Given the universal recognition of the name Transylvania, and the romantic connotations of the Carpathian Mountains, very few books in English have so far been written about this fascinating region of Europe. Authors, take note. Here are some of those in print. (Where possible, the title holds a link to its Amazon page.)
by Bronwen Riley & Dan Dinescu. Beautiful book of photographs and essays, happily back in print.
Blurb: “Transylvania is still a Romantic land. Houses in the forests still have roofs made of grass and horse-drawn carts are a common form of transportation in the country. It is like taking a step back in time where houses are still lit by oil lamps and amenities taken for granted are hard to find.
Transylvania has been important part of the world due to its position as a frontier zone between the east and the west. It has been invaded by numerous tribes and is home to a variety of people who dress in their traditional clothes even today. In their book, Transylvania, writer Bronwen Riley and photographer Dan Dinescu give a glimpse into this very unique and mystical land. They take the reader on a journey of a place which many consider to be fictional.” Read the whole review…
by Donald Hall. Written in 1933, at about the same time that Patrick Leigh-Fermor was tramping through the Carpathians, Donald Hall came to Transylvania to spend some months living and working with a peasant family in Transylvania. A charming book, easy to read – so the perfect holiday read for anyone coming to the world’s top destination in 2016 (Transylvania).
Here’s an extract from an Amazon review:
“He lays before us the never-ending hospitality of the peasants and the cyclical nature of their lives, linked intrinsically to the earth and the passing seasons. Lives full of meaning and purpose and though hard by comparison with our centrally heated, technology driven lives, they seemed completely content with their lot. How many of us can say the same?
Of interest is the blend of pagan and Christian ritual that was undertaken, the former giving us perhaps a glimpse into the beliefs and customs of humans in Europe stretching back for millennia prior to the coming of Christianity.”
by William Blacker.
There, for many years he lived side by side with the country people, a life ruled by the slow cycle of the seasons, far away from the frantic rush of the modern world. In spring as the pear trees blossomed he ploughed with horses, in summer he scythed the hay meadows and in the freezing winters gathered wood by sleigh from the forest. From sheepfolds harried by wolves, to courting expeditions in the snow, he experienced the traditional way of life to the full, and became accepted into a community who treated him as one of their own. But Blacker was also intrigued by the Gypsies, those dark, foot-loose strangers of spell-binding allure who he saw passing through the village. Locals warned him to stay clear but he fell in love and there followed a bitter struggle.
Change is now coming to rural Romania, and William Blacker’s adventures will soon be part of its history. From his early carefree days tramping the hills of Transylvania, to the book’s poignant ending, Along the Enchanted Way transports us back to a magical country world most of us thought had vanished long ago.
‘Wonderful . . . A wild and captivating story’ (Patrick Leigh Fermor )
‘This is an enthralling account of highs, lows and lessons learnt’ (Daily Express )
‘A vivid panorama of life in this ‘great bubbling cauldron of magic’ recounted with humour, poetry and compassion. Enchanted indeed’ (Wanderlust )
‘A lyrical description of an almost vanished way of life that many of us, stuck in traffic jams, in call-centre queues and behind supermarket trolleys, probably find ourselves sometimes hankering after’ (Sunday Times )
‘Enchantment is the key word. One wonders whether this might be the book of a lifetime, with all its youthful vigour. Every page and paragraph says Blacker is a natural-born writer and teller of great tales’ (Daily Telegraph )
Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland – The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates
‘Beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers… in this work he is exploring the very furthest boundaries of the genre’ (Jan Morris, The Times)
The acclaimed travel writer’s youthful journey – as an 18-year-old – across 1930s Europe by foot began in A Time of Gifts, which covered the author’s exacting journey from the Lowlands as far as Hungary. Picking up from the very spot on a bridge across the Danube where his readers last saw him, we travel on with him across the great Hungarian Plain on horseback, and over the Romanian border to Transylvania.The trip was an exploration of a continent which was already showing signs of the holocaust which was to come. Although frequently praised for his lyrical writing, Fermor’s account also provides a coherent understanding of the dramatic events then unfolding in Middle Europe. But the delight remains in travelling with him in his picaresque journey past remote castles, mountain villages, monasteries and towering ranges. Although Between the Woods and the Water was published nine years after A Time of Gifts, Fermor was famously still at work on the concluding part of his trilogy up until his recent death.
After the fall of the Ceausescu dictatorship in 1990 Dervla Murphy spent eight important months of her life in Transylvania, immersing herself in the Romanians’ everyday lives and culture . . . An excellent read, it gives one some understanding of how life was at the end of the 1980s, days after the Ceausescus were shot but years before Romania recovered its sense of identity as a free European nation.
Crossing the border by train, she was robbed of her rucksack and all her possessions, and a week later she was lucky to survive a serious car accident. Undaunted, she continued to explore the country, staying in urban blocs, small towns and traditional villages, on the plains and in the mountains. Wherever she went she found people both exhilarated and bewildered, as they emerged from the gloom of an oppressive communist regime. On a second visit the following year, she discovered a significant change in the national mood. She also experienced overwhelming hospitality, making friends from all walks of life. The book was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book award.
‘Perceptive about its subject, this excellent travel book incidentally reveals the indomitable character of the author.’ The Guardian
A collection of 57 short stories – some funny, some not – by former BBC journalist/World Service trainer Mike Ormsby. Received excellent reviews in 2008 and has become a cult read since. Short and snappy, hard to put down. Close your guide book and meet the people.
The literati say:
“Romania has found itself a British Caragiale. The book makes you die laughing.” ( Cotidianul)
“The stories are juicy, full of charm, unified by a lot of English humour.” (Ziarul de Iasi)
“Mike Ormsby sees Romania very clearly. Sometimes we surprise him, sometimes he challenges us. Nevertheless, he clearly appreciates our charisma, confidence and warmth.” (ELLE.)
e-book & paperback (click images)
‘Some reviewers described the author as ‘a British Ion Luca Caragiale‘, and one perceived a direct link to foreign travel writers of previous centuries in Romania, such as John Paget, James Henry Skene, Emily Gerard and Sacheverell Sitwell.’
A century ago, a folk art enthusiast collected these ornate, highly stylized designs from among a now-dispersed community of ethnic Germans residing in Transylvania. Nearly 200 designs include birds, flowers, mythical creatures, and other motifs in styles ranging from simple to complex and in themes from medieval to modern. Easily adapted to other crafts projects. Reprint of Folk Cross-Stitch Designs, 1964 edition.
by Ion Grumeza (pub. University Press of America, 2009)
From Google Books: “This book tells the little known story of Dacia, the powerful and rich land that became Transylvania and Romania. This kingdom was once the cornerstone of Eastern Europe. By A.D. 1, Dacia was the third largest military power in Europe, after the Romans and Germans. Most historians mistook the Dacians for Sarmatians, Sythians, even Slavs. This book revives the Dacian history and contributes to our understanding of the region as it is today.
The wars, economy, and traditions of this Transylvanian land permeate the geopolitics of today’s Balkan countries. To understand what is happening today in Modern Europe, we need to return to the study of this area. This book provides the context for the invasions that molded the Balkan and Eastern European nations that continue to redraw their borders and impose ethnic domination on each other.”
Amazon blurb: “Part travelogue, part memoir, part exposition of natural and cultural history, Dreaming of Wolves presents a unique and colourful story of adventure. Through a series of entertaining vignettes, the author paints an intimate and intricate picture of nature and life as it occurs in a fascinating part of Europe that has remained largely untouched by modern trends and undiscovered by western travellers, at least until recently. Whether joining the narrator as he tracks wolves in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains, or battles antagonistic shepherd dogs, or sits on the floor of a cave contemplating time and consciousness, or makes a journey through history to discover the real Dracula, as one reads Dreaming of Wolves one absorbs, almost without realising it, a remarkable amount of factual information about wolves, about traditional and rural life in Romania, about the history of Romania, about animal behaviour, and even about physics. Written in an understated style, the story is related with an honesty and a subtle sense of humour that derives from events perceived by a keen and sensitive eye. The book presents several sub-themes – such as, the importance of conserving wilderness, the value of discovering self through uncovering and pursuing one’s dreams, the nature of time and consciousness – all of which are woven smoothly into the fabric of a well-told story. The author’s beautiful colour photographs of the people, animals and locales enhance the narrative and help the reader to understand the cultural and historical perspectives that influence life in Romania today.”
The Bran-Rucar corridor/ Culoarul Rucar-Bran
by Florin (Foto); Pascaru, Mariana (Text) Andreescu (Author)
I don’t think you can get hold of this outside Romania, but you’ll find it at most bookshops and at tourist traps, eg Bran.
Book blurb: “Vlad III, warlord of Wallachia has enjoyed a curious immortality as Dracula, the fictional Prince of Darkness. Yet for modern Romanians, this is a gross act of historical libel, which has transformed a national hero into a Gothic caricature. This illuminating new study untangles myth from fact to expose a fascinating figure. A ruler who combined the characteristics of a true Renaissance prince and the most barbarous dark age despot, an inspired tactician driven by an insatiable thirst for revenge. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was the first Hollywood film to depict the link between the medieval warlord and his undead namesake, while Vlad has been portrayed as a dashing patriotic hero in Romanian film and fiction, and a psychopathic villain in Turkish popular culture. His life, characterised by epic carnage, driven by raw passions, and clouded by dark conspiracies, has inspired the imaginations of generations. Nicolae Ceausescu, the infamous Communist dictator whose brutal reign brought Romania to its knees, saw in Vlad a kindred spirit, a political survivor caught between the East and West. … This intriguing book sheds new light on one of history’s most contested figures and is certain to fascinate aficionados of history, politics and Gothic literature alike, posing questions that are still frighteningly pertinent today.”
A biography of the 15th Century Prince of Romania, Vlad Dracula (1431-1476), nicknamed the Impale and on whom Bram Stoker based his fictional character. It covers his career as ruler of Wallachia, terror of Transylvania and crusader against the Turks and examines how closely he compares to his fictional counterpart. … In this definitive biography covering Vlad Dracula’s life and subsequent legend, readers will discover that life can truly be more terrifying than fiction.