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The Year the Gypsies Came

June 21, 2009

The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass
published by Henry Holt & Co. March 21, 2006

The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass is narrated by young Emily, who lives in Johannesburg with her emotionally unstable parents and her beautiful, loving older sister Sarah. The family’s black servants offer her nurturing and stability. This includes Buza, their Zulu watchman, who nourishes her with love, wisdom, and traditional Zulu stories. In many ways, Buza is the heart of this novel, and his tales weave together the threads of the story and give it more color and richness.

Emily’s parents often bring strangers into their home; this seems to be part of the glue that holds their marriage together. They invite an itinerant Australian family to camp out in their property. The family includes Jock, whose charm disguises his cruelty, Jock’s wife, and his two sons. This sets a series of events in motion which will permanently change their lives.

Most of the characters in this story were well drawn, and Emily’s coming of age experiences, her deep loneliness, and her passionate affection for her loved ones seem real to me. The author draws on her own experience growing up in South Africa during the era of apartheid along with her knowledge of Zulu folklore and culture. This makes this coming of age story unique and especially interesting. She also did a terrific job of letting me see and feel the landscape of Johannesburg.

I highly recommend this book for its compelling characters, and the glimpse it offers into contemporary history and into another country and culture, and for the richness of the stories.


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