Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism

Article excerpt

When most people hear the word "Gypsy," images are automatically conjured up of nomadic caravans of colorfully attired, swarthy-complected romantic souls, accompanied, of course, by the mournful strains of a violin. Others think of fortune tellers, confidence swindlers, even nefarious home improvement crews, painting driveways with black paint and charging for blacktopping. Whichever stereotype comes to mind, it is the conjurer's assertion that this is the real thing, the authentic reality of Gypsy life.

Perhaps we could be forgiven for thinking that in the former Soviet Union such stereotypes wouldn't be perpetuated without the commercial media industry that often feeds the image-making machine in the "free world." This was not the case, as Alaina Lemon so ably depicts in Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romanic Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism. Her years of fieldwork with various groups of Rom in Russia detail a century's worth of image crafting based upon stereotypes held by both Russian "audience" and Rom "actor." The result is a laudable volume on the twin meanings of the term "performance" in the contemporary experience of the groups Lemon studied.

The Moscow Romani Theater is the centerstage of this drama, a setting for Rom intellectuals to perform works acceptable to the old Soviet regime. That the intellectuals and indeed most of the informant groups in Lemon's book have not been nomadic since well before settlement became the law in the 1950s underpins her premise. Many of the Rom of Between Two Fires have more in common with other Russians than they do with stereotypic Gypsies of romantic plays. …