- Roma voices in the German-speaking world by Lorely French
Romani literature is a comparatively new phenomenon which has already received much attention in Romani studies scholarship (for a recent overview see Zahova 2014). The scholarship on Roma and Sinti in German-speaking countries has focused primarily on the image of Gypsies (Zigeuner) as created by non-Roma as well as on the history of persecution during the Nazi period. There is a growing interest in the field of literature studies analyzing Romani literature theoretically and/or the works of Roma authors, with various disciplinary approaches (Blandfort 2013; Eder-Jordan 1993; Toninato 2014). The book by Lorely French fits within these contexts and can be seen as one of the most comprehensive and profound studies of this kind, uniting the achievements of various disciplines including literary studies, ethnicity studies, history, ethnology, sociology, and political studies.
The book is divided into eight chapters. The title of each of them–in unison with the author's idea to make Romani voices heard–includes a quote by a Romani author: "I couldn't talk with anyone else about this": Roma voicing gender; "I am eternally proud to be a Gypsy": Roma voicing ethnicity; "It was because it wasn't": Gender and ethnicity in folktales, fairy tales, and wonder tales, "I live with my deceased": Trauma, gender, and ethnicity in autobiographies by Ceija, Karl, and Mongo Stojka, "The emotions are autobiographical, the story is fictional": Confrontations with violence in history and a history of violence in Mariella Mehr's works, "It is a kind of life in conflict, between two worlds": Voices of the younger generation. The introduction provides an overview of the book and the terminology. The text is accompanied by ten illustrations, and includes Notes, Appendix with biographies of Romani writers, Bibliography, and Index at the end.
The author's aim, which is comprehensively followed throughout the book, is twofold. First, French wishes to promulgate the voices of selected writers from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, as written in their autobiographical and literature works (novels, short stories, tales, and narratives) in the [End Page 141] context of identity construction processes that is a dynamic one "involving both self-formation and imposition from the dominant society," and thus negotiated "between many influential worlds" (p. 5). Second, the author strives to examine Romani writers' perspective(s) on ethnicity and gender as "their intersection is central to constructing Romani self-identity and collective consciousness" (p. 3).
Conceptually, the book can be divided into two well-balanced and corresponding parts, each comprised of four chapters. The first part is devoted to more general theoretical, ethnographical, and historical topics of relevance for the ethnicity and identity of the Roma, based on solid theories of intersectionality, cultural hybridity, ethnicity, gender and post-colonialism, and exemplified by analyzing narratives and statements by Romani authors themselves. Starting with a discussion of the topic of her study–the writings of Roma in German-speaking countries– and the most appropriate theoretical approaches (Chapter 1), the author moves on to theories of ethnicity and demonstrates how externally imposed political, social, and cultural factors have influenced persecution of Roma from the fifteenth century onwards, and how all of these have predisposed the (nomadic) way of life, occupations, access to education, and interactions with the majority (Chapter 2). The theoretical and historical outline is entangled with the narratives of over 20 authors from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The Romani accounts come as attitudes, testimonies, and reflections on the historical process described, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, from the view of ethnicity and gender. In Chapter 3, French investigates the Romani authors' perspectives on gender roles as related to ethno-culture: family life and norms, life cycle, family, and calendar customs, economic activities and occupations, storytelling and music-making, on the basis of solid scholarship on Romani studies, as, for example, Carol Silverman's discussion on "female realms of power and influence" (p. 108). I find of particular importance two claims that French makes. First, women's key roles in Romani culture and...