115 of 123 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2000
My husband and myself are from one of the largest Rom villages in the former Yugoslavia. While we found Isabel Fonseca's book entertaining, some the information was inadequate. Most of the rituals and superstions she describes are not adheared to in our village at all. American Rom sometimes cling to these beliefs because they do not want to become assimilated into society. In our country that will never be the case. We will never be seen as equals, or as Slovenes,nor would we be treated as Slovenes. Our village is known for its celebration of Rom culture and its independence. We have our own stores, bars, disco, drama club, folklore dance group and are members of the International Romani Union. We speak only Romani in the home. While we do not adhear to the stringent codes of behavior that Fonseca's Rom subscibe to, we still remain a separate minority in society - and we are proud to be Roma!
126 of 136 people found the following review helpful
This book opens with a chapter on the great Romany poet, Papusza (born as Bronislawa Wajs), which appeared earlier in The New Yorker. As Fonseca tells us, Papusza wrote a long autobiographical ballad about hiding in the forests during World War II--"Bloody Tears: What We Went Through Under the Germans in Volhynia in the Years 43 and 44." Discovered by the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski in 1949, Papusza also wrote of the Jewish experience and "the vague threat of the gadjikane" (non-Gypsy) world." But her 1987 death in Poland, where she had lived most of her life, went unnoticed.
That is an appropriate beginning, for this book is not academic anthropology--and it more than admirably explains, from the Roma point of view, what it means to live in a world that remains largely threatening to the Roma. The book is not uniformly complimentary. But Fonseca lived for a period with Roma families, learned their separate and distinct Romany language, traveled across Eastern Europe with them, observed the poverty-stricken ghettos and mud hovels in which the poorest made their beds. And one finds in her closeness to them a sympathy altogether lacking in many other works.
Fonseca writes of her own extensive experience, of course, but also refers to more than 140 scholars, including the fine work of Rom professor Ian Hancock and Jan Yoors. The latter likewise lived among Roma, albeit during the pre-war and World War II eras. She recounts the likely path that the Roma traveled from India to Europe, their centuries of enslavement, their high rate of illiteracy (and cultural reasons for it), their experience during the Holocaust, which the Roma appropriately term the Devouring--and the new generation of Rom leaders who hope to lead their people to a more productive and accepted role in European and world society.
For anyone who has ever wondered about the Rom--especially those wanting a portrait that moves beyond the stereotypes of literature and music like Carmen--this is a fine place to begin. Alyssa A. Lappen
61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Fonseca writes intelligently, integrating many sources and personal observations, but this book remains rather too narrowly intent upon rather journalistic glimpses of Roma life throughout 1990s East-Central Europe. She combines her own interviews and reading with reflections upon how "gypsies" and Jews coexist and play off each other's stereotypes in the eyes of the dominant culture that illuminate from her own perspective (her mother's Jewish) how marginalized peoples have to survive often on the less respectable fringes of a world that both inflates and diminishes the power of "the Other." Especially revealing is her exploration of "the Devouring," the Roma cataclysm during WWII.
Others have commented on the fact that she only delves in-depth into one Albanian family, and I agree that this concentration lessens the impact of the rest of her book, which follows in a more general survey Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Germany with glimpses in the Czech lands, Poland, and the Balkans. She refers to other "gypsies" in the West and India, and I realize that publication pressures may have limited her ability to give all the detail she may have wanted to, or, on the other hand, that she chose a few representative places and events to stand for the whole panorama.
But, I did feel that she sensed an exhaustion of the topic by the last chapter, a weary recounting of conferences and rather fruitless statements of purpose by "professional Gypsies" and the academic and public policy specialists who follow the Roma. She writes from an American identity but her prose uses Britishisms to arrive at an expat, mid-Atlantic style that makes her seem more detached from her subject than she may have meant. (Perhaps the influence of her now-partner, Martin Amis, in assistance when she worked on this book can partially account for this stylistic tic?) While Fonseca has done her reading and strives mightily at giving us an popularized introduction to the Roma, her chapters vary widely in interest and verve, and the book took me much longer to read as a result.
Lively depictions of a train trip from Poland to Germany vie with desultory recitals of conversations with countless individuals who have little of interest to relate. Careful crafting of her sentences collides with boilerplate renderings of findings reminiscent of anthropological term papers. This may have been Fonseca working as best she could with the interviews she had, but a more severe editor could've pushed her to do more with what she compiled, or to cut to the best portions for a much smaller but more energetic account.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2010
Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California, USA)
GYPSIES, the long-lost children of India, number about 16 million
worldwide. In Europe, the 12 million Gypsies constitute its largest
minority. Films like Tony Gatlif's "Latcho Drom: A Musical History
of the Gypsies from India to Spain" (1994) and books like Isabel Fonseca's
"Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey" will help ensure
that the Gypsies do not again disappear -- outside the world's
"Bury Me Standing" -- the title comes from the Gypsy saying, "Bury me
standing, I've been on my knees all my life"-- is a compassionate book
about a marginalized and much-maligned people. Nonetheless, over the past
seven centuries, the Gypsies have made many contributions to European folk
music, dance, and lore. An outstanding example of these contributions
--Flamenco-- highlights the Cannes award-winning "Latcho Drom ."
When Isabel Fonseca, an American journalist and former assistant editor of
the Times Literary Supplement, set out to write this book in 1991, she
"had in mind that the Gypsies were 'the New Jews of Eastern Europe.'"
After four years of field work that included living with Gypsy families in
many European countries and researching library documents, she concluded
that the Gypsies "alongside with the Jews are ancient scapegoats."
Traditionally, Gypsies did not keep any written records. The research on their origin
began with a philological analysis of their language, Romani, which has been firmly
established as a Sanskritic language. Words like dand, (tooth), mun,
(mouth), lon, (salt), akha (eyes), khel (play) are identical with those in
Punjabi spoken in northwest India. Fonseca does not comment on the obvious
resemblance with Punjabi, presumably because of her unfamiliarity with it
or any other modern Indian language. She is also puzzled by the Gypsy
habit of shaking head side-to-side to signify yes. This distinctive
gesture alone suffices to pinpoint their India origin -- rendering all
linguistic evidence redundant! If confirmation were needed, it would be
readily provided by the Gypsy music's use of the Indian ragas such as
Bairavi, Mulkausa, and Kalyani as well as the bol (the rhythmic syllables
-- tak, dhin, dha -- imitating drum beats).
Fonseca seems to think that the current scholarly consensus is that the
Gypsies are from the Dom group of tribes, still extant in India, making
their living as wandering musicians, smiths, metalworkers, scavengers, and
basketmakers. They migrated first from northwest India to Persia in 950
A.D. at the invitation of Shah Behram Gur. As recorded by the contemporary
Persian historian Hamza, the Shah "out of solicitude for his subjects,
imported 12,000 musicians for their listening pleasure."
Fonseca errs in stating that the Gypsy designation for themsleves as Roma
is derived from Dom, one of the outcaste tirbes in India.
Roma is a variation of "ramante," a Punjabi word meaning moving, wandering. T
This etymology is cogently discussed in W.R. Rishi's book "ROMA: The Panjabi
Emigrants in Europe, second edition," published in 1996 by Punjabi
University Press, Patiala, Punjab, India. Rishi traces the origin of the Roma to
the 500, 000 prisoners of war taken by Muhamad Ghaznvi in 1001 from the
Punjab to Afghanistan and subjected to Islamic conversion by the sword.
Many of them resisted by escaping westward to the Christian lands of
Armenia and Greece. To this day, the Roma use the word Gajo, derived from
Ghazi-- the Koranic title of infidel-killing Muslims-- as a disparaging
term. The Roma are from the warrior castes of the Punjab.
The Roma appeared in Europe first in 1300 A.D., fleeing from forcible
Islamic conversions by the Turks. In Europe, ironically, they were accused
of being advance spies for the Turks, and persecuted again. They were also
mistaken as Egyptians, whence the folklore origin of the term Gypsy.
The history of the Roma in Europe, gleaned, for the most part, from court-
and church-records and from rare academic publications, is a
horror--Europe's heart of darkness. One of the examples Fonseca cites is
the 1783 dissertation published by Heinrich Grellman of Gottingen
University. In his book, Grellman describes an event of the previous year
in Hont county, Hungary: "The case involved more than 150 Gypsies,
forty-one of whom were tortured into confessions of cannibalism. Fifteen
men were hanged, six broken on the wheel, two quartered, and eighteen
women beheaded -- before an investigation ordered by the Hapsburg monarch
Joseph II revealed that all of the supposed victims were still alive."
During World War II, the Nazis exterminated 1.5 million Gypsies. At the
Nuremberg trials, the Nazis' lawyers argued that the killing of the
Gypsies was justified since they had been punished as criminals, not as a
race. There was no one to speak for the Gypsies, and the international
tribunal accepted this as exonerating defense! Ah, humanity.
Although tyrants, bigots, and the misinformed have often stereotyped the
Gypsies as congenital criminals, sociological studies show that the
Gypsies commit crimes no more than others. A large-scale study cited by
Fonseca: In Romania, which has the largest Gypsy population of any
country, out of all criminal convictions that of the Gypsies total 11
percent. Their population in the country? Exactly 11 percent.
In recent decades, a Gypsy intelligentsia has begun to emerge. Fonseca
presents detailed profiles of several. Dr. Ian Hancock, an American Gypsy,
and the author of "The Pariah Syndrome," was instrumental in bringing about,
in April 1994, the first-ever Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.,
on the human-rights abuses of the Gypsies. After prolonged efforts,
Hancock also succeeded in the Gypsy inclusion in the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum. Gypsy inclusion had long been opposed by Elie
Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner! It was only after Wiesel's
resignation, writes Fonseca, herself an American Jew, that one Gypsy was
allowed onto the museum's 65-member council. (The council comprised more
than thirty Jews as well as Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians among others
but not a single Gypsy.)
Saip Jusuf is the author of one of the first Romani grammars and a
principal leader in Skopje, Macedonia, which has the largest Gypsy
settlement anywhere. Jusuf helped organize the first world Romany Congress
in 1971 in London. The conference was financed in part by the Government
of India, and at its urging the U.N. agreed first to recognize the Rom as
a distinct ethnic group and several years later accorded voting rights to
the International Romani Union.
In an interview with Fonseca, Jusuf, having converted from Islam to his
ancestral Hinduism, joyously displayed his new icon collection of Ganesha,
Parvati, and Durga . Ramche Mustupha, a poet, showed his passport. Under
"citizenship," it recorded Yugoslav; under "nationality," Hindu. The lost
children of India, having found their ancestral land, are very proud of
its ancient civilization -- the oldest continuous civilization in the
world -- "Amaro Baro Thanh" (Romani for "our big land"). Fonseca observes:
"Many of the young women, fed up with the baggy-bottomed Turkish trousers
they were supposed to wear, have begun to wear saris."
Unlike other beleaguered and marginalized minorities, the Roma are not
seeking a homeland of their own, a Romanistan, in or outside India. The
Roma are resisting, as they always have, to maintain the freedom for a
life-style of their choosing. "To allow this to the Gypsies," Vaclav
Havel, in Prague, said, "is the litmus test of a civil society." However,
Havel's is a lonely voice. All over Central and East Europe "Death to the
Gypsies" graffiti can be observed. Since the Velvet Revolution in
Czechoslavakia, twenty-eight Gypsies have been murdered.
Fonseca cites several specific cases of terrorism against the Gypsies
during the 90's. "In February 1995, in Oberwart, Austria, a town
seventy-five miles south of Vienna, four Gypsy men were murdered. A pipe
bomb had been concealed behind a sign that said, in Gothic tombstone
lettering, 'Gypsies go back to India'; the bomb exploded in their faces
when they tried to take it down. The first response of the Austrian police
was to search the victims' own settlement for weapons; 'Gypsies killed by
own bomb,' the papers reported." Oberwart, Austria, is in Burgenland,
where the Gypsies have been settled for three centuries.
The resurging repression of the Gypsies is Europe's continuing crime
against humanity. At the Nazi trials in Nuremberg, there was no one to
speak on behalf of the Gypsies. Now, the Gypsies have at least this
eloquent book exposing Europe's recrudescing genocidal threats to them. - C. J. Singh
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2006
Bury me Standing is one of my favourite books and the one that put me on to reading non-fiction. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I didn't feel that Fonseca was experiencing a case of gypsy-philia, nor was I led to despise Romanians or other non-gypsies. I found this to be an absorbing, intriguing and un-put-downable personal study of both the gypsies and the countries of Eastern Europe. In my ignorance, I was astounded to hear of the grinding poverty of some of these countries and it has engendered in me an on-going interest in Eastern Europe.
I think that Fonseca takles issues relating to gypsies in a fair-handed manner and documents her personal experiences and the people she met. I didn't feel that she condoned such practices as child brides but nor does she try to intrude on another culture and pretend she would know what is best for them. I found many fascinating insights from washing and bathing rituals to the pratice of cooking outside - even for those gypsies who had made money and built mansions.
Highly recommended- make up your own mind.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2001
Ms Fonseca presents an accurate and believable picture of the Gypsy lifestyle and present day situation. The book mixes personal anecdotes and experiences with Gypsy families and leaders throughout eastern Europe with history and editorial commentary. Having recently returned from Romania, where Gypsies are that country's largest minority population, I can attest to the perpetuation of stereotypes and discrimination expressed by all segments of the population; from doctors and teachers to everyday citizens even though there may never have been any personal experience or contact. This book is clearly well thought out and researched and is an important volume to anyone interested in not only the history of the Gypsies but in how that history continues to impact and influence modern views and perceptions of this much maligned people.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2000
By way of explanation for my comment above... I'm not saying this is the greatest book ever written, but it is a `must-read' because it goes some way to filling a huge gap in most people's knowledge of Europe. Fonseca gives a valuable account from the `inside' of a people who have been reviled and abused (or patronised) for centuries. The book is well-written and intricately researched, and provides insights into both Roma customs, and the poltical problems and challenges they face in post-communist Europe.
What gives this book a real resonace for me is the upsurge of anti-Roma racism in Europe. This has reached my country, Britain, with hysterical attacks from the press and politicians against `asylum-seekers' (or refugees, as they used to be called), especially on Roma from East and Central Europe who are labelled as scroungers and beggars. Fonseca's account of the oppression of these people in Romania and elsewhere is a valuable corrective to these myths.
Finally, reading the other reviews, I feel that if Fonseca is being attacked _both_ for being overly sympatheic to the Roma _and_ for being insufficiently sympathetic, she can't be going too far wrong! I felt her book was a `warts and all' account, which doesn't ignore the problems within Roma society, but continually brings the focus back on the systematic racism that they have faced, and still face in Europe today.
117 of 149 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2000
While I have to commend Fonseca for her extensive in-the-field research, I was a bit put off by many of her blanket statements. She presents a fairly one-sided view of the gypsies. Mainly, she seems to be suffering from a severe case of white liberal guilt, which translates in a very skewed basic idea in the book, which is this: gypsies are complete innocents persecuted by blind Eastern European racists.
Well, having lived and worked in Romania for over a year, I developed a more objective opinion of the situation. Yes, gypsies are racially targetted. In fact, what the average white Romanian feels about gypsies is along the lines of what the avergae Klansmen feels about blacks in America: they hate them fanatically, without any reservations.
Yet . . . what is the underlying reason? It is more than just irrational racism working here--and it is a lot more than the material envy that Fonseca so blithely puts forward in her book. See, instead of dealing honestly with certain self-destructive tendencies within the gypsy community, Fonseca displays typical liberal apologist views, rationalizing away even the worse actions of her subject matters.
For example, the self-destructive habits of the gypsies include seeing education as a threat to tradition (95% of gypsies are illiterate), the inability to change or assimilate with changing times, the incredible birthrate (most gypsy women are taught to bare as many children as possible, regardless of the means to supporting them), the patriarchal system that forces girls to marry while in their early teens in arranged marriages, their rampant begging and thieving, etc. These are stereotypes, of course, but stereotypes are often true--so don't condemn them when you've never been here. These actions of the gypsies, more than anything else, are what's keeping them from attaining their potential--it's NOT only racism. Yet, if you were to read Fonseca's book, you'd think it was the ubiquitously evil White Man who's behind everything!
So, for potential readers, enjoy the book--but read everything with skepticism. And if you really want to know the "other side" of the gypsies, come to Eastern Europe and see for yourself. Go to the orphanages, the shelters, the huffers, and most pityingly of all, the children who've been mutilated by their parents so they can earn more money begging. (In the book, she dismisses the notion off-handedly; but in my own research while going to the shelters, I have developed a . . . different opinion.)
So . . . overall, the book's informative--but don't trust the information wholeheartedly.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Gypsies,(from Egyptians) or the more politically correct ROM or Roma or Romani have been around in Europe especially, have been the rug that you wipe you feet on before going into "Civilized" Eastern Europe. More than any group, except for the American Indians or Indigineous Peoples of Central and South America, the Rom have been looked at as being below contempt. They are the epitome of dirt, thievery, illiteracy, uncontrolled procreation and uselessness.
On the scale of untermenschen (underpeople) the Nazis listed them with the mentally and physically handicapped as chronically criminal and not worthy of mention in most of their racial laws. They usually qualified under the catchall 'other'. They have suffered mostly because they are a 'people' without a history. Who are they? Where do they come from? What is that language they speak? How are they all related?
Isabel Fonseca spent years with them, learning their customs and language and trying to understand what they are/were. But even she will admit that it is impossible to understand the Rom unless you are a Rom. You are the ultimate outsider, without an advocate
for your rights of nationality and homeland.
In 21st century Europe, where most post WWII nations are mostly ethnically homogenized (with almost all Western European nations having non-statistically significant minorities), they still stand out like a sore thumb. Unlike Turks in Germany, and Arabs in France, what homeland would you repatriate them to? Egypt? India? Persia? if they won't/don't choose to assimilate?
This IS a great sociological study, written with compassion and finese. Read it.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2000
I'm glad I read this book -- it is an often-fascinating portrait of a world I knew nothing about. Despite the biases noted by other reviewers, I think the author's exhaustive search for material, both through literature and live observation, has paid off. This culture doesn't document itself, so as an ethnographic work, I think it's very welcome, warts and all. Unfortunately, I found the book tiresome at several points and irksome in other ways. I didn't expect Pulitzer-level writing, but a lot of the book read like it was dictated and transcribed without editing or organization. She seemed to expect a level of basic knowledge or just didn't bother to explain certain things, and it made it tough to get into the book initially. Maybe I'm dense, but it took me about 20 or 30 pages to figure out the difference between Rom, Romani, and Roma. If the author didn't want to break up her narrative, a glossary would've been nice. Finally, the book veered, often jarringly, between a sophisticated sociopolitical study of the Gypsies, a putdown of Eastern Europe, and a chatty magazine article. I was actually more put off by her apparently sneering tone in several cases than her pro-Gypsy bias. You can report that people appear childlike by American standards without acting like you're the prom queen and they're the wallflowers. Bottom line: If you think the topic is interesting and have time, read it. But I'd hesitate to push the book on people who want a "good read," which is too bad. I think this author can be a major writer in the future if she can self-edit or turn her work over to a good editor.