Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Last Queen of the Gypsies

Title: The Last Queen of the Gypsies Author: William Cobb Publisher: NewSouth Books Pages: 318

I checked this book out from my local library.

William Cobb's first novel in nine years is a brilliant, quirky, highly readable story as compelling as it is fresh and original. The book interweaves the stories Lester Ray, a 14-year-old boy who was deserted by his mother when he was a baby and has now escaped his abusive alcoholic father, and Minnie, a woman who was abandoned by her Gypsy family of migrant fruit pickers when she was 11--while they journey on parallel quests to find families they never really knew. It ranges from the Great Depression to the new millennium and from the panhandle of Florida, where the novel is basically set, to New York City during World War II, to the Georgia and Carolina coast, to Fort Myers and south Florida. Lester Ray, dimly aware that his mother was probably a Gypsy, runs away from the little town of Piper, Florida, carrying with him a substitute family: Mrs. Mack, an elderly neighborhood woman, and a bizarre 14-year-old girl named Virgin Mary Duck. 

The first thing that drew me to this book was my long-time fascination with Gypsies.  As long as I can remember I have been intrigued by their culture.  Cobb did his research on this one.  The novel portrays Gypsies in the south from the Great Depression through the early 1960's. Minnie, an 11-year-old gypsy girl, is abandoned by her family on a lonely Florida road for no other reason than having one blue eye and one green eye.  Her mother believes this to be bad luck, and so Minnie is dropped off like unwanted baggage to fend for herself in rural Florida.  Minnie quickly learns to take care of herself as she travels from Florida to New York City, and back to Florida again on a journey to nowhere in particular.  She only knows that she has to keep moving.
Lester Ray was abandoned by his Gypsy mother when he was a small child.  Left behind with a drunken father, Earl, he mainly takes care of himself. His only ally is Mrs. Mack, an elderly neighbor who feeds him and often gives him a place to sleep.  At fourteen, Lester Ray decides to search for his missing mother.  He takes Mrs. Mack with him, to protect her from her greedy son, Orville. Orville wants nothing more than to place his mother in a nursing home and forget about her.  The two are joined at the last minute by Virgin Mary Duck, a fifteen-year-old dwarf girl who wants to escape her abusive father.  The three set out together on an adventure- two are running away from family and one is running toward family. 
With colorful characters and settings, Cobb weaves a tale of Gypsy life from migrant farm workers to traveling carnivals in the American south. Although I wasn't all that pleased with the ending (no spoilers) I will say that I found this book to be an OK read.  It made me think.  What made Minnie keep moving, and why was she so afraid of standing still?  Would she ever settle down?  What would make a mother walk away and leave her child, especially with someone like Earl? I still don't completely understand her choices, but the story was believable.  Although she left her old life and started a new one many times, her actions still had lasting consequences.  One day she would have to face up to her past.

Read this book if....
*you are interested in Gyspy culture
*you like stories that take place in the south
*you like stories that take place "on the road"

No comments:

Post a Comment