Kiersten White’s And I Darken is already one of our favorite books of the year. Meticulously researched, vividly transporting historical fiction, it’s the first in a series (hallelujah!) that sets out to answer a question the author put to herself: what if Vlad the Impaler had been female? White discusses her connection to Romania, and why she always knew she’d set a story there.
When I met my husband, he had just gotten home from spending two years living in Romania. (In fact, when I asked him on our first date, his response to “What are you up to?” was “Just writing an email in Romanian.” I told him I had just finished doing that, too [lie], but probably we should go to a movie together instead.) So Romania has factored into our relationship from the very beginning. One of the highlights of the last few years was when we were able to spend two weeks there, traveling through the countryside.
So I carried the country in my heart until I found the right story to set there. And, unsurprisingly, Romania is placed all over our house as well.
On our mantel, next to family photos, is a picture I took of Peleş Castle, one of our first stops outside of Bucharest. While much newer than the rest of our stops—and nothing to do with Vlad Tepes, the gender-swapped star of my novel And I Darken—it was a stunning tour.
On our wall we have a couple of icons we purchased at the jaw-droppingly gorgeous monastery in Curtea de Argeş. Much of the Orthodox world gets their icons from Romania. We picked this one because “girl with ax” is always the best choice. (She was sainted because she gave away her father’s lunch to a starving person, and then her father killed her with that ax.)
Curtea de Argeş is also where we climbed 1,300 steps through the fog to a cloud-dwelling peak, where we visited the foundation of Vlad Tepes’s mountain fortress. The fortress hangs out on my fridge amid kid art and BFF photos.
Outside the birthplace of Vlad in Sighişoara, we watched as a local artisan hand-carved spoons. We bought this one, with the traditional Dacian Draco on it. (Dacia predated Wallachia, which predated Romania, all of which own my heart.)
But we aren’t all-Romania-all-the-time! We also have this beautiful plate, handed down from my husband’s grandmother. (He inherited it by virtue of being the only Arabic speaker in the family. Trilingual bonus!) I love how elegant and beautiful artwork using Arabic script is. Someday I hope to add more Ottoman artwork to our collection.
In the end, no one is very surprised our house is littered with items from Romania. And no one is very surprised that I looked at the life of a man named Vlad the Impaler and decided to make him a girl and write a trilogy about her. After all, this lives on our mantel, too, hand-painted by—you guessed it—my trilingual, infinitely talented, maddeningly versatile husband.