The White King: A Novel by György Dragomán
György Dragomán was a boy living in Romania under the communist dictator Ceausecu during the 1980’s. In this series of connected short stories that do read seamlessly like a novel, the thirty-four-year-old Dragomán writes from the perspective of an eleven/twelve year old boy whose father, he hopes, has been taken away to work on some kind of important research. The anguish from knowing the darker truth dogs this boy as he races along in his pre-adolescent life as any boy anywhere would—playing made-up games with opposing teams of other kids; getting in trouble in school for seemingly minor infractions, trying to second guess his football coach, noticing a cute girl. Yet this boy’s days are made darker from the culture of the cruel police state he lives under. An unrelenting sense of serious danger and no hope for protection underlies every moment in this fast-paced story.
For these reasons, The White King: A Novel, published in March of 2008, has been an instant hit with several of my high school students, mostly boys but a few girls, who are already enthusiastic readers. These students, still struggling to grasp the subtleties of sentence composition in their own writing, are also fascinated with the unusual and extremely effective writing style of this author. Dragomán runs his sentences together for paragraphs and sometimes pages at a time in order to keep his reader at a pace with his young, tense, heroic, pre-adolescent sufferer. He takes license with word usage too (translated) but never misses his target, keeping his protagonist moving and unstable but never falling.
The White King: A Novel is a remarkable piece of writing and a touching portrayal of a child navigating a terrifyingly cruel and yet very realistic environment. While it may not be the first book to give to a reluctant high school reader, I highly recommend it for established high school readers, jaded from reading too much run-of-the-mill fantasy or horror and looking for a book they do not want to put down. Not just for teenagers, this book is also a great read for adults.