Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Virgin and the Gipsy by D.H. Lawrence (1930)

I found a box of books I had labeled "Classics" which contained books I had read from middle school, through high school and college, maybe a bit after that. I was amazed at what I found there, and maybe that deserves a post in and of itself, I decided to keep some, reread a few of the books. I remember hearing about D.H. Lawrence, so of course I read Lady Chatterly's Lover, but I had also picked up this book. Since I just recently finished the American Gypsy and want to delve a bit more into the world of gypsies, I decide to reread this short book that was published posthumously. The cover is from the yellowed paperback copy I own. 

I am amazed that I used to read these types of books that I now consider moving very slowly. It is about a young woman Yvette in the 1920's England, who comes home to the rectory from her schooling with her sister. Her mother left the family years ago and her father, aunt and grandmother try to do everything to make sure the girls don't turn out like their mother. Yvette is bored, goes out with friends, sews dresses, befriends an unmarried couple, and is fascinated by a gypsy man she sees in the gypsy encampment outside her town. He notices her too. The story seems to move excruciatingly slowly and then ends with a roller-coaster ride, so worth it in the end. I need to remember that it was a book ahead of its time - "The last and most provocative novel from the genius of D.H. Lawrence" as is written on the book cover.

As often is the case when I read books, it is the side things that fascinate me. Again, I don't get the inactivity of Yvette and women of her class. She seems to be waiting around to get married - as the only option for a future, and the pickings are slim. She hates her life, the food, living with granny, a sour aunt, and a disillusioned father. Her sister at least has a job, that gets her our of the house, provides her with her own pocket money. If she hates the food, how about learning to cook and make it tastier? Find a hobby, a charity, anything. I keep thinking there is so much to do out in the world, I keep wishing I could clone myself to do all the things I would like to do.

Then there were the gypsies, which is one of the main reasons I picked up the book. I am sure this depicts the way gypsies lived in England and in many other places in Europe, including Latvia. They would travel in a caravan, find a place to settle down for the winter, make and sell things, read people's fortunes. They looked and dressed exotically, had a certain pride and fierce independence, but knew to be deferent when needed. I am sure some could have the sensuality that Yvette noticed. I still need to read more about them.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

American Gypsy by Oksana Marafioti (2012)

I was probably supposed to read this book before I introduced Okasana Marafioti as a speaker on a panel I was moderating at the American Library Association, but I didn't. After meeting Oksana, I was fascinated by her story and bought the book, even dipped into it, but it somehow got lost in my piles of other things I had to do that month. Now I finished it and am so glad.

During her talk to us librarians, I realized I knew so little about the Romani or Gypsies. Latvians have plenty of tales of them, and I too had mostly a stereotypical view of them, knew nothing of their history, just knew they were throughout Europe, were prosecuted by the Nazi's, were settled around Sabile in Latvia. Oksana gave us a quick history and because they were accepted in very few places, they became traveling entertainers, with little time to write down their histories, their stories. Now, people like Oksana are writing about the Romani experience.

The other reason I felt connected with Oksana, was that she was born in Riga, Latvia, though her family mostly lived outside Moscow, while she was growing up. Her grandfather ran a traveling troupe of performers who sang and danced. Oksana learned to play the piano, performed and traveled with them, but when she went to school, she found that being a Gypsy made her unpopular. Then about a year before the Soviet Union fell apart, her immediate family - father, mother, sister and herself got a visa to America. They landed in Los Angeles where they thought it would be easy to earn good money like they had in the Soviet Union, but found it was much harder.

I am assuming that most of this is her personal story, though I also know Oksana spent some time at the Library of Congress researching the Gypsies of the Soviet Union for her book, so she probably didn't get all the stories from her relatives. I felt her immigrant experience deeply, as I come from immigrants who dodn't quite fit in, have their own culture, community, family expectations. Plus it is a growing up story, issues with parents, boyfriends, finding oneself - on the one hand universal, on the other hand unique. I am afraid I have missed my chance to get to know this woman personally, but maybe I will have another chance to meet her, even if she lives in Las Vegas, a city I hadn't planned to visit again.

If I Pay Thee Not in Gold by Piers Anthony & Mercedes Lackey (1993)

Cleaning out boxes in the garage and found a box of science fiction/fantasy. (Plenty more in the basement.) Thought I would pull out a few for some quick reads. This is a collaboration between two authors I really liked back when I was reading lots of these genre books. Turns out that it was Piers Anthony's idea, but he didn't have time to write it himself, so his publisher talked Mercedes Lackey into writing it, though he was the copy editor and added some writing. The idea came from Arabian nights, where a woman is indebted to a man and he offers other options for paying the debt, thus part of the storyline and the title.

This is one of those alternate magical worlds, where women rule, because they have the power of conjuring things (though they last only a day), and men are their slaves, though there is a separate quarter of freedmen. A girl becomes a full fledged citizen when she passes her woman-trial and defeats a man in combat in the arena. Xylina has put off this moment as she has struggled for survival under a curse, since her mother died in an earthquake. She ends up defeating Faro with cleverness and some powerful conjuring, but keeps him alive, so he is now her slave. Turns out he is an educated scribe, who also happens to be large and good at combat. They form a team of sorts as her trials are far from over as she has a powerful enemy that wants to destroy her, though there are others that would help her.

I know that these science fiction/fantasy books, especially when written by women, often looked at alternative social structures, and this one with women treating their men as slaves seemed like an over the top role reversal, though as I think about it, very close to many historical periods where women were basically slaves to men. I was getting disgusted with the constant mishaps encountered by Xylina, but then a new character appeared and she was sent on a seemingly impossible quest through three totally different worlds beyond the borders of her own, where she grows in maturity, magical power and finds love. I could quibble about some aspects of the book, but basically a fun read and obviously read long enough ago, that I did not remember it - or it could be a book I never got around to reading too.