Several people have asked me what I’m reading and since I’ve been meaning to write a couple of book reviews too, it’s a perfect post!
The first book I want to share is one I’ve actually been meaning to share for a quite a while. It’s a beautiful, evocative, heart-wrenching masterpiece from Romani author, Glenda Bailey-Mershon.
I am actually on my sixth reading of this book (yes, you read that right). Even though my story is different to that of the main characters, I think many of our stories are represented within these pages.
“Eve’s Garden” captures the desire, struggles, and history of a forgotten and vilified people; my people, the Romani; living, working, and growing up in a small, southern mill town. Glenda’s writing also expresses other, more universal themes, common to many oppressed and marginalized ethnic groups, such as questions about cultural trauma, history, and belonging.
This is an epic tale of three generations of women and their stories of denial, rejection, and recovery. Through the words of Evie, Evangeline, and Maisie we are shown the constant struggles between integration and alienation and speaking and silence. Evangeline, learning how to survive on her own in a less-than-welcoming environment; Evie, eager to discover the secrets her family are keeping; and Maisie, caught between two worlds – then and now – and desperate to reconcile the two.
I love this book for so many reasons, but I think the main one is that it sits firmly within the Romani storytelling tradition. Embracing a non-linear telling, this story often seems to merge beginnings and endings together, creating a new reality of shared experience.
“Not telling everything you know is not the same as telling a lie”
Silence was, for Evie something to be challenged. For her mother and her Grandmother it was a necessity, a way of life, and a way of protecting future generations. This struggle between silence and speaking illuminates other, much broader struggles faced by minorities, especially women. Glenda creates fiercely strong female characters, who are actively engaged in the process of survival. For these women, they have no time to reflect and preserve cultural heritage. However, we see in Evie a little girl lost; someone who can see all the dots but has no ink with which to draw. In oral cultures, storytelling maintains and preserves traditions, and takes listeners on a journey of survival and renewal. It is a way to actively fight extinction – for these women, it seems silence has overcome the desire to weave a new generation of stories. However, the novel as a whole acts as a generative one, resurrecting and retelling stories, memory, and myth.
This book is a must have and a must read and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been telling my friends and acquaintances for the past weeks to Go! Buy! It’s definitely worth it… I was left feeling a whole trucks-worth of emotions and have had difficulty adequately analysing them. Perhaps, because the strong women and mad women of my family are only echoes now… voices in the smoke. It also reminds me that I am the storyteller now.
This is also a part of my ENG699 Comparative Literature class – we’re comparing the themes and motifs in Romani and Native American literature. It’s quite a ride!
You can buy the book here: Amazon.com!
The second book I’d like to mention is written by Jud Nirenberg and is called “Gypsy Movements”. It too, is a must read, but for very different reasons. Gypsy Movements is the true story of Jud’s experiences within the Romani rights movement, and as such provides a critical and personal look at the rise (and fall) of Romani politics and its leaders. Viewed from inside the movements themselves, we’re brought along with the Jud as he navigates the confusing and frustrating worlds of non-profits, grant-writing, and politics.
This book does much to answer the many questions Romani politics and activist movements create, such as where are they working, who are they working with, and most importantly, why are they failing to create change? The answers to these questions are not straightforward, yet they are eloquently illustrated throughout the pages of this book.
As someone who has struggled with the politics of activism (largely unsuccessfully), I find myself struggling to find my place and my voice (along with acceptance from those already established). “Gypsy Movements” explained a great deal to me. In many ways, Romani organizations exist in a fractured and disjointed network, tied together only by being Romani organizations. Just as I often see arguments over who the čače Romani are, there are arguments over which groups are čače organizations.
I’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in Romani politics (both as a historical narrative and a contemporary commentary). It sheds a great deal of light on a great many things, though it might not be an easy read for all!
You can buy the book here: Amazon.com
The third and final book I want to recommend is one that I am still reading but feel it worthy of including here.
Train, by Danny Cohen is, I think, one of the best books of its kind out there. Told through the narrative of the book’s six main characters, Train takes place over ten days in 1943 Berlin and tells a story that allows us to hear from and think about not only Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but Romani, homosexuals, political dissidents, and the disabled. For me, it’s often a difficult read (hence the fact that I’m still reading it). My family suffered greatly during the Holocaust and I find it upsetting to read such accurately framed fiction – while this sounds like a negative thing, it’s not. It’s actually a very positive thing for the book and its author. Many books written about the Holocaust fail to mention other groups targeted by the Nazis, particularly the Romani. It is refreshing (and yes, difficult) to read such a well researched and written piece.
I can’t comment too much, obviously, as I am only about half of the way through the book, but I really think it’s an important read.
You can buy the book here: Amazon.com
What are you reading right now? What do you want to read?