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Isabel Fonseca describes the four years she spent with Gypsies from Albania to Poland, listening to their stories, deciphering their taboos, and befriending their matriarchs, activists, and child prostitutes. A masterful work of personal reportage, this volume is also a vibrant portrait of a mysterious people and an essential document of a disappearing culture. 50 photos.


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Published: Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307761040
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Any one involved in the serious academia of Middle Eastern dance is probably well aware of this book being towards the top of the recommended reading lists of serious dance ethnologists. It's recommended by well known researchers such as Morocco and Shira and continues to make the lists of countless others (admittedly even my own) however, I think that a lot of dancers after reading it might just be wondering why.While Fonseca's book is a great survey of Rom cultures and especially oppression in Eastern Europe it doesn't exactly have much for the average Middle Eastern dancer to glean from it. The Rom surveyed in the text are almost exclusively Eastern European giving no insight into the lives of Middle Eastern Rom (like those in Turkey for example) or Spanish Rom. It also doesn't specifically look at Rom entertainment. You will not learn much about dance or even music in this book despite the influence Rom musicians have had on Eastern European music.The most interesting chapters to the Middle Eastern dancer and Dance Ethnologist will most likely be Chapters One: The Dukas of Albania and Two: Hindupen. In chapter one we do get the tiniest glimpse of dance among Albanian Rom. On page 42 we read "On the fifth floor of the worst block in all Kinostudio, whose only window had caved in and gave dangerously out onto the street, the girls shrieked and gossiped and smoked cigarettes and danced, trying to outdo each other in pelvic rudeness." On page 46 we read "They'd crank up the disco music on Nuzi's blaster and have their own little dancing party. All over Eastern Europe girls still mostly danced together and not with men,..." Those are the most useful quotes the book has on understanding Rom dances and dance culture. Chapter two goes into some detail about where Gypsies come from and when but is also one of the shortest chapters at just 30 pages. It also mostly looks at Eastern European Rom and doesn't go into much detail about other Rom or other Gypsies in general. These chapters will give you some insight into the lives and practices of Eastern European Rom but not much.The rest of the book mostly looks at the oppression and discrimination against Rom throughout Eastern Europe and has a specific chapter even on Gypsies in the Holocaust. While these chapters are very interesting to read for anyone who is interested in world history and especially Gypsy history it is not particularly useful to the dancer or dance ethnologist especially in researching Middle Eastern Gypsy lives and culture. Although there is some insight into Eastern European Muslim Rom this may not reflect the lives and cultures of the Muslim Rom in the Middle East. As a Muslim myself I found it interesting that the Muslim Rom seemed only nominally Muslim. Something I would have liked to know more about. Is it only the family she stayed with or is this common among all Muslim Rom in Eastern Europe? Is it common among Middle Eastern Rom to be only nominally Muslim as well?Finally, I would like to point out that while Fonseca's book continues to be a popular read about the Rom it is becoming a bit dated. Her field work was done in the early nineties now over a decade old (in the next few years it will be over 2 decades old) and many of the events she talks about occurred in the 80s and early 90s. Newer copies of her book have a new afterword that brings some of their political and societal recognition into more current times but it doesn't actually address much in the ways of Rom culture, dance or music. Some of the Rom have had improved conditions since the original research and field work and more organizations by and for Rom have developed since this time as well. Some of these are addressed in the new afterword. However, it's a little disheartening to read on that Eastern European Rom continue to live largely in slums, with little to no health care available to them and are still largely illiterate.So if you're looking to read this because it was a recommended read off your favorite dancers list I would recommend thinking twice about it. If your not looking to research Eastern European Rom then this book will be of little use to you. If your an Egyptian Style Raqs Sharqi artist this book will do nothing for your dance education. If your trying to present authentic Rom dances this will teach you nothing useful. If you just want to learn more about Rom in general or especially Rom in Eastern Europe this book is a great read and a good introduction to the topic. Just make sure you understand what your going to get out of it or not get out of it.more
Between 1991 and 1995, Isabel Fonseca visited East Central Europe many times and lived among families in the various gypsy communities of Romania, Albania, Poland, Bulgaria and neighboring countries. Fonseca is an anthropologist so she had a professional interest in exploring more deeply the history, customs and culture, the present conditions, and the future prospects of this group of people who are perhaps the least understood in the world today. Employing the usual rigorous methods of research during the process, however, does not reduce her subjects to mere objects of scholarship and observation, as her experience transforms her into a witness and a voice. She records stories, plenty of them, of various gypsy - or Roma- groups across these countries, seeking families and individuals who were willing to talk with her, to afford her a glimpse of their daily lives. She meets the poet, the politician, the academic, the self-proclaimed King, the child prostitute, among others and through vivid portrayals of these individuals we understand a little more about the immense challenges the gyspies face in every conceivable aspect of modern life.The general outlines of the story of the Romas is well-known. Since their exodus from India 10 centuries ago, they have had a long and bitter history of persecution: enslaved by the nobility of medieval Romania, massacred by the Nazis, forcibly assimilated by the communist regimes, evicted by Eastern Europe nationalist mobs, and recently, increasingly rejected by Western European countries as well. It is striking to realise that the last four stages all occurred within the last century. It is not an exaggeration to say that the gypsies have remained the scapegoat that they've always been, it seemed, in history. The only difference between them and others who also stood as scapegoats, is that their story is untold because they are invisible (e.g. except as being objects of the Nazi experiments, their experience during the Holocaust is undocumented).The gypsies evoke a strange mix of feelings and attitudes in general -- they are at once fabled, feared, romanticised, reviled and spurned. Shamefully for humankind, despite the so-called human progress claimed to have been achieved, being the Other remains a stigma. It does not help that the Romas are fiercely independent, highly traditionalistic, tightly-knit, prefering their nomadic way of life and keeping to ancient customs, stubbornly refusing to be straightjacketed by any modern system. Fonseca doesn't skirt around the uncomfortable issues, she mentions the conceptions and the prejudices that the non-gypsy has about the gypsies and clarifies with her experience but does not judge. She confirms, for example, that gypsies lie. They lie a lot -- not to each other, but to the gadje (non-gypsy), but this is not, for them, something of malice --- it is a telling of a story with embellishments, of crafting a story that the listener wants to hear, of inventing a story because he/she does NOT want the gadje to know as to know is tantamount to exposing their (the gypsies') true self. It is a means of defense, the survival of the group. Contrary to common perception of gypsies being free spirits and with no sense of order or moral compunction, their daily life is in fact strictly governed by a set of age-old customs and taboos that reinforce as well their highly developed community spirit: the gypsies live for the group, individuality is not recognized. Fonseca paints the gypsies' rich life of traditions, family values, community well-being amidst wretched poverty, squalid conditions, and most worrying of all, the increasing hate crimes being committed against them in various parts of Europe. She mentions appalling events in Central and Eastern Europe, reminiscent of the medieval ages, shocking to the extreme such as burning people, razing villages. Western Europe, on the other hand, is driving back the many Romas who have crossed to their frontiers with the expansion of the EU zone -- but to drive back where, as nobody wants them. There are some encouraging signs though and Fonseca concludes her fascinating account with mention of the extraordinary efforts being done by a small group of Roma intellectuals who fought for international recognition of the Romas, and whose movement continues to keep the awareness of the Romas, their gaping needs and means to address them, within the sights of EU policymakers specially in the context of the immigration issue.Enlightening in many respects, this is also a narrative of a skilled story-teller. Highly recommended.more
Ask yourself honestly: What do you know about gypsies? In my case, the answer was “Not a whole lot, really”. In a time when many parts of eastern Europe are adapting racist laws against this people, when actual pogroms and lynching are happening continuously without the perpetrators getting punished for it, it seemed high time to read this book, collecting dust on my shelf for over ten years now.Fonseca, an American jewess, lived with gypsies in various countries for four years while writing this book, and it gives good basic insight to a culture and a people who remain kind of hidden in our midst. The gypsies have no promised land, no myths of a glorious past. They are unique as a people in that their nation is not a place (or even the dream of a place), but formed around moving, travelling on the fringes – even now when the vast majority are resident. Most gypsies live in poverty and oppression, but they are also fiercely resisting assimilation, having strict rules for how to interact with gadjo – non Gypsies.I knew about the prejudice, hate and fear towards gypsies (indeed, I’ve often noted how even liberal and conscious people around me have occasionally made remarks about gypsies that they would never ever direct at jews or arabs or gay or any other minority), but a lot of what this book describes was still news to me. I was shocked to read about how the hundreds of thousands of gypsies killed in the Holocaust were disregarded for a long time. Only 1982 was the systematic killing of gypsies recognized as genocide, and they weren’t represented in the US Holocaust Memorial Council until 1986!At the same time, it was difficult to read that some of the most common prejudices against gypsises – that they are stealing, and heaping junk around their homes – do have some truth to them. Both are part of traditional gypsy strategies to keep a distance towards gadjo.Fonseca’s account is very personal and subjective, which is both good and bad. There are many memorable and moving characters here, among the many families she meets. But sometimes Fonseca’s view becomes slightly exotic and down the nose in a way that makes me wish for a more distant approach. Still, this is a book that makes me feel a little wiser.more
Interesting, well written; vivid and compassionate without sentimentality; Fonseca does not patronise or romanticise the subjects. Made me challenge myself as perhaps prejudiced and that is always useful. Also made me want to know more, on the history and on the ethnography of the various groupings.more
Wow, I absolutely adored this book. Far better than I even expected. Going to c/p an excerpt of the review I wrote in my journal because I'm being lazy.--I've been reading Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, and it has to be one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time. The author travelled and lived among the gypsies of Eastern Europe and attempted to track the similarities and differences among the various groups. There are several theories presented about that, but one of the most prominent indicating a gypsy exodus from India about 1000-1200 years ago. It was very interesting to learn that and see some of the tie-ins between Romani, Hindi and Sanskrit. I guess I always thought Roma/Rom=Romanian and never thought about gypsies outside of Eastern Europe, though I certainly ran into more gypsies in Madrid than I did in Prague. And much as I don't like to generalise and don't think it's fair, I nearly got pickpocketed twice in Madrid when walking through Puerta del Sol. Who was it? Bloody gypsy woman.Another interesting point that the author raised was the reaction of non-gypsies to gypsies, especially the Magyars in Transylvania. That was a real eye-opener because we all learn about the pogroms around WW2 and the gypsies killed in the camps but you don't think of things that happened in the early 90s as the author travelled. Stories of entire gypsy camp and villages being burnt to the ground for the crime of one person. Scary. This book was researched in 91-93 and published in 1995 so it's a bit out of date, but an interesting back thread to her travels were the conflicts in the Balkans at the time as well as the general unrest in the regions (especially the former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania) following the deaths of Ceaucescu, Tito and the fall of communism.If any of you are interesting in languages/a sociological look at the history of the gypsies, I highly recommend this book. It's got me wanting to know more though. Especially about the Travellers, which I know very little about.Point of that? I seriously think I missed my calling to study linguistics. I always knew I liked languages but never realised until the last few years how I like word origins/etymology/etc. I cannot look at a word without working else what else it's related to and how it ties into other languages. I think it's thrilling to see how languages morph over time and distance and that interest has been piqued by looking at Australian English v. American English. Especially the slang. At times I barely understand what people are saying, and that's not even only 'Strine. Also, language changes within the same regional area, i.e. Geoffrey Nunberg's two books. I also love languages from a sociological point of view. Over the summer I read Spoken Here which talks about what happens when languages die and in Bury Me Standing it's an interesting look at the use of Romani throughout the regions. I am such a language geek.I know I could go for my MA in linguistics, but on its own that would be about as useful as my BA in Economics. I can't really do anything with either. Of course what I want to do is research. I love research. Research and field studies, I'd be in heaven.ETA: The above was from a 2005 read. I've decided not to study linguistics, but still have an interest in languages.more
A fascinating account of the author's time spent with various Romany groups, packed with humour, social history and engaging characters.more
Fascinating, if somewhat depressing.more
Well written and beautiful. After reading this book I felt I had a better understanding of Gypsy culture. The people are compelling and the descriptions vivid, especially the family in Armenia. Highly recommended.more
This book gives a glimpse into a world that few outsiders are aware of. It doesn't make things seem ideal, nor does it make things seem wretched. The book is written with a good deal of respect towards the subject, although I am sure someone could find something to be offended about.more
Read all 14 reviews

Reviews

Any one involved in the serious academia of Middle Eastern dance is probably well aware of this book being towards the top of the recommended reading lists of serious dance ethnologists. It's recommended by well known researchers such as Morocco and Shira and continues to make the lists of countless others (admittedly even my own) however, I think that a lot of dancers after reading it might just be wondering why.While Fonseca's book is a great survey of Rom cultures and especially oppression in Eastern Europe it doesn't exactly have much for the average Middle Eastern dancer to glean from it. The Rom surveyed in the text are almost exclusively Eastern European giving no insight into the lives of Middle Eastern Rom (like those in Turkey for example) or Spanish Rom. It also doesn't specifically look at Rom entertainment. You will not learn much about dance or even music in this book despite the influence Rom musicians have had on Eastern European music.The most interesting chapters to the Middle Eastern dancer and Dance Ethnologist will most likely be Chapters One: The Dukas of Albania and Two: Hindupen. In chapter one we do get the tiniest glimpse of dance among Albanian Rom. On page 42 we read "On the fifth floor of the worst block in all Kinostudio, whose only window had caved in and gave dangerously out onto the street, the girls shrieked and gossiped and smoked cigarettes and danced, trying to outdo each other in pelvic rudeness." On page 46 we read "They'd crank up the disco music on Nuzi's blaster and have their own little dancing party. All over Eastern Europe girls still mostly danced together and not with men,..." Those are the most useful quotes the book has on understanding Rom dances and dance culture. Chapter two goes into some detail about where Gypsies come from and when but is also one of the shortest chapters at just 30 pages. It also mostly looks at Eastern European Rom and doesn't go into much detail about other Rom or other Gypsies in general. These chapters will give you some insight into the lives and practices of Eastern European Rom but not much.The rest of the book mostly looks at the oppression and discrimination against Rom throughout Eastern Europe and has a specific chapter even on Gypsies in the Holocaust. While these chapters are very interesting to read for anyone who is interested in world history and especially Gypsy history it is not particularly useful to the dancer or dance ethnologist especially in researching Middle Eastern Gypsy lives and culture. Although there is some insight into Eastern European Muslim Rom this may not reflect the lives and cultures of the Muslim Rom in the Middle East. As a Muslim myself I found it interesting that the Muslim Rom seemed only nominally Muslim. Something I would have liked to know more about. Is it only the family she stayed with or is this common among all Muslim Rom in Eastern Europe? Is it common among Middle Eastern Rom to be only nominally Muslim as well?Finally, I would like to point out that while Fonseca's book continues to be a popular read about the Rom it is becoming a bit dated. Her field work was done in the early nineties now over a decade old (in the next few years it will be over 2 decades old) and many of the events she talks about occurred in the 80s and early 90s. Newer copies of her book have a new afterword that brings some of their political and societal recognition into more current times but it doesn't actually address much in the ways of Rom culture, dance or music. Some of the Rom have had improved conditions since the original research and field work and more organizations by and for Rom have developed since this time as well. Some of these are addressed in the new afterword. However, it's a little disheartening to read on that Eastern European Rom continue to live largely in slums, with little to no health care available to them and are still largely illiterate.So if you're looking to read this because it was a recommended read off your favorite dancers list I would recommend thinking twice about it. If your not looking to research Eastern European Rom then this book will be of little use to you. If your an Egyptian Style Raqs Sharqi artist this book will do nothing for your dance education. If your trying to present authentic Rom dances this will teach you nothing useful. If you just want to learn more about Rom in general or especially Rom in Eastern Europe this book is a great read and a good introduction to the topic. Just make sure you understand what your going to get out of it or not get out of it.more
Between 1991 and 1995, Isabel Fonseca visited East Central Europe many times and lived among families in the various gypsy communities of Romania, Albania, Poland, Bulgaria and neighboring countries. Fonseca is an anthropologist so she had a professional interest in exploring more deeply the history, customs and culture, the present conditions, and the future prospects of this group of people who are perhaps the least understood in the world today. Employing the usual rigorous methods of research during the process, however, does not reduce her subjects to mere objects of scholarship and observation, as her experience transforms her into a witness and a voice. She records stories, plenty of them, of various gypsy - or Roma- groups across these countries, seeking families and individuals who were willing to talk with her, to afford her a glimpse of their daily lives. She meets the poet, the politician, the academic, the self-proclaimed King, the child prostitute, among others and through vivid portrayals of these individuals we understand a little more about the immense challenges the gyspies face in every conceivable aspect of modern life.The general outlines of the story of the Romas is well-known. Since their exodus from India 10 centuries ago, they have had a long and bitter history of persecution: enslaved by the nobility of medieval Romania, massacred by the Nazis, forcibly assimilated by the communist regimes, evicted by Eastern Europe nationalist mobs, and recently, increasingly rejected by Western European countries as well. It is striking to realise that the last four stages all occurred within the last century. It is not an exaggeration to say that the gypsies have remained the scapegoat that they've always been, it seemed, in history. The only difference between them and others who also stood as scapegoats, is that their story is untold because they are invisible (e.g. except as being objects of the Nazi experiments, their experience during the Holocaust is undocumented).The gypsies evoke a strange mix of feelings and attitudes in general -- they are at once fabled, feared, romanticised, reviled and spurned. Shamefully for humankind, despite the so-called human progress claimed to have been achieved, being the Other remains a stigma. It does not help that the Romas are fiercely independent, highly traditionalistic, tightly-knit, prefering their nomadic way of life and keeping to ancient customs, stubbornly refusing to be straightjacketed by any modern system. Fonseca doesn't skirt around the uncomfortable issues, she mentions the conceptions and the prejudices that the non-gypsy has about the gypsies and clarifies with her experience but does not judge. She confirms, for example, that gypsies lie. They lie a lot -- not to each other, but to the gadje (non-gypsy), but this is not, for them, something of malice --- it is a telling of a story with embellishments, of crafting a story that the listener wants to hear, of inventing a story because he/she does NOT want the gadje to know as to know is tantamount to exposing their (the gypsies') true self. It is a means of defense, the survival of the group. Contrary to common perception of gypsies being free spirits and with no sense of order or moral compunction, their daily life is in fact strictly governed by a set of age-old customs and taboos that reinforce as well their highly developed community spirit: the gypsies live for the group, individuality is not recognized. Fonseca paints the gypsies' rich life of traditions, family values, community well-being amidst wretched poverty, squalid conditions, and most worrying of all, the increasing hate crimes being committed against them in various parts of Europe. She mentions appalling events in Central and Eastern Europe, reminiscent of the medieval ages, shocking to the extreme such as burning people, razing villages. Western Europe, on the other hand, is driving back the many Romas who have crossed to their frontiers with the expansion of the EU zone -- but to drive back where, as nobody wants them. There are some encouraging signs though and Fonseca concludes her fascinating account with mention of the extraordinary efforts being done by a small group of Roma intellectuals who fought for international recognition of the Romas, and whose movement continues to keep the awareness of the Romas, their gaping needs and means to address them, within the sights of EU policymakers specially in the context of the immigration issue.Enlightening in many respects, this is also a narrative of a skilled story-teller. Highly recommended.more
Ask yourself honestly: What do you know about gypsies? In my case, the answer was “Not a whole lot, really”. In a time when many parts of eastern Europe are adapting racist laws against this people, when actual pogroms and lynching are happening continuously without the perpetrators getting punished for it, it seemed high time to read this book, collecting dust on my shelf for over ten years now.Fonseca, an American jewess, lived with gypsies in various countries for four years while writing this book, and it gives good basic insight to a culture and a people who remain kind of hidden in our midst. The gypsies have no promised land, no myths of a glorious past. They are unique as a people in that their nation is not a place (or even the dream of a place), but formed around moving, travelling on the fringes – even now when the vast majority are resident. Most gypsies live in poverty and oppression, but they are also fiercely resisting assimilation, having strict rules for how to interact with gadjo – non Gypsies.I knew about the prejudice, hate and fear towards gypsies (indeed, I’ve often noted how even liberal and conscious people around me have occasionally made remarks about gypsies that they would never ever direct at jews or arabs or gay or any other minority), but a lot of what this book describes was still news to me. I was shocked to read about how the hundreds of thousands of gypsies killed in the Holocaust were disregarded for a long time. Only 1982 was the systematic killing of gypsies recognized as genocide, and they weren’t represented in the US Holocaust Memorial Council until 1986!At the same time, it was difficult to read that some of the most common prejudices against gypsises – that they are stealing, and heaping junk around their homes – do have some truth to them. Both are part of traditional gypsy strategies to keep a distance towards gadjo.Fonseca’s account is very personal and subjective, which is both good and bad. There are many memorable and moving characters here, among the many families she meets. But sometimes Fonseca’s view becomes slightly exotic and down the nose in a way that makes me wish for a more distant approach. Still, this is a book that makes me feel a little wiser.more
Interesting, well written; vivid and compassionate without sentimentality; Fonseca does not patronise or romanticise the subjects. Made me challenge myself as perhaps prejudiced and that is always useful. Also made me want to know more, on the history and on the ethnography of the various groupings.more
Wow, I absolutely adored this book. Far better than I even expected. Going to c/p an excerpt of the review I wrote in my journal because I'm being lazy.--I've been reading Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, and it has to be one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time. The author travelled and lived among the gypsies of Eastern Europe and attempted to track the similarities and differences among the various groups. There are several theories presented about that, but one of the most prominent indicating a gypsy exodus from India about 1000-1200 years ago. It was very interesting to learn that and see some of the tie-ins between Romani, Hindi and Sanskrit. I guess I always thought Roma/Rom=Romanian and never thought about gypsies outside of Eastern Europe, though I certainly ran into more gypsies in Madrid than I did in Prague. And much as I don't like to generalise and don't think it's fair, I nearly got pickpocketed twice in Madrid when walking through Puerta del Sol. Who was it? Bloody gypsy woman.Another interesting point that the author raised was the reaction of non-gypsies to gypsies, especially the Magyars in Transylvania. That was a real eye-opener because we all learn about the pogroms around WW2 and the gypsies killed in the camps but you don't think of things that happened in the early 90s as the author travelled. Stories of entire gypsy camp and villages being burnt to the ground for the crime of one person. Scary. This book was researched in 91-93 and published in 1995 so it's a bit out of date, but an interesting back thread to her travels were the conflicts in the Balkans at the time as well as the general unrest in the regions (especially the former Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania) following the deaths of Ceaucescu, Tito and the fall of communism.If any of you are interesting in languages/a sociological look at the history of the gypsies, I highly recommend this book. It's got me wanting to know more though. Especially about the Travellers, which I know very little about.Point of that? I seriously think I missed my calling to study linguistics. I always knew I liked languages but never realised until the last few years how I like word origins/etymology/etc. I cannot look at a word without working else what else it's related to and how it ties into other languages. I think it's thrilling to see how languages morph over time and distance and that interest has been piqued by looking at Australian English v. American English. Especially the slang. At times I barely understand what people are saying, and that's not even only 'Strine. Also, language changes within the same regional area, i.e. Geoffrey Nunberg's two books. I also love languages from a sociological point of view. Over the summer I read Spoken Here which talks about what happens when languages die and in Bury Me Standing it's an interesting look at the use of Romani throughout the regions. I am such a language geek.I know I could go for my MA in linguistics, but on its own that would be about as useful as my BA in Economics. I can't really do anything with either. Of course what I want to do is research. I love research. Research and field studies, I'd be in heaven.ETA: The above was from a 2005 read. I've decided not to study linguistics, but still have an interest in languages.more
A fascinating account of the author's time spent with various Romany groups, packed with humour, social history and engaging characters.more
Fascinating, if somewhat depressing.more
Well written and beautiful. After reading this book I felt I had a better understanding of Gypsy culture. The people are compelling and the descriptions vivid, especially the family in Armenia. Highly recommended.more
This book gives a glimpse into a world that few outsiders are aware of. It doesn't make things seem ideal, nor does it make things seem wretched. The book is written with a good deal of respect towards the subject, although I am sure someone could find something to be offended about.more
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