The narrator and chief protagonist is a young Englishman who has just been appointed to a position in the English Department of a Bucharest University. His appointment appears almost an accident, as he did not have the basic qualifications required and failed to turn up for interview. Almost his first test in his new position is to sign a reference written by someone else for a girl he does not know to visit the UK, and after a few qualms of conscience he acquiesces. This introduction sets the scene for much of what will follow – Romania is portrayed as run by a ruling elite who arbitrarily promote or demote their underlings, a country where merit is likely to be a disadvantage and where the key characteristic required for success is likely to be complete obedience to the whims of the people in charge. The vast majority of the population live in fear and poverty, struggling for the basic necessities required for survival while old Bucharest is destroyed around them and replaced by a shoddy alternative. Nonetheless, the people maintain a bitter sense of humour and a vague hope that better days might be to come.
The narrator quickly falls under the spell of a colleague, Leo O’Heix, a man possibly less interested in lecturing even that him. Leo who has fallen in love with Bucharest and is running a complex black market in all sorts of luxury goods for the elite. Gradually the narrator becomes involved in Leo’s activities, mixing with both the elite and those struggling on the margins of society, whether in promoting the rumoured revolution or trying simply to survive, and realises that there are very few people he can trust.
Some aspects of The Last Hundred Days are reminiscent of Kafka (The Castle or The Trial), other parts of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Dictator. It is well written ad convincing, and having read it I was left with a sense of understanding this period in Romanian history much better. The characters are convincing, even if some of the events seem a little forced at times. Took a little while to get going, but overall a worthwhile read, though not outstanding.