domingo, 22 de novembro de 2009

Romani Book: Torn Away Forever

In this book, written in the traditional Gypsy style of family biography, Yvonne Slee gives us a collection of stories about her ancestors who lived in Germany in the twentieth century. She begins with her great grandfather, called August, "torn away" from his Gypsy relations to be adopted into an uncaring family with a vicious stepfather. Running away at 15, August finds employment and friendship amongst Gypsies who teach him how to survive, and eventually marries a German woman and raises a family, including Elsa, Yvonne's grandmother. They adopt a disabled Gypsy boy called Freddy. As a half-Gypsy, with dark skin and long black hair, Elsa experiences racism at school, where her plait is cut off during a lesson by a spiteful classmate. She finds solace playing with friends in a nearby Gypsy encampment.

Conditions in Germany during First World War force Elsa's mother to go to the woods to pick berries and nuts, while August hunts for animals. In the 1930's, Elsa notices ethnic families being taken from their homes to be "rehoused." Each time a truck appears in the street, her mother grabs Freddy and hides at the home of a friend, while August disappears till the danger passes. Eventually, Freddy is snatched away by the authorities and put in a home for the handicapped. The family eventually discover the dreadful truth - he has been sent to a concentration camp and gassed.

Elsa marries an anti-Nazi called Willy, who is called up during the Second World War. After he is killed at the front, Elsa is left to bring up their young children alone. Almost arrested for being non-Aryan, she is rescued by an acquaintance, and lives out the rest of the war living on food she gathers from the forest. Surviving bombs, semi-starvation, and the destruction of her home, Elsa lives to the age of 80. Despite its sad theme, the book has many lively incidents. Elsa is almost gored by a bull, narrowly escapes drowning, and uncovers a butcher's pet-stealing scam. Yvonne Slee writes with compassion about a family surviving the Holocaust and war.

Janna Eliot. London, UK


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