The novel is a master class in pacing and atmosphere. Much of the book unfolds slowly, creating a foreboding sense of rising tension, until the dam suddenly breaks. Months of caution and paranoia cascade into a frightening series of bloody protests. As a writer of historical fiction, Sepetys’ greatest strength is her dedication to research. The novel’s diaristic tone and its laser focus on one boy and one country’s story don’t leave much space for the broader context of historical communism and Marxist ideologies within the narrative, though copious endnotes are packed with tales from Sepetys’ research trips across Romania, photos from the period that offer profound visuals and plentiful source notes.
Sepetys expertly blends historical details into the story and shares archival photos at the back of the book, creating a tale that is as educational as it is thrilling. When you think the story is going to zig, it zags and makes you question everything, and everyone, anew. And that’s the power of I Must Betray You — it doesn’t just describe the destabilizing effects of being spied on; it will make you experience them too.
Sepetys...once again masterfully portrays a dark, forgotten corner of history ... Suspenseful twists continue to the very end, when Cristian’s betrayer is revealed. The back matter, too, is fascinating; it encompasses archival photographs, an author’s note, an extensive source list, and a description of the research process and several in-person interviews.
Sepetys brilliantly blends a staggering amount of research with heart, craft, and insight in a way very few writers can. Told from Cristian’s point of view, intercut by secret police memos and Cristian’s own poetry, the novel crackles with energy; Cristian and his friends join the groundswell of young Romanians, combining pragmatism, subterfuge, hope, and daring. While the story ends with joy on Christmas Day, the epilogue recounts the betrayals and losses that follow. The last line will leave readers gasping. Compulsively readable and brilliant.
Sepetys...unveils the culture of constant surveillance in communist Romania through an ominously suspenseful historical novel set at the brink of revolution ... As the betrayals’ nuances become clear via interspersed intelligence reports, Cristian’s tense first-person narrative foregrounds stark historical realities (families keep an inventory of American cigarettes as black market currency, police ruthlessly beat protesters), unflinchingly confronting deprivations and cruelty while balancing them with perseverance and hope as Romania hurtles toward political change. Back matter includes an author’s note.