Book review: The Story That Cannot Be Told

In The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer, clever folklore retellings woven with historical fiction result in a delightful story that resonates long after the last page.

This middle-grade novel is set in Romania in 1989, the year of the Romanian Revolution. Young Ileana describes life under oppressive Communist rule: people crammed into tiny apartments to make room for the leader’s golden palace; intermittent electricity even in the middle of winter; long lines for food that often runs out. Worst of all, friends, family, and neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another for transgressions against the government, resulting in the disappearance of many.

When Uncle Andrei disappears and Ileana’s apartment is bugged, even the collection of her drawings and writings–The Great Tome–could threaten her family. For her safety, Ileana’s parents send her far away to a tiny mountain village to stay with grandparents she has never met. Of course, there is more to the idyllic country setting than gathering eggs and milking goats. Stories abound about the villagers and their customs, and Ileana collects them all.

But when the Secretariat arrives asking questions, she learns that some stories hold power. The legend of the White Wolf is one, as are the travels of Old Constanta and the tales of Cunning Ileana, who outsmarts everyone who means to do her harm. Even dear Tataie’s heartwrenching experiences during WWII and Papa’s viewings of illicit VHS recordings of Star Wars become seeds for rebellion.

Powerful and uplifting, The Story That Cannot Be Told ought to be told again and again. This beautiful story demonstrates how even under terrible circumstances, people find avenues to joy in the present and hope for a better future. One of my favorite books of 2020!