The Gypsies (Magill Book Reviews)
In THE GYPSIES, Angus Fraser has pursued an interest evident in his previous works, such as his edition of GEORGE BORROW’S LETTERS TO JOHN HASFELD (1982-1984). Like Borrow, the nineteenth century travel writer, this twentieth century historian is fascinated by gypsies; unlike the romantic Borrow, however, Fraser takes a scholarly approach to his subject.
Dealing as it does with a period in which there were few written references to gypsies, the initial section of THE GYPSIES is highly speculative. In it, Fraser outlines the linguistic evidence of the gypsies’ origin in India and the physical and genetic studies which indicate their distinctive identity. Later chapters draw upon historical records to trace migrations into Persia and Armenia, into the Byzantine Empire, and finally throughout Europe. Unfortunately, Fraser notes, none of these records were kept by the gypsies themselves; therefore, they deal as much in rumor, such as stories of cannibalism and witchcraft, as in truth, notably the gypsies’ habits of sharp trading and stealing. Partly because of the prevalence of such rumors, from the fifteenth century on, the gypsies were increasingly persecuted. The inhumanities to which they were subjected culminated in the Nazi death camps, a systematic attempt at genocide. However, as Fraser points out in his final chapter, the survivors of centuries of mistreatment still preserve their identity, now adapting in various ways to an urban,...
(The entire section is 298 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Gypsies (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
It is appropriate that Angus Fraser was selected to author this volume in the series called The Peoples of Europe. Fraser’s earlier scholarly work focused on George Borrow, the nineteenth century British writer whose fascination with Gypsies was evident in such accounts of his life and travels as The Zincali: Or, An Account of the Gypsies in Spain (1841) and The Romany Rye (1857). In writing his own book, Fraser had to acknowledge the fact that writers such as Borrow combined valuable observations with rumors and inventions. Even without such romantic testimony, it is particularly difficult to sort out the facts about Gypsies from the fictions that have grown up concerning them. The chief problem is that although they always have had a sense of identity, Gypsies themselves have kept no formal history, either oral or written. In writing his comprehensive study, Fraser had to rely on contemporary comments by outsiders, whose attitudes might vary from antipathy to romantic gullibility, as well as on the work of other scholars, who because of conflicting evidence have been unable to reach agreement on a number of central issues. Despite the difficulties of his task, in The Gypsies Fraser has produced a superb history that presents his extensive findings and some tentative conclusions in a balanced and highly readable manner.
Fraser’s thoughtful approach is illustrated in the first chapter of the book, in which he...
(The entire section is 1960 words.)