Perhaps because of his publishing deadline, Kaplan gives little space to exploring the significance of Romania’s surprising 2014 election ... but omissions and unevenness come with the territory, as it were, and are compensated for by the rich characters who wander through these pages, particularly the nonagenarian historians and other intellectuals, officials and churchmen who dispense wisdom from book-lined homes, cafes, or chapels old and new.
When Kaplan lets his emotions speak, his cup overfloweth. 'The ultimate purpose of existence is to sanctify beauty,' say, or 'Travel is about movement through stages of landscape, mirroring one’s journey through life.' These pronouncements are disarmingly passionate. No one would accuse Kaplan of being a softnose, but that kind of talk, that’s called vulnerability.
In the end, this is not the stereotypical Romania of Dracula, of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, or of perfect gymnasts — this is the story of a young and confused country, forever on the borderland of Europe, constantly forced to side with the strongest schoolyard bully, while doing its best to retain a soul it still can’t quite pin down.