Monday, 25 May 2020

The Haiduks by Panait Istrati

The Haiduks by Panait Istrati
First published in Romanian in 1925. English language translation by John Penuel published by Fario in January 2012.

A Classics Club Challenge read

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is Romania in the time of the Ottoman occupation. A band of brigands--the haiduks--has taken up arms against the Turk. Led by the lovely Floarea Codrilor, the haiduks do battle not only with the armies of mercenaries sent by the Sublime Porte, the bashi-bazouks, but also with debased Romanian aristocrats, the boyars and gospodars who would betray their native land to the foreign occupier.

The synopsis of The Haiduks led me to expect that this story would be an adventure tale. In reality, the novella comprises of five short stories in which members of Floarea's Haiduk group take it in turns to tell each other their personal stories of how they chose this outlaw life. As historical fiction, The Haiduks has an unsettling sense of timelessness where it is difficult to pin the tales to an exact era. Wikipedia describes Haiduks (or hajducs) as bandits or freedom fighters who lived across the Balkans from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

I felt that there were a lot of similarities here to the English Robin Hood myth - one of the Haiduks is even a monk - in the way a small band set themselves the task of alleviating their fellow villagers sufferings by staging attacks on the feudal overlords and redistributing their ill-gotten gains back to the neediest. The stories gave an interesting insight into peasant life during the Ottoman occupation of Romania, but they don't have much by way of dash and excitement. Instead there are philosophical discussions on the aspirations of slaves, and lots of love at first glimpse! I liked the details of people's occupations, clothing, housing etc, and Penuel's decision to leave a scattering of specifically Romanian nouns untranslated really adds to the authenticity. Overall though The Haiduks came across to me as just the beginning of what should have become a longer work (which I don't think it is). We've now met our merry band of do-good outlaws, but instead of following them into battle, the book ends.

Etsy Find!
by Uniques Craftiques in

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Panait Istrati / Novellas / Books from Romania


  1. Ah, it's always a bit tricky when you expect one thing from a book and then get another. I am glad you could like the historical placement and appreciate the stories for what they were. But when you're after something exciting, I can see how these fell a little flat.

    1. I wondered if originally this had been a longer book or a series because it felt more like an introduction to the characters!