The Death of Rafael–first review on

This is the first review I received at on The Death of Rafael. Wanted to share with you.

 One riveting story supremely told!,April 5, 2012

This review is from: The Death of Rafael (Paperback)

This gripping story explodes through even more powerful writing than the author had used in “The Wolves of Pavlava.” Renescu writes of a world seen through the eyes of one who has been there, melding carefully researched history, first-hand experience, and a deep feeling of cultures involved with a rare ability to grasp and illuminate detail. As the story line leaps from continent to continent, the author’s firm grasp of the culture, politics and history of each place shines and gives an unmistakable imprimatur of authenticity.

Each character becomes very real and the author relies on the reader’s gut reactions to complete the fleshing out of the persons. That’s a dangerous step for any but the most skilled writer to attempt. She succeeds.

The (sometimes multiple and parallel) story lines are guaranteed to keep the reader off balance. The unexpected twists combined with the fast pace, strong personalities, passions and vivid descriptions will keep any reader reluctant to put the book down.

I have been privileged to review the author’s correspondence with a former Nazi general that illuminate the training, experience and expectations of Nazi soldiers and officers … and this is expertly used to shape a leading character; seen the material she had gathered on the site of the attempt on Hitler’s life; knew of her careful on-site reviews of the correctness of her descriptions of architectures, locations, views at certain points in time. She is a superb research historian as well as an outstanding novelist.


The Use of Words in The Death of Rafael.

One of the great gifts of writing in English (I speak as someone whose mother tongue is not English) is the incredible wealth of the vocabulary, and the shaded meaning of words that would be in another language, only one word describing one thing, either abstract or concrete.

One such word is certainty. The idea of being certain of something has another word to describe it–certitude.

Why do why even bother to go into this?  Because, well… I was criticized for using the word ‘certitude’ instead of ‘certainty’ and one of the two reviewers (called Vine reviewers) for Amazon ABNA competition who were assigned to review my excerpt, was so disturbed, or disgusted, or indignant of my use of a ‘bigger’ word than necessary, that while the rest of her review  was quite complimentary and  very positive, the word ‘certitude’ certainly may have contributed to getting The Death of Rafael taken out of the competition.

So, I need vindication. Although this would not put me back in competition, it is a commentary on the fickle finger of fate and all that, I just want to share some word crafting. (Okay, I’m also venting… I admit it. So, there!) 


If you consult the dictionary, the two are interchangeable.

Yes. And no. The difference is small, but it is a difference, and if writing is like music to you, it would ‘vibrate’ differently on the string of your writing instrument.

This is what Grammist says:

 One definition that certainty does not share with certitude is something that is clearly established or certain. But where certainty means the state of being certain, it is very close to certitude, which means the state of feeling absolutely convinced. If there is a difference, it’s that certitude is a feeling while certainty involves inherent factuality.

Clear? Nope.

Let me give you the example in The Death of Rafael.

On page 24, Daniela (Rafael’s sister) is on the phone with her mother, Giselle, about preparations for Rafael’s birthday. Giselle makes the statement that Rafael likes lilac.  As Rafael is not around to tell anyone whether he likes lilac, or gladiolas, or some carnivorous bloom instead, Giselle does not know that he likes lilac for a fact. It is not factual. In this case it is her imagination, what she imagines for Rafael, and in her obsession, she has no doubt that it is so. But because it is not factual, there is no certainty. However, because she has ‘the feeling’ that it is so, there is certitude.

Therefore, Daniela remarks that her mother knows this ‘with great certitude.’

Is the use of certitude vs. certainty  kind of precious and blue-socked and pedantic, and pretentious?

Yes. And so what? I didn’t know all this when I used the word certitude in the novel. It just somehow sounded right to me.  So I am totally innocent. Just got lucky.

Do people talk like that? Not in general. But Daniela, when she speaks this line, is a lawyer and a superior court judge. Yup, she could talk like that.




Wolves of Pavlava–Reviews

I don’t have many reviews on my site (well, more than many, but a lot less than others. Getting readers to review makes me feel like a dentist holding pliars in my hand, if you know what I mean…) but I thought Iwould  share with you the last one I got. It was a review that astonished me and made me proud, also validated in many ways the history I presented in the Wolves of Pavlava.

The review was provided by Diana Branisteanu, from Toronto, Canada, author of the novel  Life Under  The Dark Sky, the extraordinary story of life and survival during World War II.  This is the story of Diana’s mother-in-law and it is the saga of a young Austrian woman that finds the strength to live and survive in the midst of loss, death and destruction.  

Below is Diana’s review of The Wolves of Pavlava. It is especially important to me because, as she mentions in her review, she has lived through the years of Romanian Communism and the tyranny of Ceausescu, also through the Revolution.


5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful,March 14, 2012
Diana Branisteanu (Oakville, ON Canada) –  
This review is from: The Wolves of Pavlava (Paperback)

The Wolves of Pavlava is one of a kind novel that shows the reader what happened backstage the Communism regime in Romania in a unique brilliantly written way. The plot is so well defined and the characters so evolving, that it keeps you engaged and hungry for more. The mystic factor interconnects with the political drama and is projected on the social scene of a country torn between its ancestral spiritual values and the plague of the demagogic dictatorial propaganda and its tyrannical grip.
For most of the readers this novel may be considered a powerful thriller, and in many respects it is, but for me as a person who actually lived those times is rather redemption for what we, as a nation, went through and how at least two generations were affected and alienated by the Ceausescu regime. I cannot thank Adriana Renescu enough for showing the world what happened within Romania’s closed borders for thirty years. From the remote pristine places in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains and the historical district of Bucharest, to Rome and Vatican, Renescu introduces us to complex powerful characters that fight the Evil using very different but equally powerful means, until they prevail. There are heroes in this story and there is faith in the power of God and His work.

This novel is a must read historical political drama. Adriana Renescu is a great writer and I’m looking forward to her next book, hoping that there will be more to come.

2011 Chicago Book Expo

Okay, this is not chronological, since it took place in October 2011, before Berlin and New York… But better late that never, I suppose.

At an invitation from the talented and intrepid Valya Dudycz Lupescu, I had the great opportunity to read from The Wolves of Pavlava at the 2011 Chicago BookExpo. The reading took place in what used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition, in circle of armchairs, surrounded by candlelight.  Valya also read from her great story, The Silence of the Trees (available on Before and after the reading, I sat at Valya’s Wolfsword Press table and joined her in talking with exhibitors and visitors. I spent some of my most interesting hours in Chicago talking to readers and artists about the art of writing. There is nothing more stimulating for a writer than spending hours talking to kindred spirit.

The  wonderful  Mr. Walther Dudycz (who took pity on us and brought us one of those amazing, hearty, no fooling around Chicago sandwiches) took this photo of  Valya and me, with copies of The Silence of The Trees by Valya, The Wolves of Pavlava by moi, and yummy cookies.

Valya and I smiling like stars.




First the this and that:

I made the first cut of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competion  with my submittal of THE DEATH OF RAFAEL. A good beginning. This first cut was based on the ‘pitch’, which is a 300 word maximum description of the novel.  I used the same as I have on my cover. The next cut of entries will be selected based on the first 5000 words of the novel

This week I also received the interior proof of the novel and read it line for line, word for word, comma for comma… That was brute work. Amazing the stupid little mistakes that keep sneaking in. Gremlins, I say.

And now, New York.

Morning on Fifth Avenue, Saint Patrick's Cathedral

I went to the 9/11  memorial at Ground Zero.  What can one really say when standing on the grave of almost 3000 people?

One of the new rising towers at Ground Zero


Memorial where the fallen tower stood. (The footprint of the pool of water is about 80 percent of that of the tower.)

And two more photos:

Main Hall, Grand Central Station

And since we always end with food…

Smoked salmon, sturgeon and whitefish at the Carnegie Deli. Heaven.


Berlin. A tale of research and a city.


I’ve always been very particular about the locales I use in my novels. Places, both familiar and exotic, inspire me and they are the spark that light the fire of my stories.  As I create my characters, I surround them with their world. They see, feel, taste and smell their surroundings. Because of this integration of my characters with their world, I use in my novels places I have seen and known well. The places I visited and affected me inspired the stories of the novels. Often, I start the story with a description of the place, like Rome and a winter forest in Romania in The Wolves of Pavlava, or a street in Buenos Aires and rainwater flowing down the sidewalk  in San Francisco’s Chinatown in The Death of Rafael. Because of the way I spin a story,  I always make sure that I understand and have a ‘feel’ for the places the protagonists inhabit.

I’ve been fortunate to have ‘boots on the ground’  in all the locales in my new novel The Death of Rafael, either having lived there or visited for an extended length of time. Except for one—Berlin. However, I have read and researched, and looked at many photos of the city, and believed that I had sufficient information. Being so familiar with the history of the period in my novel, I felt I understood the place. But, that instinct of the writer kept niggling at me that, while generally correct, there was something artificial and shallow, almost contrived, in the way my protagonists were moving through Berlin. Somehow, that lack of direct contact with the city and ‘feel’ for Berlin were flattening the action. However, the little voice in my head was silent or ignored when in July I wrapped up the final edit and  I was seeing the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ with the novel. As it is often the case when something meant to happen flies in your face, I was casting about a place to spend Christmas and shooting the breeze about it with  my friend Lois Jeffrey, when she said to me, more as a barely audible aside, “Not a Christmas place, but Berlin is the place to go.” A light bulb lit in my head, and what had been silently gnawing at my writer’s subconscious, and conscience, now screamed: “You need to go to Berlin! You have no idea what you’re writing in your Berlin scenes!” Besides, I always wanted to see Berlin, one of those ‘I should do or must do” on some unwritten  bucket list.


When I boarded the plane to Frankfurt, I did not imagine how correct my instincts had been. When my plane circled over Berlin before landing, I felt an anticipatory thrill I rarely experience. When the taxi stopped in front of the Adlon Hotel, which features prominently in my Berlin chapters, the first place in my book that I saw real-life in Berlin, it was an OMG moment. Although I knew that the Adlon was on Unter den Linden, and although I knew that it was in Pariser Platz, the image I had formed in the eye of my mind as I was describing Colonel Egon von Klaussen coming out of the hotel (or going in for that matter) was all wrong. Looking at photos, looking at maps and even videos on YouTube provided none of the impact of the scene in front of me. Now, simply looking over my shoulder as I got out of the car, the jumbled image of my mind was replaced by the sharp, great expanse of Pariser Platz and of Unter den Linden and then the majestic, strangely grim presence of the Branderburg Gate. It all opened in front of me, in one blink of the eye. This is what I saw, from the hotel:




Next day, Ms. Sabina Held, the Adlon Hotel public relation manager, met with me in the lobby and spent time giving me a history of the hotel and answering questions about the Adlon during the war, especially 1944, how much of it was left standing (all of it), how much of it was destroyed after the war, when the Berlin wall was erected (all of it.) The hotel was completely rebuilt and reopened in 1997. Ms. Held showed me those architectural features characteristic of the old Adlon, which were incorporated in the new design, such as the arched, coffered ceiling, the covered Winter Garden (still full of plants as in the old photos, where I placed my protagonist’s meeting with the Argentinean military attaché in 1944) and confirmed that the Adlon was indeed like a piece of Switzerland in Berlin where diplomats and interlopers could meet in relative safety. She gave me a beautiful book with historical photos of the Adlon that provided even more details. (I have to express here my thanks for her hospitality and the knowledgeable assistance of the Adlon concierge staff.)

The photo below shows the Adlon behind the Branderburg gate, on the right (with the green roof). In the period of my novel, it would have sported great banners down its facade.



The next place I visited on the third day in Berlin—that demonstrated eloquently and forcefully the importance of knowing your locale and scene with all your senses, with physical presence—was the Bendlerstrasse building of the Army Reserve during World War II, where the conspirators in the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler had gathered and where some of them were executed on the night of July 21, 1944 after the coup failed. The photos I saw and the accounts I read, one item in particular, resulted in one scene that was completely wrong.

 It was early in the morning as I walked along Tiergartenstrasse, towards the embassy zone of Berlin. It was cold, a bit drizzly and gray. The walk along Tiergarten gave me a new image of the great park. (This simple walk also changed a scene in the book. The fact that there are foxes in the garden—thank you Frederique, a friend I made at the Christmas Mass at the Cathedral, for telling me about the foxes in Tiergarten)—proviced a dramatic ending to one of the chapters, one that would have never come to me without having ‘been there.’ But back to Bendlerstrasse…

 I found Bendlerstrasse quickly, now called Stauffenbergstrasse, named after Colonel Klaus Count von Stauffenberg, the man who actually put the explosives in Hitler’s conference room and who was executed the night of the failed attempt. The street cut through to the Landwehr Canal, the usual kind of Berlin street—wide, straight (saw the magnificent façade of the Egyptian embassy of red, polished stone, the ancient Egyption motif of lotus flowers etched in a band along it). Gaping and gawking and taking photos, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. In front of me stood the Bendlerstrasse building, the only old building on that street, like a ghost that materialized out of the pages of my novel. Somehow it had not been destroyed in the bombings and it was untouched, the original building still standing.

 I walked into the courtyard, and a chill went down my spine. I stood there, motionless for a while, and felt the spirit of those men who had died in that courtyard, surround me. The cobblestones of that interior courtyard, the windows surrounding it, looking down on me as if the men of 1944 were still behind them, and then the portraits and images lined up on the wall.

 These are the photos taken by me, compared to the old ones of 1944. There are small differences, but important—there are no trees in 1944. Yes, I had to change that in my novel.

 Photos of 1943-44

Interior courtyard

 Photo taken by me



Next came another discovery—some of the accounts I read of 1944 had given me the impression that the building was along the Landwehr Canal and that it could be seen from the window. NO! WRONG! The canal is at the end of the block, yes, but it cannot be seen from the windows. Now, my protagonist, von Klaussen, is looking down into the courtyard, not out to the street along the canal. He now sees von Stauffenberg in the courtyard. A much better point of view, as I verified standing at one of the windows inside the building on the second floor.



Without going into too many details, next I visited what used to be East  Berlin. This time I was guided by someone who knew East Berlin well, Prof. Dr. Frank Decker, professor of political science at the Bonn University. (Incidentally, we had great discussions about the US political system vs. the European system and the… Tea Party. But this is a subject for another day.) The tour of what was East Berlin, turned one important scene that I have in the novel on its head. 

 This is the street (boulevard) I chose for this particular scene, perfect for the needs of my characters, one I could have never imagined had I not walked on it.


 And yes, this is me, unrepentant capitalist under the street sign, still called Karl Marx Allee.




However, what helped me understand even better the character I created of Egon von Klaussen, colonel in the Wermacht, bearer of the Knight’s Cross and, in my novel, one of the conspirators of July 1944, was the character of Berlin. It is indeed one of the great cities of Europe, as it has been before and during the war, dynamic, fast moving, driven by purpose and ambition. But it is a deeply wounded and scarred city, both in body and soul, by the war years, the destruction of the aftermath, and the partition of the city between East and West, and the wall. The city feels like no other the ghostly breath of the millions the war had killed. It is a past that haunts Berliners. No other city in Germany carries these wounds likeBerlin. Every Berliner I spoke with, every conversation, sooner or later turned to the war, to the Nazi years and to the destruction of the city and then its partition. There is a sorrow that hangs over Berlin that will dissipate one day, I know. It is a young city—the majority of its population is young, twenty and thirty-something—and they will eventually bring a new generation that hopefully will move out from under this pall. But this generation, now, still moves under that sorrow and destruction, and death. Even I, a person born after the war, who has never experienced war, and who has lived in sunny California, grew up in the light, felt that heavy shroud of Berlin’s history. It slowed down my step and it weighed on me. A great pity. This quote from Dante came to mind as I walked along the streets, everywhere memorials and monuments to the horror that was the war. I put it on the dedication page of my novel:

 And I, looking, saw a banner

 which, circling, moved so fast

 that it seemed to scorn all rest,

 And behind it came such a throng of people

 that I never would have believed

 that Death could have undone so many

  Dante, Canto III, Inferno, The Entrance.

 But Berlin is, in its youth, returning to its former spirit and cultural verve. It’s everywhere. The city also gives hope by its rise from ashes. Literally from ashes. Berliners are friendly, open and intrepid. Let me leave you with a few images of today’s Berlin.


From the window of a restaurant



Christmas Market in Gendarmemarkt



Christmas Mass at the St. Hedwig Cathedral (children's choir)


Midnight Mass at St. Hedwig. Procession.


Imperial Berlin


The bear, the symbol of Berlin. This one? Don't ask...





...even sweeter. Hot chocolate with rum and pastry.

One more story (this is IT, I promise).
Between 1964 and 1969 (completed in 1969 if my data is correct) Communist Germany built in East Berlin a radio tower, meant to dominate the skyline of both East and West Berlin, to be seen from everywhere, as a symbol of the Communist ‘glory.’  The ball was covered with mirrored squares, to reflect the gold and more glory of Socialism and such clap-trap.  And then, in 1969, it stood proudly in the Berlin skyline. The sun rose and shined into that magnificent ball. Berliners admired it and noticed that the gold reflection of the the sun formed an unmistakeable… cross! With their characteristic biting humor, Berliners promptly called it The Vatican’s Revenge. (Now, doesn’t that sound like a good title for a novel?)
As I walked through Berlin, the sun peeked out for a few minutes and I saw the cross and captured it! (From the East side of Berlin.)

The Vatican's Revenge.




The inspiration for the Pavlava Monastery

Martha, my good friend and author, has just forwarded to me a write up on the Voronet Monastery in Romania.

Unknown to her, the painted church at Voronet was the inspiration for Pavlava church I described in the novel.

Here is the link. Awesome place.

A Question of Poverty

One of my readers asked a very interesting question:

“…could a titled and wealthy aristocrat become a Catholic priest, then a Monsignor, then a Cardinal? Isn’t the vow of poverty supposed to govern?”

This is indeed a very interesting  question that delves into the curlicues of tradition, custom, practice, canon law, etc. of the Catholic Church. I post the answer separately here, instead of just a reply to the comment because it is, well… a long answer.

The simple answer to this question is: yes, a wealthy and titled person can become a priest in the Catholic Church and certainly can rise in the ranks to monsignor and to cardinal; as a matter of fact, he could become pope.

That is the simple answer; as is the case with a any 2000-year-old institution, things are more complex than that.

Historically, there is pleanty of precedence to wealthy and titled clergy, a quick example would be the Medicis of Florence, a family that not only had cardinals and popes, but actually considered it necessary, politically and strategically, to have members of its family high in the Church hierarchy. Please note that it did not involve, in most cases, becoming a simple priest or joining an institution of consecrated life (or as it is sometimes called, a religious or monastic order, i.e.  the Franciscans, Dominicans, etc), the former being a position of no power reserved for the sons of poor families, the latter expressly requiring a vow of poverty.  Nowadays, secular and political dynamics, a shift of where power resides and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council make  it quite rare that  a person of wealth or title would choose the path of the priesthood for the old reasons of power, politics and strategies. It would be (or should be), these days, out of a  strong religious inclination and devotion to the Catholic Church.

Now to the ‘legal’ heart of property ownership and aristocratic titles in the Church. The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law  does not prohibit a person of wealth and title to enter the priesthood (ordination). Article 3 of the Code of Canon Law, Irregularities and Other Impediments, Canon 1040-49, does not list the ownership of property or possession of aristocratic title as an ‘impediment’. As a matter of fact,  canons that address the administration of property (church property), infer the right to private property and freedom to dispose of it.

Now having said that, the rules of property and title ownership as a priest depend on whether one becomes what is known as a ‘secular’ priest (saeculum, or of the world, also known as ‘ordinary clergy), or  is ordained within an institution of consecrated life (these priests are known as the ‘regular’ clergy), such as a monastic order (Franciscan, Benedictines, Dominicans, etc.) that have expressed and specific vows of poverty (in addition to chastity and obedience)  requiring physical renunciation of worldly goods—wealth, titles, etc.   Again, there is no prohibition of a wealthy or titled man/woman to enter such an institution, however they are required to renounce and dispose of that wealth as a condition of entering the institution. A secular priest–which  is the case of the protagonist of The Wolves of Pavlava, Thomas of Invernam–does not take specific vows of poverty and can retain his wealth and title.

Here is perhaps a better explanation, if not simplistic, of the secular priesthood and property, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“In the language of religious the world (sæculum) is opposed to the cloister; religious who follow a rule, especially those who have been ordained, form the regular clergy, while those who live in the world are called the secular clergy. Hence the expression so frequently used in canonical texts: “uterque clerus”, both secular and regular clergy. The secular cleric makes no profession and follows no religious rule, he possesses his own property like laymen, he owes to his bishop canonical obedience, not the renunciation of his own will, which results from the religious vow of obedience; only the practice of celibacy in Holy Orders is identical with the vow of chastity of the religious. The secular clergy, in which the hierarchy essentially resides, always takes precedence of the regular clergy of equal rank; the latter is not essential to the Church nor can it subsist by itself, being dependent on bishops for ordination. (See CLERIC; REGULARS.) (Quote from New Advent, Editor Kevin Knight; Source: du Cange, Glossarium, s.vv. Saeculum; Clericus)

I am not going to go into the details of being a priest in a parish that is part of a diocese under the governance of a bishop/archbishop and incardination. It suffices to say that there’s also a difference between such a priest and one who is part of the Holy See administration (the Curia), where title and wealth take another dimension. I would just note that someone of Invernam’s family and means would not become a parish priest, and that his place in the hierarchy of the Church is where someone like him would aim for (and very likely end up).

As an aside, there is something of a parallel to the concept of ‘secular’ and ‘regular’ clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the person of  Titus Galata in the novel. In the Eastern Orthodox Church we find the ‘black’ clergy–the clerics who are part of a monastic order and do not marry (it is only from their ranks that bishops, patriarchs, etc. are drawn); and the ‘white’ priesthood–priests who are allowed to marry,  but who are limitted to being parish priests and cannot rise in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church.

A long answer, that generates more questions and answers, then raise more questions—we get here into an infinite fractal condition. But quite frankly, this is the type of question I love to answer.

The Wolves of Pavlava in North Carolina

Just came back  (well, not ‘just’, since I am a very lazy blogger) from a visit to Raleigh, North Carolina. While there, I had the privilege of reading from The Wolves of Pavlava to a wonderful group of ladies, an event graciously hosted by a dear friend, Cristina. From the discussions that followed, I gathered that they might think of starting a book club, beginning with Wolves.  The other activity related to the book, I introduced the novel to the local independant book store in Raleigh, Quail Ridge Books and Music.  They are reading it right now, reviewing it, and will make a decision on when and how to carry it in their store.

The rest of my stay in North Carolina?

Here are some photos of its beauty and tranquility.

The leaves are turning



Chapel Hill College moments







The gravitas of history–presidents, patrons and clockworks at the Chapel Hill College Planetarium





Pinehurst, in the middle of forests






Hope you enjoyed the little tour of Carolina. And I hope to return soon.

The Wolves of Pavlava launch party


The long awaited and anticipated launch (it sounds like someone tied a rocket to the book and sent it into space) of The Wolves of Pavlava took place on October 3 at the historical El Adobe in San Juan Capistrano, with friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate and listen to readings. We did a lot of talking, noshing of the wonderful El Adobe food and laughing. There were good discussions about the novel and the story. As an introduction I gave a brief presentation on the historical premise of the book, background of the stories within the story and even a discussion on the historical and politically invented theological differences between the Latin Church (Roman Catholic) and the Eastern Church (Eastern Orthodox). Dr. Stan White, master lector at the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, did the honors and read two excerpts from the novel.

 And here are some of the photos taken by my ‘official’ photographer, Ingrid Hellebrand (winner of the 2010 Emmy Award for her documentary on water issues, Understanding the Chemistry of Our World.)

Poster and Portola Room



Dr. Stan reading

Sharing cupcakes with Jim and Fran (he keeps me honest with the IRS)

The cupcakes decorated with the book cover!

Let the margaritas flow...

Winner of the raffle prize--tote bag and book

Book signing time