Little Money Street
by: Fernanda Eberstadt
Published by: Random House
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Reviewed by Diana Bocco
Subtitled: In Search of Gypsies and Their Music in the South of France
NYC socialist Fernanda Eberstadt moved to Perpignan, France with her family in 1998. She arrived without many expectations besides a quiet countryside life and the chance to work on her new book (she was already an acclaimed novelist at the time). What she found there was a rich cultural life that changed everything she ever thought true about Gypsy life and culture. A fan of Gypsy music, Eberstadt soon found herself tracking the roots of Gypsy band Tekameli, whose members still lived and worked in the area. The internationally acclaimed band had maintained a local focus, surrounding themselves with only their own culture and thus pushing popularity, fame and richness away.
I’ve always been fascinated by Gypsy culture, and I truly hoped the book would shed some light on the mystery of a culture that has evaded classification and stayed outside mainstream society for centuries. While Eberstadt does delve into the lives of the Gypsies she meets, her observations are often too superficial to explain anything. We soon learn that gypsies don’t send their children to school, don’t allow girls to mix with boys (not even to talk), consider working a “disease of modern society” and are proud to live on welfare their whole lives.
What we never learn is how the author (or even the Gypsies themselves) feels about this. Because this is a memoir, I was expecting strong emotions throughout it, but Eberstadt seems to turn a blind eye to the abuse, the alcoholism and the teen marriages that occur all around her. She lacks the passion to react to what happens, and at some point in the narrative even drifts away from everybody without giving us any good reason for it.
I wasn’t so much interested in the pursuing of Tekameli members as I was in learning more about Gypsyes in general (which the title of the book suggests the story is about), but somehow didn’t get much of that from the book.
Little Money Street is still a great read, and I would have given it three stars except for one major problem: the book is riddled with spelling mistakes, dropped words and incomplete sentences. This may be a problem of the paperback edition (I haven’t seen this mentioned on reviews of the hardback), but it’s so severe that it quickly becomes a problem, interfering with the understanding of the text. If you can get past that (it’s not as easy as it sounds), the book can be a quick fun weekend read.
Armchair Interviews says: A book with a great story that is affected by lack of proofreading/editing.
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