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The Days of the King [Hardcover]

Filip Florian , Alistair Ian Blyth
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 16 2011
Joseph Strauss (a dentist and bachelor, client of the Eleven Titties brothel and of Der Große Bär beer cellar) leaves Prussia in the spring of 1866 and follows a captain of dragoons to Bucharest, where the officer is to ascend the throne as prince of the United Principalities of Romania. War is imminent in central Europe, but the company of a special tomcat, a guardian angel of sorts, helps him to overcome all dangers. 

In Bucharest, Joseph will meet and fall in love with an attractive nanny, while the prince distances himself from the dentist, seeking to erase all stains from his past, particularly his involvement with a beautiful blind prostitute. But unbeknownst to him, she has given birth to a baby boy with a suspiciously aristocratic nose . . . 

Nations are invented and dissolved overnight, kingdoms are for sale, Bucharest grows from a muddy pigsty into an elegant capital city, and love turns everything upside down in The Days of the King.


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Review

“Blyth spins out Florian’s second novel in sinuous prose . . . It’s testament to the story’s sharp humor and crisp voice—even those amorous passages narrated by the cat—that the reader lingers in each scene, sharing them with the characters moment-by-moment.
-Publishers Weekly

"A genial tale about fate and romance..."
-Kirkus

"Readers on the lookout for unique European literary voices and historical fiction fans looking for a challenge may be charmed by this poetic yet chaotic novel...[Florian] revels in the sensual details of Bucharest street life, food, sex, and dentistry..."
-Booklist

About the Author

FILIP FLORIAN is the author of Little Fingers (HMH, 2009), which received numerous awards, including Best Debut Novel from the Romanian Writers' Union. He has also worked as a journalist and reporter for Radio Free Europe. 


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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars For the right reader... Sept. 3 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"The Days of the King", by Filip Florian, and translated from the original Romanian by Ian Blyth, is one of those quirky books that was even too quirky for me, but that I hope finds the "right reader" who will appreciate it. If you feel as I do, that it's often the translation that helps or hinders a book's readibility, it's a little hard to judge in this case. Is the quirky plot and quirky characters the result of writing in the original Romanian or in the translation to English. It was hard to get into either character or plot in "Days". And I am interested in the time period and locales he writes about. Bucharest in the 1860's, with a German prince who takes over the empty throne and arrives brings a demented Jewish dentist with him has all the makings of a good story. And I think it is, somewhere.

Florian has written an interesting book and I can only hope it finds - somewhere - the right readers who will appreciate it.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Romanian history in fiction. Aug. 9 2011
By Dick Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I am one of those who enjoyed Florian's previous book "Little Fingers". It, too, was translated by Alistair Ian Blyth. Unfortunately, "The Days of the King" was not equally interesting. This book is heavily dependent on a knowledge of (or, at least, a desire to learn) Romanian history.

Though a story of Joseph Strauss, a transplanted German, the politics of late 19th century Romania is the real tale being told. While well written (translated), the story is very low key and very dependent on the setting. The depth of its treatment of Strauss, his dental practice and family was just not enough to keep me entertained.

It is not that there is no story here and nothing of interest; but that there is little frame of reference for the reader of the translation to identify with. Recommended for those with an interest in the Eastern Europe of a century and a half ago.

(Note: There is a "Political Background" section at the end of the book. It would be beneficial to read it first. Though there are some references to the story itself, they are not major spoilers. I did not discover this until I reached that part of the book. However, even reading it first wouldn't have affected my rating.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting for those interested in Romania Oct. 21 2011
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I spent a year teaching journalism in Romania and I have retained an interest and affection for the country. So this novel of the formative years of the modern Romanian nation was quite interesting for me. I do however wonder how interesting it might be for others without my special connection to the country.

The novel begins in 1866, when the two provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia were joined and sought a European prince to rule them, finally lighting on a German who was to become Romania's first modern monarch, King Carol. It was he who built the fantasy Bavarian-style Peles castle at Sinaia which remains one of the premier tourist sights in the country.

We observe the unfolding of history through the eyes of a young German dentist, Joseph Strauss, who follows the prince to Bucharest, then a fairly primitive city with only one paved road, prey to "miasmas," full of dead rotting animal corpses lying in the dusty lanes and many churches and monasteries. Strauss sets up his practice in Lipscani Street, which still exists and is being renovated and reborn as the restaurant and entertainment heart of the city but was then the German quarter.

We also see events through the eyes of Strauss' beloved tomcat Siegfried -- and these passages are quite poetically rendered. Both Strauss and his cat fall in love, both love affairs sensitively and delicately described. Meanwhile, Bucharest is gradually transformed. The railway arrives, streets are paved, statues are erected and the city begins to take on the form of a modern metropolis. The book ends with Romania victorious in war and finally casting off the last vestiges of Ottoman suzerainty.

I learned a lot about Romanian history from the book and about the development of Bucharest. I learned for example that the city's main street Podul Mogosoaiei was so named because it was paved with oak beams and that today it is called Calea Victoriei (and I lived on this very street in 2007.

The author appends some useful historical notes at the end of the book -- and it might be helpful for readers to actually read them first.)

In general, this book is written in a rather restrained, poetic voice. The protagonist, Strauss, emerges as an appealing, principled, good-hearted man, a voice of reason in a rather brutal environment. He embodies the spirit of reason that takes the country forward. But the book does not really acknowledge the forces of unreason, of xenophobia and vicious anti-Semitism that would overtake Romania in the first half of the 20th century and lead it to its doom.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange Days Sept. 13 2011
By Richard LeComte - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The story of this novel is wonderful -- a Prussian dentist finds that one of his patients, a soldier from a noble family, is headed to Romania to become its ruler, and the soldier invites him along. The dentist, Joseph Strauss, then begins a remarkable journey through Europe to the out-of-the-way city of Bucharest, where he sets up shot in the German section. Strauss' story becomes entwined in the history of Romania as it rises from the merger of two principalities into a modern nation-state under the leadership of Karl, the soldier-turned-king. The problem here is that Florian's chatty, yada-yada narrative is light on immediacy (show more, please) and includes long, useless passages told by a tomcat. Still, the novel sheds light on a history few Americans have encountered, and Strauss himself is such a compelling character that you'll find yourself finishing the novel despite the verbiage. If the novel had been written in a more conventional(at least for English literature) narrative style, it would have been great.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical fiction but mediocre literature. Sept. 5 2011
By Liviu C. Suciu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is a book that has three main aspects - the historical situation of the Romanian Principalities from their union in 1859, to Carol's accession in 1866 to his becoming King of Romania in 1881, the atmosphere of Bucharest (and to a lesser extent the rest of the country) at the times and the actual storyline of Joseph Strauss' life as he follows the prince from Germany to Romania to treat his teeth.

The book is superb on the first two but doesn't quite succeed on the third count though not reading the Romanian original, but only the English translation, I am not sure if it's the translation, the author's original choices or simply that his convoluted Romanian prose does not translate well in 21st century English and the result comes as saying simple things in ten phrases rather than one which jars badly on occasion.

For the big picture which I happen to know reasonably well, the author has presented it quite clearly - the need of Romania for a foreign prince to insure respectability, credibility, stability, protection, recognized by all in theory but of course ignored in the jostling for advancement and position which led to various farcical "revolutions" as well as to Carol's occasional threats of resignation until finally he made his point and had the corrupt and self-seeking Romanian politicians pay attention for once, followed by the quick modernization of the country, the vast increase in its well being with independence and elevation to a full kingdom rather than an union of principalities following naturally though not without sacrifices; huge achievements due first and foremost to the prince/king and the author shows it clearly, separating Carol the magnificent ruler from Carol the not that likable person who uses and discards people like Joseph Strauss at whim.

For the local detail, again superb work by the author and the atmosphere of Bucharest of 1866 is pitch perfect as is the evolution from a backward city with one paved street and a somewhat run down house moonlighting as a palace - so Carol when led there as to his "palace" thought he wasn't understanding correctly and asked the politicians to finally take him to his "real palace" - to the beautiful city of the 1880's and later that was rightly dubbed Little Paris.

However the main body of the book that follows Joseph's saga rather than the prince/country/city alternates moments of excellence with such plodding prose that it almost seems like it's the work of two authors. As noted above i have no idea of the precise reason but I incline to believe that it is simply a case of language incompatibility and if the author were to write directly in English he would tell the story quite differently than in this translation that tries to be lavish in language and succeeds only to be laborious and quite dense in a negative sense on many occasions.

All in all The Days of the King (B) is a book that is excellent historical fiction and mediocre (at best) literature.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For the right reader... Sept. 3 2011
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"The Days of the King", by Filip Florian, and translated from the original Romanian by Ian Blyth, is one of those quirky books that was even too quirky for me, but that I hope finds the "right reader" who will appreciate it. If you feel as I do, that it's often the translation that helps or hinders a book's readibility, it's a little hard to judge in this case. Is the quirky plot and quirky characters the result of writing in the original Romanian or in the translation to English. It was hard to get into either character or plot in "Days". And I am interested in the time period and locales he writes about. Bucharest in the 1860's, with a German prince who takes over the empty throne and arrives brings a demented Jewish dentist with him has all the makings of a good story. And I think it is, somewhere.

Florian has written an interesting book and I can only hope it finds - somewhere - the right readers who will appreciate it.
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