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Review: Along The Enchanted Way, by William Blacker

TIME : 2-23 16:04:15

Review: Along The Enchanted Way, by William Blacker

Get a taste of life in Romania just after the fall of the Berlin Wall

Romania’s greatest appeal to many travellers has been as a journey in time rather than space. With a rural economy little-changed since the Middle Ages, and a cast of peasants, Gypsies, wolves and shepherds, parts of Transylvania and the far-northern region of Maramures¸ are the closest we still have to a living vision of Olde England.

Or rather, were – for this beautiful book is both a discovery of and lament for a way of life being eroded (with heartbreaking speed) by Western capitalism.

As the Berlin Wall falls in 1989, William Blacker leaves London, drives east and finds, in the electricity-less valleys of northern Romania, a snow-bound time-capsule, ‘like the wing of a mansion which had been closed up for a hundred years’.

Fascinated – and fleeing the ‘sham of the modern world’ – he returns to live there for four years, learning to hand-scythe a meadow and wear opinci sandals just as TV ads are introducing the locals to shampoo and jeans.

He falls in with a chaotic Gypsy family (a horinca-fuelled knife fight is never far away), has a fling with the wayward Natalia, and then settles down with her fractionally more level-headed older sister Marishka. “If you’d wanted less dancing and more potatoes you should have chosen to live with a Romanian or Saxon girl,” she reminds him when he complains that the midwinter cupboards are bare.

The Saxons are, in fact, his other project: these ethnic German communities, with their magnificent fortified churches, are disintegrating as families flee west in search of a ‘better life’; Blacker starts raising funds to restore their abandoned 18th-century houses – a project now endorsed by Prince Charles.

And between Gypsy romance and rural conservation, there are white witches, police raids, festivals and funerals; a vivid panorama of life in this ‘great bubbling cauldron of magic’ recounted with humour, poetry and compassion. Enchanted indeed.

Score: 5/5

Publisher: John Murray, £20