Cri­sis

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Frank Gard­ner (Ban­tam Press, £12.99) Frank Gard­ner also knows what he’s talk­ing about, as the BBC’S Se­cu­rity Correspondent, who was se­ri­ously wounded by ter­ror­ists in Saudi Ara­bia. This novel, how­ever, is set among the drug lords of Colom­bia, a coun­try as vi­o­lent and un­pre­dictable as any­where in the world. A ma­jor player wants re­venge on Bri­tain for hurt­ing his trade. A tense thriller, only spoiled (for me) by an end­ing sim­i­lar to an ear­lier book

be­tween the Ot­toman and Aus­trian em­pires. It was a tur­bu­lent coun­try­side and ev­ery church had its own pro­tec­tive tower and de­fen­sive walls.

It wasn’t un­til the 1990s, after the fall of Ceaus­escu and the Com­mu­nist regime, that these Saxon fam­i­lies fi­nally re­lo­cated to Ger­many and sub­stan­tial parts of Tran­syl­va­nia be­came largely pop­u­lated by semi-no­madic gyp­sies—or ‘Roma peo­ple’ as they are more pop­u­larly known.

Gyp­sies had al­ways been a fea­ture of Tran­syl­va­nia, but, dur­ing the Nazi pe­riod, they had been rounded up and con­signed to con­cen­tra­tion camps, along with the Jewish pop­u­la­tion. Now, they are oc­cu­py­ing for­merly de­serted houses as well as car­a­vans and tented camps. Their con­voys of cov­ered wag­ons are one of the dis­tinc­tive and ap­peal­ing fea­tures of the cur­rent land­scape, although not al­ways wholly in­no­cent (my wife had her hand­bag snatched at by one pass­ing wag­oner).

Be­tween them, the Saxon set­tlers and the Roma peo­ple con­tributed con­sid­er­ably to the culture of Cen­tral Europe: their folk tunes were the in­spi­ra­tion for some of Franz Liszt’s mu­sic and their cre­atively de­signed, nat­u­raldyed wool-pile rugs were widely sought after by so­phis­ti­cated car­pet mer­chants.

How­ever, the re­gion re­mained fun­da­men­tally poor: the vil­lages were be­com­ing emp­tier and the houses were fall­ing down. It was against this back­ground that con­ser­va­tion trusts have been set up in re­cent years and peo­ple —no­tably The Prince of Wales— who set store by pre­serv­ing tra­di­tional beauty in re­mote ar­eas have in­vested in this part of Tran­syl­va­nia. This book should en­cour­age both ad­ven­tur­ous vis­i­tors and gen­er­ous pa­trons. John Ure The Tran­syl­va­nian Book Fes­ti­valñfea­tur­ing au­thors, po­ets and mu­sicñis held in Richis, Ro­ma­nia from Septem­ber 8 to 11 (01285 750358; www.tran­syl va­ni­an­book­fes­ti­val.co.uk)

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