George Hari Popescu, Cyberculture.ro
“The story is simple, sad and joyful: Arabella, a woman in her 50s, with a childhood marked by the random behaviour of alcoholic parents, goes through a long period of depression triggered by five family deaths. She has no stable income, can’t concentrate on work, is a little desperate. After a trip to Transylvania, she decides to buy an old house in the village of Măgura near Bran and sell her house in England. After renovating the house, she involves herself gradually in the life of the community, begins to work from home and feels better and better. Now she declares herself happy in the hill village, with the Romanians always ready to help her, with the dogs, cats and horses.
The book looks like a collection of sketches, but the events come together beautifully, to create the general picture of the author’s separation from her native country and her integration into the Romanian village. Arabella McIntyre Brown combines evocation with observation and lyrical description. After explaining why she decided to emigrate, she tells of the hardships she went through to sell everything there and bring it here. She describes in detail how she renovated the small house in Măgura. She shares her first findings of the community, the people, the village and the Romanian state. Some chapters are small lessons in botany and zoology, others are short works of ethnography and folklore. Almost every ‘sketch’ ends with her joy at being there.
The world of the author is limited geographically, but it is full of good people, funny events and trying times. Personally, I really appreciated the author’s observations of the Romanians (especially those from the villages).
On the other hand, Arabella is a great animal lover and does not hesitate to praise them. Cats are her weakness.
In fact, the author declares herself a cat in a dog world: she is not a hermit, but she likes the company of people in small doses and she does not like unannounced visits. However, she was well received by the villagers, helped by many of them and was not very touched by the inherent gossip of the rural world (although, being Transylvania, I tend to think that it is something more gentle than the gossip in the rest of the country).
I think you will be surprised that this Englishwoman makes a very accurate x-ray of Romania and the Romanian village, after a few years of staying in Măgura. Moreover, you will find that Arabella McIntyre Brown simply loves these places and feels integrated almost perfectly. In a warm and friendly tone, she subtly urges us to appreciate what we have around us and to feel privileged that we still have values that have long been lost in other parts of Europe.
I recommend the book because it is an amazing work of ethnography (you will appreciate the descriptions of how the villagers make weddings or celebrate the big days of the year) and a sincere and colourful confession of a woman who has managed to overcome challenges in her life.”
‘A Stake in Transylvania’ is a true declaration of the love of an Englishwoman for Romania. Arabella McIntyre-Brown, after losing several loved ones, decides to move out of the comfort zone and start a new life in a country she didn’t know much about and whose language she didn’t speak. What chance did a single woman – over 50 years old, without income, with no plan – have to restore her life in a country so different from her own? Probably, if she had asked herself that question, she would never have moved.
After six years living in Romania, she writes, with tasty details, about her life in Magura. Although a rather internalized yarn, in which she prefers the company of animals to humans, Arabella makes new friends among the inhabitants of the village and among the families of expats living in the area.
Arabella discovers (and is sometimes surprised by) the cultural differences between Romanians and Britons, yet writes about Romanians being workers, families and good neighbours – even if they have a bad habit of entering your house unannounced without knocking on the door :). In fact, it’s not only humans that have this habit, but sheep, too – the only animals that Arabella, a great animal lover, does not like.
The author does not just reveal the positive side of the Romanians living in the village. She also writes about their financial hardships, about children being required to help with household chores, or that animals are viewed as utilities and not as pets.
A wedding is an opportunity for Arabella to better understand the customs of the place, but she makes it entertaining, too. After the religious ceremony, the wedding party goes to the restaurant for the reception. Everyone drives with headlights on and horns beeping – a chance for Arabella to remember the sound of her car’s horn, unused for a long time. At the restaurant, the waitress looked at her strangely when she asked for water. “All that quality drink, plus the wine to be brought – and you want water?!”
What I liked
– the characters, picturesque and very believable, described with a great sense of detail and sometimes irony and even self-irony (not even the author is exempt)
– very realistic way in which the author captures and describes the world of the Romanian village, with good and bad
– description of the nature of Transylvania
– the positive, engaging, sometimes funny, tone of story.
What I didn’t like
– too many details about animals, especially dogs and cats – in fact, the book could be a few hundred pages shorter, without the story having to suffer.
“Arabella’s book is like a microscopic laboratory sample of Romania. Written accurately and in detail, the story is current, modern, sincere, alive. Romania has adopted a brave, deserving, creative Englishwoman and taken her to its heart.
The journalistic descriptions reveal Romania in the mirror with all its beauty and imperfections, with the generosity and the impossible roads, with the rich orchards and its people. Each page has a story to tell. And Arabella manages (how can she?) to tell everyone’s story, woven in with her own.
Moving to Transylvania meant new absolutes: new language, new place, new people, new habits, new cats. A life with sadness, dramatic stories, parents with vices that alter the lives of children. This is what Arabella reveals to us, straightforwardly: “I am the child of a couple of alcoholics”.
Arabella’s writing conquers. Drawing a striking balance holds intrigue but each chapter has its source of comedy, tragedy or the extraordinary.
What I love most is the power of the images that Arabella McIntyre-Brown manages to draw in my imagination.
An encyclopedia of country life, ‘A Stake in Transylvania’ is a collection of real stories about houses and buildings, about friendly and generous neighbours, greedy profiteers, about nature and its seasons, about work, about celebrations.
Recenzii de carti
“Simplicity is the element that sums up our country: the world of Romanian villages, which we completely ignore or avoid, that still wild area amongst nature (clean mountain air, ‘dust’ on the flowering meadows, natural remedies used for hundreds of years, tranquility, transhumance, wildlife and the wild flora of Romania, etc), but especially those hospitable people ready to jump to your help, whether neighbours or random strangers: “all smiles, offering to help, overthrowing my system of prejudices. That’s the way Romanians are, the traditions of good neighbourliness say that you must take care of your neighbours, and they will take care of you too.”
In contrast to the forced urbanism and rules that embody life in England, the author discovers in our lands absolute freedom, where the laws are simple: respect nature and enjoy what it offers you: “I appreciate being in the wild Carpathians among these unspoiled peasant princes.” The author explains very beautifully and simply why people prefer villages to the detriment of the townspeople who crave the “feeling of unforgettable dream that is born amidst the roar of the city”. Because the children of the villagers “grow up and understand that the fences are meant to keep cows in place, not to put barriers between people”, and if “education makes people blind to the truth, I’d rather miss all these professionals. the blink of a blank and remain with the intelligent, open humanity, with the warm heart of these villagers from the mountain. Daily.”
If you wonder how she can survive alone, with her cats, on a “mountain peak”, you will find that for some people solitude is not a cause of depression, but a personal choice when this condition, along with the wild nature of around, it gives you the comfort you can’t find in the people around you. And all this comes from the author’s childhood, which was not only “milk and honey”, with two alcoholic parents, the consistency and sense of security, so necessary for any child, were not there. She can understand the feeling of sadness that people with large families, left alone, cannot empathize with, because for her, solitude is “delightful and inspiring.”
Caught between the customs of politeness, English manners and the primitivism of the inhabitants and nature of the Carpathians, the author has managed to find a balance, so that this house in Măgura represents “home”. And I know that a person, regardless of nationality, has a Romanian soul when she speaks in this way about our country: “I have found a deep connection in Transylvania and have no wish to leave here, ever. My life is here; I no longer have any assets in Britain apart from emotional ties, friends, relations and memories – all of which I treasure. But this Carpathian Mountain life is simple, while the world churns. This is peace. Today is the Ides of March; soon the clocks will go forward as the earth stirs and puts out shoots, the sun blazes, the world turns.”