A dramatization of the life of Romanian princess Catherine Olympia Caradja.
Princess Catherine is born into her royal status in 1893. Her parents’ marriage was the result of a practical arrangement between two aristocratic families. Her father, Prince Radu Kretulesco, turns out to be a shiftless gold digger, and so her mother, Princess Irene Cantacuzene, decides to divorce the scoundrel. In a fit of stunning revenge, Radu kidnaps Catherine in Paris and stealthily deposits her at an orphanage in London under a false name, and he uses her as leverage to extract a ransom from Irene’s family. Catherine languishes in orphanages for 13 years before her paternal grandmother orchestrates a rescue and she’s finally sent back to her family in Bucharest. A Romanian orphanage is dedicated to her and named Catherine’s Crib, and the princess eventually manages its affairs. She marries a handsome young Romanian prince, gives birth to three daughters, and later suffers several miscarriages. Soon, the political turmoil of the Russian Revolution and World War I engulfs her world. During World War I, she sets up a hospital to combat the deadly spread of typhus (and contracts the disease herself), and she further endangers herself, during World War II, to help Allied prisoners of war by participating in the “largest prison breakout in military annals.” The oppressive Nazi occupation of Romania is eventually replaced by an equally tyrannical Soviet one, and the Communists destroy her family, usurp her wealth, and make her a fugitive in her own homeland. She has no choice but to attempt escape. Debut author Aavang—a friend of the real Princess Catherine—does a remarkable job researching her life and vividly provides fictional imaginings where historical records are empty. Although he unabashedly shows his affection for his protagonist, he avoids hagiographic excess. He also shows how Catherine keeps her sense of humor; for example, after she notices the year on a magazine she’s casually perusing, she comments: “This is the year I escaped from Paris and returned to Romania. How many people do you know have to escape first into and then out of their homeland?” Overall, Aavang’s prose is confident and elegant, and the fact that his subject’s story is cinematically enthralling gives him a notable advantage.
An intelligent novelization of a notable life.