Monday, 17 May 2010
Review: The Year the Gypsies Came
I finished The Year the Gypsies Came yesterday, and I was going to review it this evening but have some time on my hands before my German lesson so I'll write it now-though it will be a brief and to-the-point review.
Summary (from the blurb): Emily Iris looks forward to the times her parents welcome house guests to their family's unhappy home on the edge of Johannesburg. For a while, as long as the visitors are there, her mother and father will put their quarrels aside and be like a real family.
One spring, a family of wanderers-an Australian couple and their two boys-comes to stay. But the arrival of these 'gypsies' starts a chain of events that will shatter Emily's hopes of a happy family and change them all forever.
Review: It was nice to read a book set in South Africa during apartheid that doesn't have anyting vaguely resembling white-girl-falls-in-love-with-black-boy-or-vice-versa in it. I mean, it has elements of racial tension, but, well, not all the people in South Africa in the late 1900s were white middle-class teenage girls who weren't afraid to break the rules and stand up to the police, à la Blue Sky Freedom or Ruby Red. Not that there's anything wrong with that. They're both very good books. It's hard to tell if The Year the Gypsies Came falls into the same sort of category. Emily is white, her parents are wealthy, they live in the suburbs, and so on. But it's different, too. It's full of Zulu and Xhosa folk tales and the poetic descriptions are as beautiful as the front cover.
However. If you're after a joyous and life-affirming read, I don't think this is for you. There's death, prisons, abuse, shouting parents, rape, and so on. Despite what the cover would have you believe, it's dark stuff. 1 dysfunctional family + 1 abusive family=2 dysfunctional families and a lot of heartbreak, especially when you least expect it. However, if you're not to depressed to go on, you'll be rewarded. It's similar to A Swift Pure Cry in that despite the overall sadness it's relatively uplifting.
Speaking of Emily. I think it worked well that she was so innocent. In some respects, I think it worked well that she was so small and unknowing of the big wide world's horrors. One thing, though: Was she really 12? She seemed much younger, and I suppose her age made her seem almost ignorant where she was just supposed to be naïve. Perhaps if she was a couple of years younger it would have been slightly more believable. Either way, innocence is innocence and despite her age it made her mother's affair and the knowledge of what Jock, the Australian wildlife photographer, does to his sons seems all the more frightening. And in the end Emily speaks up.
There wasn't really any romance, save between Emily's mother and a man called Dennis who you only actually meet once or twice, and not for very long. In that respect he was nought but a minor character, but on the other hand he was so important. And what happens between Emily and Otis but, well, that's as far from romance as you can get. I didn't mind the lack of romance, really. Though it's nice, it's not really essential to the story (and Emily was only 12). And, seeing as this is The Year the Gypsies Came, it would most likely end in tragedy anyway. Alas, alack.
One last thing: The descriptions are so clear and poetic. It's beautifully written. *thumbs-up for nice scenery--setting*
Summary: Worth reading if you don't mind depressing books. It's different from many apartheid-era books, which was pretty cool. The cover is as beautiful as the prose, but don't let these things mislead you. Rating: 3.