Review: Children of the Night

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

With All Union and my Soviet-Romanian War project, I figured getting a good one-volume history of the Southeast European country would be nice. And Paul Kenyon’s Children of the Night delivers. It starts in 1442 with Vlad “Dracula”, or “The Impaler” Tepes, and more or less concludes with the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The book is a magisterial epic of Romania’s frequently bizarre and violent history.

One consistent theme is Romania being perched on an unsteady point and being tugged on in multiple directions for centuries. Whether it be the Hungarians and Turks, the Russians and Turks, or the east and west in the Cold War, Romania always feels like an odd one out, a Latin enclave in a Slavic realm. The most blatant example of this was Romania spending the first part of World War I figuring out who it should support (it sided with the Entente eventually), but this was shown throughout history. The most ghoulish is Ion Antonescu’s regime conducting some of the worst massacres of the Holocaust, but suddenly changing its mind on the deportation of Jews-conveniently right after the encirclement at Stalingrad.

But it’s its postwar history where the book shines. Ceausescu’s reign of terror is well documented, and the scenes of his fall and execution read like they could have come straight from The Death of Stalin. It also shows that his tendencies towards what can be called “independent totalitarianism” started under his predecessor, Gheorge Gheorghiu-Dej.

If you could only read one book on the history of Romania, this would be a good contender for the choice. It’s definitely worth reading.

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