Every culture has folklore stories that are passed on from generation to generation, carrying the beliefs and wisdom of those times. Sometimes they provide great advice, sometimes they’re totally out-of-sync with the cultural shifts and mindsets of the current times.

Author Stela Brinzeanu started from one local Moldavian legend she hated – a legend infused with patriarchal oppression and extreme self-sacrifice – and turned it into an amazing story of women’s courage, talent, self-knowledge, and passion.

Set in Stone in a nutshell

Set in Stone is a beautiful fiction story set in Moldavia in the middle ages. Its main storyline is about about two young and fearless women who discover their own way in a world defined by religion and class. Just to give you a glimpse, Moldavia of those times was a place where only male children were inheritors and women’s biggest fortune was to get married.

The story contains a reinterpretation of a very-well known local myth, both in Moldavia and Romania, a witty twist I enjoyed a lot. I explain more about the myth in the sections below.

One more thing – Set in Stone was originally written in English, making it the perfect recommendation for the English-speaking people who want to discover Moldavia through reading 🙂

Overall impression

I enjoyed a lot reading Set in Stone! I especially enjoyed 3 aspects of the story: (1) the reinterpretation of the local myth of master builder Manole (RO: Legenda mesterului Manole), (2) the witty and bright twists of the story, and (3) the local language words sprinkled throughout the story.

As Moldavia is so close to Romania, my home country, both geographically and culturally, I felt a very strong cultural connection with the entire story. I might be a bit biased here, but it happens so rarely that a book about this part of the world (Moldavia – Romania) is written / translated in English!

Folk tale of Master builder Manole

The tale of master builder Manole is about the self-sacrifice needed to achieve greatness. In a nutshell, the story says that Manole had to sacrifice his pregnant wife in order to build the most beautiful monastery (the sacrifice being encasing the woman, alive, in the walls of the monastery).

In Set in Stone, the myth was reinterpreted in a super interesting manner! No spoilers here, but let me tell you not all greatness has to be achieved with so much sacrifice – where there’s a will, there’s a way!

After reading Set in Stone and doing a bit of research, I discovered that very similar folk tales are present in other countries – Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Even more surprisingly, the same legend is also encountered outside of Europe – for example, Hitobashira (“human pillar”) in Japan was the practice of human sacrifice for large-scale buildings, as a prayer to the gods.

Right: according to the Romanian versions of the myth, this monastery was built by Manole (link);
Left: Stamp from Moldavia illustrating the tale of Manole (link)

The power of women

Womanhood is the nucleus of Set in Stone. The women are smart, wise, and capable of immense love. But being different might cause trouble – for example, they are accused of witchcraft when using herbs to cure people.

Reading Set in Stone reminded me of other beautiful stories with strong and fearless women that I recently read – The Familiars and The Foundling by Stacey Halls (my reviews), The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton (my review), or The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde (my review).

Slavery of Romani people

The slavery of Romani people is not at the core of the story, but it a topic that I noticed and appreciated. Romani people, also named in a more negative manner gypsies, are an ethnic group original from India. Despite the name resemblance, they do not have the same origins as Romanians / Rome people. The fact that Romani used to be slaves in Eastern Europe countries is quite taboo, definitely not something discussed during history classes … I personally found out that Romani people used to be slaves in Romania just few years ago and I was shocked!*

In this context, I was very glad that Stela touched upon this topic in her book and reflected the reality of those times. As explained in the story (and also documented by myself from other sources), Romani people used to be slaves of the church, being offered as presents to the priests by powerful people, alongside with horses, apple orchards, and silk robes.

Wrap-up

All in all, as you might already imagine, I recommend reading Set in Stone by Stela Brinzeanu. It is a book that I will definitely share with my local and international friends, a book that brings Moldavia closer to the English-speaking communities and deserves to be enjoyed by people around the world!

‘Till next time … happy reading!

Georgiana


* For the Romanian-speaking readers: if you are interested to find out more about slavery of Romani people in Romania, I recommend this podcast series: https://www.dor.ro/obiceiulpamantului/

PS: I received a digital copy of this book at my request, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. My review expresses my own thoughts about the story and it is not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. The book is due to be published on August 4th, 2022.

9 thoughts on “Moldavian folklore and fearless women: Set in Stone by Stela Brinzeanu (book review)

  1. I am fascinated by the history of Romani people. I’ve studied that a little bit. I read this awesome book about the story of India which shares that after human life started in Africa, part of the human race migrated to India and then from there to Europe. So Europeans are basically ultimately of African and then Indian decent (so get over all the silly racism world!).
    This book sounds quite interesting and I hope it improves on the original folklore of walling up your pregnant wife – yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree that we, as humanity, should get over racism!! Given how deep is ingrained in our minds, it will be quite a challenge … it is does not make any sense!
      Somehow I have the misconception that Romani people are known only in Europe, so I am super glad to hear from you that it’s a topic of interest in US as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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