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Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania

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58 short stories set in Romania, written by former BBC journalist/World Service trainer, Mike Ormsby, AKA 'the British Caragiale'. "Makes you die laughing" (Raluca Ion, Cotidianul) 58 short stories set in Romania, written by former BBC journalist/World Service trainer, Mike Ormsby, AKA 'the British Caragiale'. "Makes you die laughing" (Raluca Ion, Cotidianul)


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58 short stories set in Romania, written by former BBC journalist/World Service trainer, Mike Ormsby, AKA 'the British Caragiale'. "Makes you die laughing" (Raluca Ion, Cotidianul) 58 short stories set in Romania, written by former BBC journalist/World Service trainer, Mike Ormsby, AKA 'the British Caragiale'. "Makes you die laughing" (Raluca Ion, Cotidianul)

30 review for Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania

  1. 5 out of 5

    Raluca

    I want to say that it's brutally funny, but not because it's funny in a superlative term, but because it's brutally honest and that makes it funny, but it also makes it sad for us Romanians - the way he sees us, which is how we see us as a nation, when we are truthful about how we really are. There's good and there's quirky, you might say, but then there's bad and very bad and, sadly, we make fun of the bad instead of trying to correct it. But how would the foreigners make fun of us otherwise? I I want to say that it's brutally funny, but not because it's funny in a superlative term, but because it's brutally honest and that makes it funny, but it also makes it sad for us Romanians - the way he sees us, which is how we see us as a nation, when we are truthful about how we really are. There's good and there's quirky, you might say, but then there's bad and very bad and, sadly, we make fun of the bad instead of trying to correct it. But how would the foreigners make fun of us otherwise? In Romanian it's called "a face haz de necaz", which is to say, to make fun of a mishap or misfortune. It's something the author learned a lot while living here. The book has a pleasant general tone and is quite funny for the better parts - funny as in haha but also funny that conceals tragedy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sejla Dizdarevic

    Excellent read, if you can stand the truth and lough about it! I was intrigued by the title, coming from a Balkan country, and somebody compared the writer to Bill Bryson (whose books I love), so I had to read it. And I wasn’t disappointed, I laughed a lot and could place each of the stories in my own country, Bosnia. Particularly amusing are the stories describing old-fashioned services, like in the post office, with which we are all stuck (as long as it’s happening to someone else). These are no Excellent read, if you can stand the truth and lough about it! I was intrigued by the title, coming from a Balkan country, and somebody compared the writer to Bill Bryson (whose books I love), so I had to read it. And I wasn’t disappointed, I laughed a lot and could place each of the stories in my own country, Bosnia. Particularly amusing are the stories describing old-fashioned services, like in the post office, with which we are all stuck (as long as it’s happening to someone else). These are not sugar-coated stories, it is how it is, though I’m guessing inexperienced foreigners might suspect some exaggeration.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Violeta

    This book has a strong personality. The author has a fresh and interesting way to see and to present those details of the everyday life of a country that make it unique, but are often difficult to see from inside. Is it funny? Is it sad? Both. And we certainly need to see both, if we want to cure. Great style, i have enjoyed the reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Here's what the media / literary critics say about 'Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania', and its author « He's likeable, lucid, with a big soul and a lot of humour. The English journalist offers neither a façade, nor caricature, but reality - today's Romania. Mike Ormsby has not the slightest intention of flattering us, nor of treating us with the superiority of those coming from the civilised world to the backward East. He insists on writing exactly what he sees, lives and feels in today's co Here's what the media / literary critics say about 'Never Mind the Balkans, Here's Romania', and its author « He's likeable, lucid, with a big soul and a lot of humour. The English journalist offers neither a façade, nor caricature, but reality - today's Romania. Mike Ormsby has not the slightest intention of flattering us, nor of treating us with the superiority of those coming from the civilised world to the backward East. He insists on writing exactly what he sees, lives and feels in today's colourful Romania. His western mentality is that of someone formed in a system that has worked for generations, of someone who has in his blood politeness and respect for law and human rights, as well as civic responsibility. This way of thinking is constantly contradicted by aberrations that to us appear normal. Put simply, it's very hard for him to understand the lack of reliability and punctuality, the infernal and idiotic bureaucracy, the national institution of bri es and petty envy, the bad manners, the impunity of cheats and the ostentatious arrogance of the nouveau riche, the poor work ethic and cruelty to animals. » by Adriana Bittel, Formula AS « Romania has found itself a British Caragiale. The book makes you die laughing at out national failings, the sort that drive some less-tolerant Romanians abroad. » by Raluca Ion, Cotidianul « He does not flatter or indulge us, nor does he play our national sport of turning away, indifferent. If Mike was a time traveller, he'd take antibiotics to stop the Black Death. But that would be impossible. It would mean changing history. » by Elena Vladareanu, Romania Libera « The stories are juicy, full of charm, unified by a lot of English humour » Claudia Craiu, Ziarul de Iasi « Romanian clichés treated with intelligence and a unique, subtle irony. This merits pride of place on any bookshelf. » Mihai Gadalean, Foaia Transilvana « A bittersweet, accessible read, where Romanians can see their portrait in an English mirror. I devoured it in one sitting, with a range of feelings: from exultation to indignation, from surprise to who-cares, from pleasure to anger. A very well written book, carefully constructed and extremely intelligent. If it travels abroad, it will have a lethal effect. » by Eduard Tone, editor, FHM « Too many books or articles present Romania and its people in beautiful colours and too many stress the dark side, until it shocks. This author succeeds by showing a high degree of professionalism to present the facts as they are with subtle irony when the context requires. » Expatromania.ro <> by Frank O'Connor, Vivid (expat magazine, Romania) « Ormsby recounts the mishaps, muddles and privations that make daily life hard in Romania for Romanians, and even harder for outsiders. But through it all comes a strange sort of affection for a place, and its people, as they struggle to regain their sanity after the years of madness under Ceausescu. The author... Hamlet-like, refuses to go with the flow and battles against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a relish that leaves most of his Romanian friends, and probably not a few readers too, bemused but amused in equal measure. If you're going to Romania, it's better than a guide book. » by Ivor Gaber, Tribune (UK) « Mike Ormsby sees Romania very clearly. Sometimes we surprise him, sometimes he challenges us. Nevertheless, he clearly appreciates our charisma, confidence and warmth. » by Mihaela Spineanu, Elle (Romania) « It's about Romanians in transition, still tainted by the national experience of Communism, those who do not seem to know how to use the freedom they won in 1990. The book offers Romania a mirror, made in England. » by Christian Mititelu, former Head of BBC World Service Romanian section.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    funny and interesting short stories of a brit living in Romania

  6. 5 out of 5

    Guiceland

    A lovely book about a lovely place. In the Romanian version of the creation myth God creates the earth and starts assigning different people to different lands, but realizes suddenly that one land has every natural resource and would dominate the world. "I know", says God, "I will give it to the Romanians, because they would never manage to conquer the world." "Never mind the Balkans, here's Romania" is a wonderful book that brought back many happy memories of the two years that I and my family sp A lovely book about a lovely place. In the Romanian version of the creation myth God creates the earth and starts assigning different people to different lands, but realizes suddenly that one land has every natural resource and would dominate the world. "I know", says God, "I will give it to the Romanians, because they would never manage to conquer the world." "Never mind the Balkans, here's Romania" is a wonderful book that brought back many happy memories of the two years that I and my family spent in Romania from 1994-1996. I read the book cover to cover the minute it arrived, and couldn't put it down. In fact I read many of the stories outloud to my family. Romania and the Romanians are wonderful, but yet at times maddening. Romanian humor is itself often self-deprecating, and Mike Ormsby conveys just that gentle, loving sort of humor in portraying Romania. You will love Romania, and you will love this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Roxana Chirilă

    The book's best asset is its awesome, occasionally hilarious writing style. You can feel the journalist behind the writer: Mike Ormsby is attentive to details, straightforward yet still able to convey the atmosphere, capable of conveying his point of view without losing himself in rants or considerations. However, the stories wander a bit aimlessly, sometimes going back to the same themes over and over without necessarily saying new things about them: reckless drivers, stray dogs, that sort of th The book's best asset is its awesome, occasionally hilarious writing style. You can feel the journalist behind the writer: Mike Ormsby is attentive to details, straightforward yet still able to convey the atmosphere, capable of conveying his point of view without losing himself in rants or considerations. However, the stories wander a bit aimlessly, sometimes going back to the same themes over and over without necessarily saying new things about them: reckless drivers, stray dogs, that sort of thing. After a while, it started feeling a bit repetitive and limited, as if it never dared to outgrow its initial scope, but fluttered around it like a moth. Still interesting, still fun... yet it felt like something was missing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sanda

    I loved it! You will enjoy this different point of view and will laugh and maybe cry a little, if you have a fine sense of irony. I recommend it both for romanian people and for tourists in the land of Dracula. I am looking forward to the next book Mike Ormsby will write :)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andree

    I find "Never mind the Balkans..." such a captivating book. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading it. Easy to read, obviously, but what really impressed me were the realistic stories. Written in a simple manner, with a picaresque touch, the short stories reveal the Romania a confused, wondering but kind-hearted foreigner had to deal with. And mind you all: he did not come to Romania planning to write this! The book is the outcome of his exposure to the country and the people. I like the style, I find "Never mind the Balkans..." such a captivating book. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading it. Easy to read, obviously, but what really impressed me were the realistic stories. Written in a simple manner, with a picaresque touch, the short stories reveal the Romania a confused, wondering but kind-hearted foreigner had to deal with. And mind you all: he did not come to Romania planning to write this! The book is the outcome of his exposure to the country and the people. I like the style, really reminding of Caragiale's situational comedy, but also of Ionesco's absurd. It is great how modern local "archetype" characters are brought to light and depicted: the reckless driver, the inefficient public servant, the corrupt lawyer, but also the pensive intellectual and the good father figure. I really appreciate the author's objectivity (although the first person singular is widely employed in the book). Negative and positive aspects of Romania are mentioned, trying not to pass judgements nor to praise exceedingly. The stories may seem funny to some, sad to others, even enraging. Truth to say, I consider they cover social problems we, as Romanians, have to deal with and improve. Not only is this a good book to read, it is also educational.Not only an out-of-the-ordiary travel guide, but also a good manners guide. A bon entendeur, salut!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert Negut

    Having some curiosity about this ever since release, I jumped at the chance when I saw this edition given away for free and I'm not sorry I did. Of course, it's a collection of very realistic short stories and my main focus are high fantasy series, followed a long distance behind by a few other forms of literary escapism, so it's not anything I'd particularly like, as the rating shows, but that doesn't mean it didn't meet my expectations. At times, it even exceeded them. As for the stories themse Having some curiosity about this ever since release, I jumped at the chance when I saw this edition given away for free and I'm not sorry I did. Of course, it's a collection of very realistic short stories and my main focus are high fantasy series, followed a long distance behind by a few other forms of literary escapism, so it's not anything I'd particularly like, as the rating shows, but that doesn't mean it didn't meet my expectations. At times, it even exceeded them. As for the stories themselves, the vast majority certainly seem extremely real and paint a pretty accurate picture of "democratic" Romania. A few do seem to be akin to those pictures mentioned in "Buried", somewhat falsified, forced, in order to better present the desired concept, but the result justifies the approach and the overall image depicted still holds true. Things change, of course, and some did since the end of the period covered by the stories contained in the book, but in our case few of the changes are major, and even fewer for the better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carol Smith

    Started this a month ago as preparatory reading for a hiking trip in Romania. Life intervened, my trip was canceled, and nearly a full month passed before I could pick it again. I had no trouble falling back into it, though, as it consists of short, breezy, episodic glimpses into the experience of both being Romanian and being an ex-pat living in Romania. They're presented, as far as I can tell, in no particular order. It strikes me that this is the perfect way to attempt to capture the psyche of Started this a month ago as preparatory reading for a hiking trip in Romania. Life intervened, my trip was canceled, and nearly a full month passed before I could pick it again. I had no trouble falling back into it, though, as it consists of short, breezy, episodic glimpses into the experience of both being Romanian and being an ex-pat living in Romania. They're presented, as far as I can tell, in no particular order. It strikes me that this is the perfect way to attempt to capture the psyche of a people. Approach it too directly and you're bound to get mired in over-generalizations and cheap stereotypes. But relate 50+ stories of your real-world encounters with Romanians, from taxi drivers to shepherds to building managers, and a collective truth emerges from the pages. Ormsby's bemused affection for his adopted home shines through. I'll get there for sure in 2014!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Keval

    Mike Ormsby revealed to me so much more than I could have hoped to discover during my short trip to Romania earlier this year. There were times I was shaking my head in disbelief; at the same time I often found myself chuckling as the pages flipped furiously in my palms. Alas, some things did not sound peculiarly Romanian. Many times you will come across stories which you could or would have already experienced in your own backyard. Therein lies the basis of the appeal of this book: it speaks of Mike Ormsby revealed to me so much more than I could have hoped to discover during my short trip to Romania earlier this year. There were times I was shaking my head in disbelief; at the same time I often found myself chuckling as the pages flipped furiously in my palms. Alas, some things did not sound peculiarly Romanian. Many times you will come across stories which you could or would have already experienced in your own backyard. Therein lies the basis of the appeal of this book: it speaks of one country and one people, but their quirks and idiosyncrasies transcend boundaries.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ananie Olga

    An easy to read book,  with short, sensible stories about life in Romania after the 90s, from the perspective of a Western. Mike Ormsby captures with a keen eye various everyday funny situation in a changing Romania.  In the same time,  reading this book I could visualize the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains in which the autor fell in love and learn different things I didn't know about Romania. In my opinion, present-day Romania had changed in a good way and some of the presented situations ar An easy to read book,  with short, sensible stories about life in Romania after the 90s, from the perspective of a Western. Mike Ormsby captures with a keen eye various everyday funny situation in a changing Romania.  In the same time,  reading this book I could visualize the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains in which the autor fell in love and learn different things I didn't know about Romania. In my opinion, present-day Romania had changed in a good way and some of the presented situations are no longer found.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Fred Garnett

    Terrific book by scouse journalist and fellow Beatles fan Mike Ormsby. I love it as I discovered Romania this year and it tells me lots of things about life in Bucharest that I can relate to. I'm not sure how people who haven't visited Bucharest will find it but Mike is a journalist and this reads like, funny, Letters from Romania with a real sense of place, characters, timing; every chapter ends with a punch-line. Terrific book by scouse journalist and fellow Beatles fan Mike Ormsby. I love it as I discovered Romania this year and it tells me lots of things about life in Bucharest that I can relate to. I'm not sure how people who haven't visited Bucharest will find it but Mike is a journalist and this reads like, funny, Letters from Romania with a real sense of place, characters, timing; every chapter ends with a punch-line.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laura Baciu

    Fun and true! I would really recommend it to my foreign friends before arriving to Romania.

  16. 4 out of 5

    K Marcu

    Loved this book - so funny & very keen in his perception.... anytime I got frustrated as being the American in Romania, I read a chapter, laughed, & felt much better!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fat Climber

    So true and cringeworthy!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ray Melville

    Satisfying collection of articles/blogs on Romania seen over some 20 years. Fascinating insight to a foreign culture.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Lipman

    A cracking tableau of the good, bad and ugly in modern day Romania. Ormsby clearly lost his heart to Romania (and a Romanian woman) but impressively doesn’t shy away from telling the truth about his adopted country. He’s also funny, and observant, and has a good knack of ending each chapter without fuss, which intrigues. Read this book to get closer to the heart of the country - just what a good travel writer would hope to provide his readers...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hunor Deak

    I enjoyed reading this. It gives a good view on Bucharest life. Some great insight into the village life as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Never Mind The Balkins, Here's Romania was a free book from BookBub. I gave it four stars instead of five because initially, I found the book had crude, vulgar and abrasive details. The author, Mike Ornsby, writes in the first person masterfully and uses vivid description and interesting storylines about the people, landscape, food, politics, and his experiences in Romania. In the section Too Good To BeTrue, Mike is hiking a mountain in Transylvania with his friends, George, Alina and their 8 year Never Mind The Balkins, Here's Romania was a free book from BookBub. I gave it four stars instead of five because initially, I found the book had crude, vulgar and abrasive details. The author, Mike Ornsby, writes in the first person masterfully and uses vivid description and interesting storylines about the people, landscape, food, politics, and his experiences in Romania. In the section Too Good To BeTrue, Mike is hiking a mountain in Transylvania with his friends, George, Alina and their 8 year old daughter, Catrinal. A sudden lightning and thunderstorm hits and they are running for their lives in heavy torrential rain with the thunderstorm directly overhead and a pack of five hungry territorial sheep herding dogs closing in on them. "The pack of five suddenly splits. Two dogs run left to block our progress. Three run right, to block any retreat. We slow down, surrounded. The dogs close in, legs splayed, eyes aflame, crouching and barking and slavering, teeth exposed like ivory daggers. Suddenly, from nowhere, a barefoot kid scampers down the hill brandishing a huge stick. He yells at the dogs. They freeze, panting and glaring at us. The kid jabs his stick towards a gap in the circle of hackled fur and gives us the nod. We walk towards the gap then run." Another example is Mike's description of Vasile. "His tanned biceps are as big as rugby balls." This was an interesting, informative and entertaining book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ion

    Mike Ormsby scrie despre viata cotidiana din Romania, observand micile (mari) chestiuni care unui occidental I se par pur si simplu absurde, nedrepte sau incorecte. Este agrenat, ca orice alt "vestic", intr-o alta paradigma decat cea balcanica. Scurtele povestiri sunt tragi-comice pentru un roman care le priveste din prisma aceleasi paradigme ca a autorului. Mike Ormsby writes about the daily adventures of life in Romania, observing the smallish things which only a westerner believe to be simply a Mike Ormsby scrie despre viata cotidiana din Romania, observand micile (mari) chestiuni care unui occidental I se par pur si simplu absurde, nedrepte sau incorecte. Este agrenat, ca orice alt "vestic", intr-o alta paradigma decat cea balcanica. Scurtele povestiri sunt tragi-comice pentru un roman care le priveste din prisma aceleasi paradigme ca a autorului. Mike Ormsby writes about the daily adventures of life in Romania, observing the smallish things which only a westerner believe to be simply absurd, unjust or unfair. He is functioning, as any other westerner, in a different paradigm than the Balcanic paradigm. He does it best though! The short stories are biter-sweet for a Romanian who looks at them through the same lens as the author.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Madi

    Seeing your country through the eyes of a foreigner can be truly revealing. At first I was set back by the fact that he was only recounting unfortunate events. They were accurate, but not giving a good credit to Romania. By the end of the book I really started to appreciate Ormsby's candor and sense of observation. We, Romanians, do have all those bad characteristics that actually make each story more interesting. And if those arguments were not enough, it is important to say that the author mar Seeing your country through the eyes of a foreigner can be truly revealing. At first I was set back by the fact that he was only recounting unfortunate events. They were accurate, but not giving a good credit to Romania. By the end of the book I really started to appreciate Ormsby's candor and sense of observation. We, Romanians, do have all those bad characteristics that actually make each story more interesting. And if those arguments were not enough, it is important to say that the author married a Romanian and decided to live in Romania.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dorin

    It's an interesting new perspective on Romania, a view from the outside. However the writing lacks the fun element, the stories become a drag. Can't say I'm impressed, but it's an OK book. For a Romanian it's an interesting read, for a foreigner it's an incomplete view. In the end, it's all for themselves. It's an interesting new perspective on Romania, a view from the outside. However the writing lacks the fun element, the stories become a drag. Can't say I'm impressed, but it's an OK book. For a Romanian it's an interesting read, for a foreigner it's an incomplete view. In the end, it's all for themselves.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Raluca

    The book is a very realistic portrayal of Romania.I am a Romanian and I think no foreigner has ever spoken so true about Romania.I do not find it negative, it is the pure truth and it is written with love for the country.Well done!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Enda Hackett

    The flows from story to story and is enjoyable in places. However some of the stories are only views from individuals which of course everyone is entitled too but that does not make them true. Abit more history and facts would of made thia an excellent book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This book made me laugh 'til I cried... This book made me laugh 'til I cried...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cabinet Veterinar

    These bittersweet stories are all too true, unfortunately. They will make you laugh and cry. If we Romanians can take some of the credit, we must also take some of the responsibility!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Olly Kaye

    I was looking for a book to recommend to my family who are all going to Romania for my wedding (like Ormsby I'm a Brit from near Liverpool marrying a Romanian). Unfortunately this wasn't it. I've seen a lot of his stories in real life myself after 4 years of regular travel to Bucharest and the countryside, and don't doubt that they all happened as he told them. For me what lacks are the sympathetic characters, and the reason that Ormsby clearly loves the country enough to live there himself. With I was looking for a book to recommend to my family who are all going to Romania for my wedding (like Ormsby I'm a Brit from near Liverpool marrying a Romanian). Unfortunately this wasn't it. I've seen a lot of his stories in real life myself after 4 years of regular travel to Bucharest and the countryside, and don't doubt that they all happened as he told them. For me what lacks are the sympathetic characters, and the reason that Ormsby clearly loves the country enough to live there himself. With a couple of exceptions, he has only focused on the stereotypes, the nouveau riche, the ignorant country folk, the corrupt and the disenchanted. The few stories where there are more sympathetic characters are put in a nightmare of corruption or laziness. So overall, a good readable book, honest in what it portrays, but overall too negative and missing some of the warmth and hope that I have witnessed myself and was looking for.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Fox

    Brimming with humourous anecdotes, funny stories, wry observations and just plain tongue-in-cheek reporting Ormsby, a Welsh journalist living and working in/from Romania, paints a pixelated and friendly picture of life in that Eastern European country. He never seems directly censorious when talking about the failures of the bureaucracy nor the inevitable, it seems, corruption because he has chosen to live here despite a cosmopolitan view of the world that means his well-traveled self could pick Brimming with humourous anecdotes, funny stories, wry observations and just plain tongue-in-cheek reporting Ormsby, a Welsh journalist living and working in/from Romania, paints a pixelated and friendly picture of life in that Eastern European country. He never seems directly censorious when talking about the failures of the bureaucracy nor the inevitable, it seems, corruption because he has chosen to live here despite a cosmopolitan view of the world that means his well-traveled self could pick almost anywhere (except perhaps Africa) to settle down. He takes life as he experiences it and relishes it. The short pieces are not connected although certain people keep turning up but like those smatterings of conversation one has over the dinner table, at parties, in the car etc. have a beginning and end often with a punch line. The book is now 8 years old but I'd be very surprised if much has changed. A quick, engaging and rewarding read.

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