Title: Spy Artist Prisoner: My Life in Romania Under Fascist and Communist Rule
Author: George Tomaziu
Translator: Jane Reid
Cover design: Stephen Games
Publisher: Envelope Books
Genre: Memoir
Book format: Paperback
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Description:  The Romanian artist George Tomaziu anticipated that he might be imprisoned for monitoring German troop movements during the Second World War.
He also imagined that after the war, if he survived it, he might be credited with having helped to save his country from Fascism.
Instead, the new Communist regime sent him back to prison and stranded him there for 13 years.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  Wow, just wow!  This is such an amazing memoir and I can’t believe that this wasn’t published until quite recently.  Artist George Tomaziu, living and painting in his home country of Romania, sees the second world war come and his country siding with Germany.  Uncomfortable with what is happening he voices his opinions to someone and is soon recruited to become a spy, working for the Resistence.  George’s life as a spy is rewarding as he monitors enemy troop movements and gives his reports with detailed and accurate drawings of what he’s seen.  But when Germany loses control of Romania, instead of being credited for his work and able to live free, George is arrested by the now Soviet occupied country and thrown into jail for many years.

I don’t know how such a brilliant memoir hasn’t been more known about before now.  The book begins with George detailing his life before the war, spending some time in France and enjoying the art scene.  But when the war begins and Germany take control of the country George decides to start spying while still working as an artist.  At first the life of spying doesn’t seem too dangerous and I like how Tomaziu manages to continue his art while working as a spy on the side.  But after some time things become tougher and he begins to experience the true horrors of the Nazi controlled regime.

I had no idea about Romania during the war and just what happened there, but this memoir really gives you an insight into what it was like living there at the time and also gives you brief information of what was happening politically at the time too.  The book is filled with a lot that happens to Tomaziu, or that he witnesses.  George talks about the simpler life, things like the people he meets and befriends, some of who will be seen more than once in the memoir, as well as some of the more horrific things he encounters like soe brutal deaths in one town which was the first really horrifying thing to hear about in this book, and the brutal ways those in charge treated him and others who were considered being against those in power.

The book is interesting with Tomaziu later moving to Odessa to work on the stage art for the opera.  What happens as an artist is interesting but the people he meets and the stories they have made for interesting and exciting reading too.  I like what Tomaziu ended up doing before leaving Odessa for his friend Boris and I also enjoyed what happens earlier in the book when he visits an area and spots a huge convoy of vehicles moving and who he later spots on his way home.

Tomaziu eventually ends up being in prison, first under the German occupied regime and later under the Soviets.  I like how this memoir mentions the truth of what the Allies did, ignoring what happened to those countries in Easter Europe which were occupied after the war by the USSR and the years of brutality people endured under the Soviets.  As Tomaziu begins his life in prison under the Soviets he begins to experience really horrible conditions.  The things he and others have to endure is horrible but I like how honest this memoir is about the violence he encounters (both in the soviet prisons and some earlier violence under German ruled Romania).  The violence and inhumane conditions are described with honesty and I don’t know how he or anyone else managed to survive such conditions.  The horrors of what was happening makes for difficult reading but I like how throughout everything Tomaziu doesn’t break his principles and eventually finds solace in words and passages.

Tomaziu’s life in prison is interesting despite how horrible it is and he ends up being transferred to different prisons again and again.  Eventually he’s released and I like the final chapter of this book, Tomaziu’s final words, and then the translator’s notes afterwards giving more insight into what happened next in Tomaziu’s life (the mention of Fraga) and how the memoir even came to be with the translator’s own story of going to Romania and meeting him being very interesting to read too.  Along with notes there is also more on the history of what happened to Romania and the people and places mentioned in the book, as well as which people were real and which were given fictitious names.  I found all of this fascinating as well as the fact that this memoir couldn’t find a publisher when it was first written.  It’s sad that Tomaziu wasn’t alive to see this version finally published but it is an amazing read about someone’s life under these horrendous conditions and one I think everyone should pick up if they get the chance.

The memoir is written well, though I could have done with the odd chapter break when the story shifted to a different year or location.  And although one reviewer I’ve seen has commented on one chapter’s writing being jarring, because it switches briefly from first person to third, I found this a good and powerful way of showing how Tomaziu, and indeed anyone under such harsh treatment for the first time, could feel disconnected from themselves.

Overall I have really enjoyed reading this memoir, perhaps more so as I had a family member who endured similar imprisonment and toture in Poland during the days of Soviet occupation.  Anyone who is interested in what happened in other countries during the war and the Soviet occupation afterwards would find this memoir a good read as well as anyone who just likes memoirs.  It’s honest, the violence endured is described, which can be unsettling for some to read as well as some of the less than pleasant conditions people were left i, but although it can be a darker read, it’s one that deserves to be read by more people, especially after all the heroic work Tomaziu did during the war.  His story deserves to be known by more people and I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to read this!

What do you think of this book?  Do you like to read memoirs?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂