by Kim on February 4, 2010 on

Summary: As ambassador to Romania shortly after the end of Communist rule, Jim Rosapepe worked hard to help the country shed the image of an old, dark, haunted place and bring Romania into the 20th century and all that implies. His wife, Sheila, used her skills as a journalist to work with the Romanian people to make the transition possible. In this book, Sheila and Jim chronicle their time in Romania by taking the reader through each of Romania’s eight regions and the changes that have helped shape the country.

Review: I decided to mix up my review format a little bit this time — I’m going to review the book by answering a few of the questions I found on a book discussion page at, which cover the main points I want to get at about this book that, overall, I enjoyed.

1. Did you feel that the book fulfilled your expectations?

Yes, definitely. I was hoping for a book that would tell me about the history of Romania, the culture, and how Romania is starting to change since the fall of Communism. I wasn’t expecting a really fascinating story, but the book managed to surprise me a bit in that the structure and events that happened were better than I expected.

2. How does the setting figure into the book? Is the setting a character? Does it come to life? Did you feel you were experiencing the time and place in which the book was set?

Romania is a huge part of the book, so much that I think it takes on the effect of the character. Through their travels in the country, Sheila and Jim get to know some of the history of each region. As expected, the section on Transylvania and the mis-remembered story of Dracula was my favorite because the section changed many of my notions about that story. Plus, the image of Dracula is one that seems to haunt Romania, so taking time to debunk and explore those myths was important for the book.

3. What about the plot? Did it pull you in; or did you feel you had to force yourself to read the book?

It went back and forth. There were times when it got a bit dry — name dropping and diplomatic speak and society functions aren’t usually my cup of tea — but other parts were quite interesting. I liked learning about the Romania people first, their customs and habits and quirks that make them different from Americans. Although, the sections about the tangled history of the Romanian royal family and some of their drama kept my attention because of just how odd all of it was

4. How did the book compare to other books by the author (or other books in the same genre)?

This is the second diplomatic memoir I’ve read recently, and this one was much better. Although I didn’t love the organization of Dracula is Dead (they went through the eight regions in Romania and shared stories from each region), I liked that the book had a sense of flow to it. I didn’t love the organization because it felt like the story never built to a narrative or some sort of climax, which I’m used to expecting. But maybe there wasn’t really a high point to build to, so a different structure wouldn’t have worked. I’m not sure, I might just be acting picky.

Anyway, this book also felt less self-absorbed than the previous book — there wasn’t as much a focus on the accomplishments as ambassador, and more a focus on the experience of being an ambassador and learning about a totally new country.

5. Would you recommend this book to other readers? To your close friend?

A qualified yes — if you’re interested in politics, diplomacy, or the changes in Europe following the fall of Communism, then I think you’d find this book interesting, but if those topics aren’t something you’re inclined to read about in the first place then I wouldn’t recommend it because I don’t think the writing or story are great enough to overcome a lack of interest in the subject matter.