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He Suffered Under Romania’s Dictatorship. Then He Was Forced to Spy for It.

Cristian has always hated the regime, but one day, he is summoned by the Securitate and blackmailed by an agent who tells him that the government will help his dying grandfather only if he spies on a local American diplomat. Suddenly, Cristian faces a dilemma: To protect his grandfather, he has to become the thing he and his grandfather detest — an informant. But, as Cristian soon learns, cutting deals with the Securitate is never straightforward, and to make matters more complicated, a revolution is brewing behind the scenes.

Sepetys is an author known for mining history to create engrossing novels for young readers. Her first book, “Between Shades of Gray,” about a Lithuanian girl deported to a Siberian labor camp during Stalin’s dictatorship, was a New York Times best seller. Subsequent historical tales followed, including “The Fountain of Silence,” which explored Spain in 1957 under Francisco Franco, and “Salt to the Sea,” about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of World War II. With “I Must Betray You,” her sixth book if you include the graphic novel adaptation of “Between Shades of Gray,” Sepetys trades her meditative tone for the suspense of a spy drama. The tension is heightened because, even as Cristian is pressured to become an informer, he is also being monitored himself. Between chapters, Sepetys adds Securitate reports to show that nothing Cristian does ever escapes the eye of the state.

The challenges that Cristian faces are so extreme and unsettling that it’s easy to forget they’re based on real, and recent, history. But 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.

“1984,” by George Orwell — Orwell’s classic novel, originally published in 1949, takes the ideas of surveillance and authoritarianism and creates a dystopian world that is eerily similar to the real-life struggles of Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu.

“Bluebird,” by Sharon Cameron — Similar to “I Must Betray You,” Cameron’s “Bluebird” is a Y.A. historical novel about a teenager facing the legacy of a dictatorship. In this case, the story focuses on the aftermath of World War II and explores “Project Bluebird,” a C.I.A. program to find the Nazi doctors behind mind-control experiments conducted at concentration camps and expand those efforts for the United States.

Circassia News

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