A Book, Read – #62/2016 – Ormsby, Mike – Never Mind the Balkans, Here’s Romania


It should be noted that this book was provided to me by the author.

There’s a certain cheerful arrogance to a writer who puts, on the front cover of his book, that one should ‘close your guidebook and meet the people’, and that the way to do it is through this text and not another.  I say arrogance because, well, it presumes that one individual’s experience is sufficiently deep and broad to overturn a Lonely Plant guide or what have you, and cheerful because it’s clear the author is poking fun.

And it’s an interesting tactic to have this kind of mix on the front cover, before a proper word of the text has been read.

Ormsby’s book is split into 60 or so sections across 300 or so pages.  It’s tight, and short, and the through-lines are Romania and Mike himself.  Characters repeat, sure, but this is about an observer wryly observing, and about a country that wants to be modern, sleek, effective, technological, European, while remaining corrupt, self-involved, ridiculous, expensive, cheap, European.

And what is Romania, exactly?  I have the good fortune to have read a reasonable number of Romanian writers, and to consider at least one a friend.  Which is to say, I know of Romania through literature and informative emails, but I’ve never been.  I have an image in my mind, and I don’t truly know how accurate it is.  I imagine a place divided by its desire to properly enter into the EU fold, while still resenting/remembering the Ceaușescu period, and wondering exactly where the country fits.  Is it truly European?  Is it something else?  Is it a mix?  And will it ever work?

And who is Mike Ormsby?  He is a writer, a journalist, a man who makes his living from his pen, and who has chosen, at least for now, to live in Romania. It’s cheap, except when it isn’t.  Things work, except when they don’t.  People look out for themselves, or their organisation, and the broader community, or the understanding of common sense, suffers.  It’s all told very well, not overly descriptive, not overly coloured with thoughts and feelings.  He writes it down as it is, and leaves it up to us to appreciate the absurdity.

Now, at the end of the book, I want to go to Romania. Why?  Well, I like the idea of place that crumbles, advances, shocks and smiles all at once.  I wouldn’t say it’s chaos, and I wouldn’t say it’s surreal, but there’s a certain quality of – the ridiculous.  It’s all a joke that everyone is in on, even those who don’t laugh.  Everyone knows there’s a punchline, and they know, also, that they may not yet know what that punchline is.  And they may never know, but someone else will, and they’ll laugh.  Romania.

To reiterate – it should be noted that this book was provided to me by the author.

The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.


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