A gypsy never quits
Veijo Baltzar has constructed a solid, full-blooded tale of Roma beliefs and customs built on a foundation of grim reality
Veijo Baltzar’s eighth novel, Sodassa ja rakkaudessa (’In love and war’, Tammi, 2008), is the story of a Roma community living on the outskirts of a German town from the end of the 1930s, through the concentration camps of the Second World War to the end of the war. Two young Romas emerge as the book’s main characters – Kastalo, an orphan shoe-shine boy and pickpocket who grew up on the streets, and Carinja, a young girl from a respectable Roma family with whom he falls in love. Obstacles to the misalliance arise from Carinja’s parents, her brother Giri, and her arranged bridegroom Bustan, as well as the tumult of world history.
The author’s own Roma background is reflected in descriptive passages and expressive details as well as in the narrative itself. Without a doubt the most important supporting character is… a horse. In his description of the horse, Baltzar (born) goes deep into his own experience. The horse is present everywhere. The horse understands, gives comfort, senses danger before the people do, and rescues the persecuted in their hour of need – in the end with its own flesh.
The central settings for the plot are the familiar communities of Roma culture – nuclear and extended families and gypsy camps – and, perhaps most important, travelling wagon trains. In the words of the narrator:
The caravan was like a ship, commanded by a captain. Numerous family members with various skills were in the crew: caretakers, grease monkeys, wheel tarrers, navigators, drivers, cooks, cleaners, pilots – plus scouts, storytellers, music makers, singers, and dancers. Weepers and complainers. But they were all one big happy family.
In the story, the caravan led by old man Droman treks across the darkest periods of 20th century history, and the traditional values and dreams of the Roma hang in the balance. In the end, in a death camp devoid of all human values, Kastalo is forced to make choices that conflict with his own culture.
From a foundation in grim reality Baltzar constructs a solid, full-blooded story of the beliefs and customs of the Roma that springs from a lifetime faith: ‘A gypsy never quits!’ Their means of survival are extremely diverse: for women they are based on social skills and for men on intuition and life experience. A crackling and quick rhythm in the dialogue teases, flatters and argues with the reader, and the brief sentences bring the tale to life.
The suspenseful narrative brings the story to a surprising conclusion. It is a story of unrequited love that ends at a funeral that includes Carinja, her betrothed Bustan, and her beloved Kastalo, who have survived the concentration camps. But who is being buried in this final scene?
Translated by Lola Rogers
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