This novel won the Pulitzer in 2004 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2003, so I had to read it. It was like a homework assignment from th...moreThis novel won the Pulitzer in 2004 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2003, so I had to read it. It was like a homework assignment from the literary world.
The novel is set in antebellum Virginia. The protagonist is a free black man who is also a slave owner--and the novel studies all of the themes one is used to reading in a book about slavery, but delves further into questions of human rights, religion, morality, love, freedom, gender relations, Virginia's history . . . Jones pokes every wound.
Jones could give a number of publishing historians some important lessons in research, style, and drawing connections between events. He dances elegantly between Virginia's history; the invented history of his invented county of the novel; and the past, present, and future of his characters. It's a tough read, but it's rewarding throughout. Every bit of cruelty is paired with some hope, and the prose itself is lovely. (less)
I try to try to read all of the big prizewinning novels. I loved The Virgin Suicides, and decided to hold off on reading this one for a little while until I knew I could savor it. And savor it I did. I think, with this one, Eugenides has written a defining boom of an age. I know that sounds ridiculously grandiose, but the novel is astoundingly good.
The book is an intricate, beautifully researched and written novel about Greece, Smyrna, family, war, silk, race, civil rights, Detroit, prohibition, gender, sex, and genetics. The scope seems unmanageable, but Eugenides pulls it off with grace and compassion and specificity. I know I'll read it again. I'm tempted to read it again right now. (less)
This was another slow read for me because I needed to take the misery in smaller doses. Roma and Sinti continue to face blindingly terrible discrimina...moreThis was another slow read for me because I needed to take the misery in smaller doses. Roma and Sinti continue to face blindingly terrible discrimination throughout Europe. I don't think discrimination is even the word for it: discrimination alone doesn't seem quite strong enough to burn entire Rom communities out of their villages.
Fonseca traveled amidst and around Rom and Sinti communities in Europe in the early 1990s, a time when the constraints of Eastern-European dictatorships were falling away, leaving old ethnic hatreds to bubble forth and explode all over the region. We all know about the great injustices perpetrated by one ethnic group against another in Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Albania. We have heard far lass about the centuries-long use of Rom as the scapegoats of Europe. Fonseca peers into a culture most in the West know little about, examines the truth and exaggerations behind romipen or "Gypsyness", and documents myriad abuses of Rom communities by their governments, their neighbors, and their cousin-tribes.
The author also explores the Nazi attacks against Rom and Sinti and current reactions by historians to the plight of Gypsies during the holocaust. The ongoing unwillingness to recognize that Rom and Sinti were truly victims of genocide seems to stem from many ancient hatreds. Whatever its cause, the refusal to weigh the Gypsy holocaust experience is wrong-headed and dangerous.
Fonseca closes with a look at attempts to organize and unite Rom and Sinti within the UN, the EU, and as an inter-state body in Europe. Unfortunately, little additional progress seems to have been made since the book was originally published, though the European Roma Rights Center continues to press European governments to prosecute those who attack Roma.
In hindsight, I am a bit disappointed that the author paid relatively little attention to Traveller and Gypsy communities in the UK and Ireland. But there are only so many pages in the book. Overall, the writing is quite good, the tone is engaging enough for the book to be enjoyable for non-academics, and the photographs are gorgeous.(less)