Biographies, Book Review, Non-fiction

Confessions of an Emigrant – Book Review by a Romanian

If what you want is a memoir full of drama, sadness and continuous action, this book is for you.

“Confessions of an Emigrant” is the memoir of a Romanian, Elena Mihaila, succeeding in leaving her country just as the 1989 revolution changes the country’s dictatorship into a democratic regime. She manages to leave after having already been through an unsuccessful attempt of staying in Norway in the previous years. This time, she is relentless and determined to never go back.

The book portrays all her trials in Romania and outside as a string of questionable choices that, for the most part, always seem to get her in a worse situation than the one she had previously been in.

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Confessions of an Emigrant – The Plot

Elena’s story begins when she settles in a little village in Romania with Matei and her little baby girl, Anca. They live in the same house with Matei’s elderly parents and things seem to flourish. Their relationship is great, she gets to make friendships among the village people. Though never having lived in the countryside before, she is scrappy and figures out how to grow chickens and a garden. She also gets a job near by and, all in all, manages to get by perfectly.

Of course, her entire backstory is soon revealed: she had a husband, Ion, whom she left after having fallen in love with Matei. He abused her (while her parents just watched!) for daring to want to leave (a divorce was badly seen in Romania at the time). They now all made it impossible for her to visit her two boys – Dragos and Rares. They also use their influence to make Matei loose his job in the military, leaving them no alternative to leaving the country.

When they actually manage to leave, Matei and Dragos, Elena’s eldest son, go first to settle things. Elena follows with baby Anca and Carmen, her daughter-in-law. All the while, she is suffering for having to leave Rares behind because he is still in school.

Their adventure begins in France where they soon remain penniless. When France refuses to grant them permit to stay, they have to leave the country, starting a long journey that takes them to Germany, Poland, Norway, Australia and New Zeeland. All these countries refuse at some point to grant them refuge and the experience is terrible.

They all have to go without shelter, even without food at some points. Considering they have a little baby with them, that seems terrible and irresponsible as well. I would have turned 10 times back to Romania in Elena’s place. She, however had grit and determination. Even more, wherever she goes, she tries to bond with the people around her, make their life better with the little she can provide.

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My Thoughts…

…On the Main Character – Elena

From the first page of the book until she finally settles somewhere, Elena’s choices infuriated me! I couldn’t understand how she was so easily manipulated! If it weren’t an actual memoir, I couldn’t have thought someone could be so gullible, so many times. Of course, some of the times she actually had no choice. She had to go on, even knowing the dangers, but in reality I always felt she could have always come back to Romania. She shouldn’t have had to go through so many terrible things.

Elena is brave and reckless at the same time. What she faces makes her stronger and, ultimately, a bit wiser. In everything, I admired her desire of independence, but felt like she always expected strangers’ help. She has little respect for authorities and is very driven to do whatever it takes to remain in the country she wants. Her life was difficult. Having no roots, always changing places, she ultimately couldn’t forge deep connections with anyone and stress strained relationships with her family.

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…On the Other Characters

The men in Elena’s life are clearly portrayed through her eyes. Even though she suffers abuse from all of them (verbal as well as physical) she always finds a way to excuse them and maintain a cordial relationship throughout the years. Even though she manages to leave abusive relationships behind, she always wonders if she had done the right thing. She always believes they could have changed and is never sure of herself.

Alcohol problems, jealousy, beatings … you can expect lots of terrible behaviour from the men’s part.

The most beautiful relationship Elena has is with her sons. They are very close, talk and take advise from each other. It moved me a lot to read about it.

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…On the Writing

I didn’t enjoy very much the way some things were translated from Romanian. I am not sure if the author used a translator or translated everything herself, but some things sound bizarre to me because the translation is too literal. As a Romanian, I understood where she was coming from, but I don’t know how people who have English as their first language will perceive it. For example, she is using “What wind brings you by?” instead of just “What brings you by?”.

✨”What wind brings you by” is a literal translation that sounds weird to me in English, but maybe it’s just fine. Let me know what you think!

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When I think about how things have changed ever since Romania is part of the European Union, how easily one can decide to live in any European country as a Romanian, Elena’s experience seems unreal.

I am glad I read this beautiful, adventurous, fascinating and real story of a Romanian emigrant in the 1990s!

Because of this book, I better understand the struggle of immigrants from other continents trying to enter in European countries today. Just a few years ago Romanians were in the same situation!

✨✨You can find the book on Goodreads here.✨✨

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