cover image Angelina's Children

Angelina's Children

Alice Ferney, , trans. from the French by Emily Read. . Bitter Lemon, $13.95 (217pp) ISBN 978-1-904738-10-7

Alternately high-flown and gritty, this novel, the first U.S. release from French author Ferney, begins with a cliché about Gypsy blood—"a dark and vital flow that attracted women and fathered numberless children"—but as the book progresses, the Romanies rise vividly above stereotype. The widowed Gypsy matriarch, Angelina, her five sons, their wives and children take up residence in an abandoned vegetable garden on the edge of a French town. A librarian, Esther Duvaux, decides to read aloud to the children, and over time she wins not only Angelina's consent but also her friendship. Love, both requited and not, figures large, as do generalizations like "destinies are unchangeable." But all rests on a foundation of flinty detail: the broken glass that litters the campsite, the stench of the trash fire that warms Angelina's family. Ferney also captures the Gypsies' marginalization in French society: the neglect and unfriendliness at the hospital where Angelina's youngest grandchild is born, Esther's efforts to get the town to allow the oldest grandchild into school and the struggle to keep her in once she's there. In Ferney's hands, the romance of the Gypsies becomes a meditation on life's harsh unpredictability and the joy to be found in its midst. (Oct.)