Wednesday, April 23, 2008

REVIEW: Gypsy Tears, by Cora Schwartz

Gypsy Tears, by Cora Schwartz. Published 2007 by Hobblebush Books. Nonfiction.

You can visit to order a signed copy from Schwartz.

Gypsy Tears: Loving a Holocaust Survivor is a very unusual book. Part Holocaust book that doesn't really talk much about the Holocaust, part quasi-roman a clef about a real-life love story, and part travelogue, Gypsy Tears covers a lot of territory. The short version: it's the story of a couple- a nameless American woman and her older, Ukrainian lover Rudy, a damaged, hard-drinking, gambling Holocaust survivor- who travel together to Rudy's Ukrainian home and try to help his surviving family, all the while trying to keep their relationship intact. Rudy is Jewish, but grew up around and with Roma people, and has developed a great deal of affection for its culture and especially its music; his relationship with this community is a crucial aspect of the story and will culminate in a very emotional denouement.

Generally speaking I enjoyed the book. It was has two main themes- the emotional devastation and trauma the Holocaust has left in its wake, and the efforts by the narrator, Rudy's lover, to maintain a relationship with him in the face of this trauma. The love story was beautiful and compelling- I really believed in their love for each other, and felt for the struggles and frustrations they went through. Their adventures in Ukraine and Europe- the music, the bureaucracy, the family, the gypsies- made for great reading. I really enjoyed the material on the Roma, a subject I don't often see covered in the fiction I come across. The detail given to living conditions in Ukraine gave the story richness and pathos and I thought it was unbearably sweet when the narrator says she wants to send goods and money to help the people there have a better standard of living- even if it's only a drop in the bucket. I wanted to, too.

The biggest weakness was the abrupt ending. One minute, we're in Ukraine, and something important is happening. Turn the page, and it's years later- and what just happened? When you get there you'll see what I mean. I think I figured out most of the intervening narrative through context, but it would have been nice to have a little more narrated explicitly. It didn't ruin the book for me, but it was a problem.

On balance though I thought Gypsy Tears was a terrific book. Rudy's story really brought home the psychological devastation of the Holocaust, and the information throughout on Roma culture was fascinating. A beautiful love story, well-written, and recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

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