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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Bury Me Standing

This book was a great example of book design/ marketing at work. I came upon it wandering through Barnes and Noble (I think), and the cover just jumped out at me. Combined with a very catchy title, it was pretty hard to resist. It helped that I knew absolutely nothing about the subject matter, so there was some added interest there.

Bury Me Standing is a combination of an anthropological study and a history, weighted more heavily towards the former. The bulk of the text is a chronicle of Fonseca’s experiences traveling in Eastern Europe, where she lives and talks with Gypsies in Albania, Romania, Poland, and parts of Germany. She also attends an international conference of Gypsies organized by some prominent Gypsy academics (not to be confused with academics specializing in Gypsies). Part of her investigations also take her into the bureaucracies of these countries, where she spends a fair amount of time speaking with government officials and law enforcement officers about the Gypsies, and how they are treated (usually badly).

Interspersed throughout the anthropological text is some material on the history of Gypsies. Unfortunately, the history of the Gypsies is a bit difficult to trace; the Gypsies themselves keep no written records, and many historical accounts are severely biased, where they exist at all. Still, Fonseca does a decent job of constructing at least a skeleton of the history of this nomadic people. And she does an excellent job of painting a picture of their modern culture.

Fonesca’s in-person observations of Gypsy life and culture are what make this book really worthwhile. It helps that she’s a good writer; her descriptions of the people, and their surroundings, are well-rendered, and help give the reader a good sense of the lives that many Gypsies lead (usually ones of abject poverty).

My only complaint about the book is that occasionally, Fonseca assumes knowledge that the reader may not have. For instances, she makes numerous references to British Travelers, who I presume are British Gypsies (and not British guys who help Wesley Crusher achieve godhood), but she never really explains what they are. In fact, while she makes mention of American Gypsies, British Travelers, and so on, she’s mostly focused on Gypsies in Eastern Europe. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I would have loved to have gotten a more general picture.

Still, definitely a solid and enjoyable book. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, it’s worth looking into.