Once again the novelist Ada Nicolescu has returned to a period of profound change in Romania where she was a first hand witness to many of its most harrowing incidents. Part historical recreation based on actual events… part gripping thriller, Four Hundred Bones brings to life the devastating upheaval in Bucharest’s academic community in 1949, a short time after the Communists seized power.

Everything has been taken over by the state. All banks, large businesses and many farms have been nationalized. Churches, synagogues and mosques (“an opium of the masses”) have been shuttered.

Stalin’s influence is everywhere. Every day brings a fresh onslaught of propaganda—pro-Stalin parades, demonstrations, marches and meetings. Anyone who doesn’t support the Communist Party is considered an enemy of the people—potentially deported, detained in a camp, imprisoned — even shot.

Universitatea de Medicină şi Farmacie Carol DavilaThroughout the book, Stalin’s effect on academia is related through the experiences of a young lab technician in the city’s medical school. It was there under the tutelage of his beloved professors that Peter had developed a passion for preparing students for training in dissection. Suddenly, his life as he has known it, changes. His mentors in the anatomy department have mysteriously disappeared. New authority figures with a new agenda that is in complete conflict with that of Peter’s appear in their place. All western textbooks are ordered excluded from the library. Peter’s responsibilities are abruptly restricted, forcing him to limit how and what he is able to offer students. There is talk of a “Secret project.”

As pressure on him mounts, Peter realizes that if he continues to resist the party line and remains true to his moral principles, his situation could become progressively difficult.

He is determined not to give in.