In a country governed by isolation, fear and a tyrannical dictator, 17-year-old Cristian Florescu is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. But he decides to use his position to try to outwit his handler, undermine the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians and expose to the world what is happening in his country.
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.