like a novel and the author is clearly a talented storyteller, it's one of the most readable history books out there. It's the perfect book for someone that has a curiosity about Romanian history but does not know much about it and prefers not to read dry historical tomes. The book traces modern history of Romania from the XIXth century to the present day and focuses on the major characters that influenced said history. Each era has its major heroes and villains: - the early XXth century has the Hochenzollern royal family and especially the playboy king Carol II - the 1930s see the rise of fascism and has the messiah of the Romanian fascist movement Corneliu Zelea Codreanu - the 1940s have the controversial field marshal Ion Antonescu and his involvement of Romania in World War II and the holocaust - the late 1940s and early 1950s have the Communism takeover of Gheorghiu-Dej and his rival Ana Pauker with their purge of Romanian society and mass imprisonment - the 1965 - 1989 period has the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu which started with a liberalisation but ended in famine, poverty and a bloody revolution The author tries to link these major historical figures of the XXth century who had a dictatorial or criminal streak with Vlad the Impaler. As such, there are always parallels back to Vlad. This is entertaining for the layman that is just interested in a fun read, however to someone seriously interested in history it can be a bit jarring. The book starts with the history of Vlad the Impaler's reign in the XV century but then skips straight through the XIXth century. There is really no rhyme or reason why the history of Vlad's reign was included while other more important events were skipped other than the entertainment value. Also, there is only so many times the author can mention that some event or other happened close to Vlad the Impaler's capital or castle until it gets a bit old. However, if someone is interested in hard historical facts there a few downsides in the book. The author has clearly researched the history of Romania in the XXth century. But there are quite a few historical inaccuracies when he refers to the history prior to his time period. For example, he mentions the King Carol the first Romanian king was 54 when he ascended the throne, he was actually 27. IG Duca is mentioned as the first Romanian prime minister to be assassinated, which is incorrect, he was actually the second. The first was Barbu Catargiu who was assassinated in 1862. There is also the perpetuation of Bran Castle and Dracula with the author claiming this is where Vlad's troops waited for the Ottomans to attack. This is incorrect, Bran castle was built and owned by the Hungarian crown and was never garrisoned by Wallachian troops. The ending of the book was also a bit sudden. In the last pages there are some odd comments about the modern day politicians, especially the former prime minister Adrian Nastase who is described as visionary despite the fact that he was known as the most corrupt prime ministers in the country's history and was the first prime minister to actually serve jail time for corruption. Despite its shortcomings Children of the Night is a highly readable and entertaining book and is a great introduction into modern Romanian history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Kenyon

    This book was twenty-six years in the making. It tells of a country which is uniquely situated between the great ideologies, religions and political blocs of the world. I had always wanted to travel to Romania, seduced by the mixture of fairytales, Cold War politics, and the lost Fin de siècle glamor of the place. I got my chance when I attended an ambassadorial party in Bucharest after the revolution, and met the girl I would later marry. It is controversial, I know, to begin with the story of V This book was twenty-six years in the making. It tells of a country which is uniquely situated between the great ideologies, religions and political blocs of the world. I had always wanted to travel to Romania, seduced by the mixture of fairytales, Cold War politics, and the lost Fin de siècle glamor of the place. I got my chance when I attended an ambassadorial party in Bucharest after the revolution, and met the girl I would later marry. It is controversial, I know, to begin with the story of Vlad Tepes - Dracula. As soon as the book was published I received critical emails and reviews from historians. They are right. I used Dracula as a way into an otherwise unfamiliar landscape, to bring a new audience to the story of Romania. For that I make no apologies. Otherwise, the country's history remains dry and inaccessible and debated only by academics exchanging arcane pet theories between themselves. In other words, it remains an elitist minority pursuit, rather than an open book for all to know and to try to understand. My style is historical narrative. I believe description of place and character are crucial to help readers immerse themselves in the subject matter. I transport my audience into Ceausescu's politburo meetings, through the wildly corrupt court of King Carol II, along the secret passageways of Dracula's castle, into the bed chamber of the British-born Queen Marie, and through the swastika-festooned meeting rooms of the mystical cult of the Iron Guard. I hope you enjoy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Clare Boucher

    Well written popular history. While I knew a little about the Ceausescus, much of the 100 or so years before 1945 was new to me. It made me want to read more.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alina

    This is an excellent and enthralling book. It reads like a novel, a thriller which you can’t put down: the characters and the events are so vividly described, the attention to detail is phenomenal and the research that must have gone into this is truly impressive. Reading this book was a journey of discovery for me as I learnt things about my country’s past I knew very little about: from Queen Marie to the birth of fascism and the death cult of the mystic leader Codreanu, to the Stalinist machin This is an excellent and enthralling book. It reads like a novel, a thriller which you can’t put down: the characters and the events are so vividly described, the attention to detail is phenomenal and the research that must have gone into this is truly impressive. Reading this book was a journey of discovery for me as I learnt things about my country’s past I knew very little about: from Queen Marie to the birth of fascism and the death cult of the mystic leader Codreanu, to the Stalinist machinations of bringing communism to power. Starting the book with Vlad Tepes (a.k.a Dracula) was inspired as it deftly sets the tone and introduces the central themes of nationalism and the sacred blood infused soil of ancestors who fought for independence. This is one of the best historical narratives I’ve read in a long time, and it happens to be about my own country!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Judith Brennan

    Paul Kenyon has written a clear and easily read account of the political history of Romania, and the ideologies and corruption that have fed it. Romania has lurched from antisemitic religious fanaticism to autocracy to neo-liberalism, and Kenyon makes the most of the machinations of those who have sought power in the country. The part of the book dealing with the Holocaust was horrifying, and the comment made by Winston Churchill in his discussions with Stalin in 1944, during which he wrote that Paul Kenyon has written a clear and easily read account of the political history of Romania, and the ideologies and corruption that have fed it. Romania has lurched from antisemitic religious fanaticism to autocracy to neo-liberalism, and Kenyon makes the most of the machinations of those who have sought power in the country. The part of the book dealing with the Holocaust was horrifying, and the comment made by Winston Churchill in his discussions with Stalin in 1944, during which he wrote that he had only a 'ten per cent' interest in the country is chilling in its cynicism. Kenyon seemed to have difficulties finishing the book, and his assessment of Romania in 2021 rings hollow. No mention of the poverty that still plagues the urban centres, of the environmental damage being caused on a massive scale. He hastily sketches a picture of a country represented by young people 'who are getting on with their lives irrespective of what their leaders do.' None of us can do that. In some ways the end of 'The Last Hundred Days' by Patrick McGuiness demonstrates sharper prescience.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Reads like a novel, for better or worse. If it had been a novel, I would complain that there were too many villains and not enough characters to root for. Damn there were some real scoundrels in 20th century Romania. The author gives play-by-plays of political maneuverings, but I wish there was more exploration of culture to help understand Romanian society. We get exposed to two dissidents during the terrible 1980s, but mostly we bask in the vileness of Elena Ceaușescu. Which is about as vile a Reads like a novel, for better or worse. If it had been a novel, I would complain that there were too many villains and not enough characters to root for. Damn there were some real scoundrels in 20th century Romania. The author gives play-by-plays of political maneuverings, but I wish there was more exploration of culture to help understand Romanian society. We get exposed to two dissidents during the terrible 1980s, but mostly we bask in the vileness of Elena Ceaușescu. Which is about as vile as it gets. But I would want to spend more time with the people.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Crystal Toller

    I got this book from Kindle Unlimited because I'm in a group with someone who is learning the Romanian language and thought this book looked interesting. Since I had very vague ideas about Romania and its history, this was a really good read. The author captured me from the first page of this book and had a hard time putting this book down. I loved the fact that the author talked to actual people, including his in-laws, who experienced communism in Romania and lived through the hard times in tha I got this book from Kindle Unlimited because I'm in a group with someone who is learning the Romanian language and thought this book looked interesting. Since I had very vague ideas about Romania and its history, this was a really good read. The author captured me from the first page of this book and had a hard time putting this book down. I loved the fact that the author talked to actual people, including his in-laws, who experienced communism in Romania and lived through the hard times in that country. A really great book that I can highly recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christine McClymont

    Romania uncovered Thank you Paul Kenyon for your factual account of Romania in which you not only write of the corrupt Ceausescu and both his international and domestic antics, but bring the plight of ordinary Romanians' experience In this horrific turmoil. So pleased to hear the economy is successful and the young people's creativity and tech skills abound! Viva Romanian resilience! Romania uncovered Thank you Paul Kenyon for your factual account of Romania in which you not only write of the corrupt Ceausescu and both his international and domestic antics, but bring the plight of ordinary Romanians' experience In this horrific turmoil. So pleased to hear the economy is successful and the young people's creativity and tech skills abound! Viva Romanian resilience!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Darla Stonehouse

    This is a great book of history on the country of Romania. I chose to read it because I will be traveling to Romania in a couple of weeks. I have for a long wanted to visit Bucharest, Brasov, the Carpathian Mountains and Bran Castle. Hoping that by reading this book it will enrich my traveling experience.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul Gelman

    This is a like a fast-speed thriller of Romanian history, excellently written. It shows to what extent Romanian history is full of racism, nationalism, brutality,corruption and insane leaders, a country with a long history of nationalism and anti-Semitism , but also full of contradictions. I found the chapters on 20th century history captivating. From Vlad the Impaler through the mad and heinous dictator Ceausescu and his cronies, this book will linger in your memory for a very long time. Bravo, This is a like a fast-speed thriller of Romanian history, excellently written. It shows to what extent Romanian history is full of racism, nationalism, brutality,corruption and insane leaders, a country with a long history of nationalism and anti-Semitism , but also full of contradictions. I found the chapters on 20th century history captivating. From Vlad the Impaler through the mad and heinous dictator Ceausescu and his cronies, this book will linger in your memory for a very long time. Bravo, Mr Kenyon!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This is a thrilling, fun and engaging narrative history of modern Romania. I particularly enjoyed reading about the years preceding the second world war and the rise and fall of Joan Antonescu of which I knew basically nothing and of which I haven't before seen much written about. Whilst the history of communist Romania and of Ceausescu 's reign is better known there was plenty to learn in Kenyon's book. I was just a little disappointed in the conclusion of the book which suddenly felt rushed an This is a thrilling, fun and engaging narrative history of modern Romania. I particularly enjoyed reading about the years preceding the second world war and the rise and fall of Joan Antonescu of which I knew basically nothing and of which I haven't before seen much written about. Whilst the history of communist Romania and of Ceausescu 's reign is better known there was plenty to learn in Kenyon's book. I was just a little disappointed in the conclusion of the book which suddenly felt rushed and missing some sort of analysis perhaps. But overall the history of Romania is fascinating and this is essential reading to know more about the country, it's sordid past and colourful characters.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Scott Ross

    Obviously I'm just getting started, but my initial impression? I love his prose style and expect I'll enjoy this book very much. Okay...time passed since I wrote the above, but my expectation was fulfilled: I enjoyed this book very much. Obviously I'm just getting started, but my initial impression? I love his prose style and expect I'll enjoy this book very much. Okay...time passed since I wrote the above, but my expectation was fulfilled: I enjoyed this book very much.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Sweeney

    Compelling This is a fascinating history of a Romania’s grotesque leaders. The outrageous cruelties and abuses of power continue through to modern times, so much so that one almost looks back at Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) as a model of good governance.

  14. 4 out of 5

    William

    Extremely well written and thoroughly documented book that reads like a story. Witty and candid details about many key tumultuous events in Romanian history. Apart from some minor inaccuracies, I must say this is a truly fantastic read!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Liam Ostermann

    Brilliant history of a fascinating country written by someone who is both professionally and personally acquainted with its recent history. For those of us of an older generation the demise of the Ceausescu regime under the shouts of derision from the crowds of workers who had always praised him (under the careful supervision of the secret police) is, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the defining moments of late 20th century history. It seemed such a sign of hope, particularly for Brilliant history of a fascinating country written by someone who is both professionally and personally acquainted with its recent history. For those of us of an older generation the demise of the Ceausescu regime under the shouts of derision from the crowds of workers who had always praised him (under the careful supervision of the secret police) is, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the defining moments of late 20th century history. It seemed such a sign of hope, particularly for anyone who knew anything about how ghastly things were under the communists - have we forgotten the awful sight of the Romanian orphans starved, beaten, neglected and chained to multiply occupied beds - it is all here as well as a incredibly fair minded and dispassionate report on so many governments played host to Ceausescu and his grim spouse knowing full well what monsters they were for their own selfish reasons - perhaps most disgracefully the UK who gave him a official state visit with royal coaches and a banquet at and overnight stay in Buckingham Palace, as well as an honorary knighthood (the Order of the Bath) for him and honorary degrees for her from the Royal Institute for Chemistry (the fact she was illiterate and had not finished primary school and stolen her PhD thesis from someone who was then murdered was known but ignored). But this is only the tip of the fascinating story of Romania which Mr. Kenyon tells - from its roots (vastly inflated by Romanians) as a short lived province of the Roman Empire through battles with the Ottomans, the bloodshed of Vlad Tepes, its years as a Ruritanian Kingdom with a grand daughter of Queen Victoria for a Queen through the decadent days of King Carol (a man legendary for his miniscule intelligence and oversized cock - though Mr. Kenyon is utterly silent about that) to its interwar Fascist movement under the bizarrely fascinating Cordreanu, to the squalid pogroms of Marshal Antonescu - Mr. Kenyon covers it all with a light touch that leaves you wanting to know more - and provides the references to excellent English publications to follow up with for all of us who are monolingual. I can not recommend this book to highly but, would like to recommend as well, to fictional books Bruce Benderson's 'The Romanian' and Patrick McGuiness's 'The Last Hundred Days', for providing further excellent insights on Romania.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom Jackson

    a good introduction to romania, covering the vlad dracula days, the monarchy and the fascists, and finally ceausescu. provides a lot of relevant context and doesn't make undue leaps or assumptions. has a bit of a problem with being overly emotional. kenyon uses a lot of information gained from close personal sources such as his wife's family, and as such makes a lot of unnecessary comments about the regime. while i can appreciate that the source of information colours the content, i feel like i'm a good introduction to romania, covering the vlad dracula days, the monarchy and the fascists, and finally ceausescu. provides a lot of relevant context and doesn't make undue leaps or assumptions. has a bit of a problem with being overly emotional. kenyon uses a lot of information gained from close personal sources such as his wife's family, and as such makes a lot of unnecessary comments about the regime. while i can appreciate that the source of information colours the content, i feel like i'm able to recognise that the communists and fascists were bad for the country without being explicitly told how bad they were. he also has the habit of making judgements about people and events using information that the reader can't have as it's decades down the road, and seems to have a genuine digust for communism in general that he can't help but let show.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robert Moscaliuc

    This book was a revelation from so many points of view. I was born in Romania about a year before Ceausescu’s demise and I missed that part or history, mostly due to the fact that Romanian history books don’t really talk in detail about it. I had an idea of the communist period because my father was a policeman and had access to all kinds of info, but this book has really completed the gaps. For instance, I knew how vile Elena Ceausescu was, but had no details with regards to it. Spoiler alert: This book was a revelation from so many points of view. I was born in Romania about a year before Ceausescu’s demise and I missed that part or history, mostly due to the fact that Romanian history books don’t really talk in detail about it. I had an idea of the communist period because my father was a policeman and had access to all kinds of info, but this book has really completed the gaps. For instance, I knew how vile Elena Ceausescu was, but had no details with regards to it. Spoiler alert: she really was vile in a very Hollywood manner — vile with a penchant for expensive bags and scarves!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alyx

    High-intensity reading (which means I couldn't put it down) attempting a concise overview of modern history of Romania. The only downside is the pretentious vocabulary, somehow at odds with the fluidity of the story. Crucial events (such as turning against allies on 23rd August 1944) are not fully explained, but this doesn't take away from the weight of the story. The communist period is amply presented, with all its purges on both sides of society. It's a great book. High-intensity reading (which means I couldn't put it down) attempting a concise overview of modern history of Romania. The only downside is the pretentious vocabulary, somehow at odds with the fluidity of the story. Crucial events (such as turning against allies on 23rd August 1944) are not fully explained, but this doesn't take away from the weight of the story. The communist period is amply presented, with all its purges on both sides of society. It's a great book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    A remarkable book. I learned so much about modern Romanian history. I've always wanted to visit Romania, and almost did once, but now it's a must. So many interesting characters, ranging from fascinating to sadistic, Paul Kenyon successfully brings to life. A remarkable book. I learned so much about modern Romanian history. I've always wanted to visit Romania, and almost did once, but now it's a must. So many interesting characters, ranging from fascinating to sadistic, Paul Kenyon successfully brings to life.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marshall

    Loved it

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Kibera

    Great read on history of Romania

  22. 5 out of 5

    Megan Laplante

    5 stars! I loved this,I learned so much about Romanian history,it's full of information. 5 stars! I loved this,I learned so much about Romanian history,it's full of information.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Waiting to review this until I finish Pacepa's book (the highest level defector of Ceausescu's regime) - whose book was mentioned in this one. Waiting to review this until I finish Pacepa's book (the highest level defector of Ceausescu's regime) - whose book was mentioned in this one.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mills

    The focus on the key cast of characters driving Romanian history keeps things engaging throughout. However, it does mean that political, diplomatic and military history largely muscle out anything socio-economic. If I might gripe, Kenyon also has an odd habit of labouring the tackiness of the story's villains, to the point of almost seeming to find it more objectionable than their torture, murder and mass corruption. That said it's still a good gateway into Romanian history. The focus on the key cast of characters driving Romanian history keeps things engaging throughout. However, it does mean that political, diplomatic and military history largely muscle out anything socio-economic. If I might gripe, Kenyon also has an odd habit of labouring the tackiness of the story's villains, to the point of almost seeming to find it more objectionable than their torture, murder and mass corruption. That said it's still a good gateway into Romanian history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pat

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  28. 4 out of 5

    Abbi

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rob Lee

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ki Smith

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