Another Darkness, Another Dawn by Becky Taylor
Published on 4/15/14 by Reaktion Books
The story of the Roma — or Gypsies — is probably less well-known to most of the world than those of the Kurds or Tibetans, yet the Roma live within the shadows of mainstream societies of Europe and the Americas, among others. Little understood even by many who romanticize them, they have only rarely been argued to be candidates for the statehood ambitions that are the Holy Grails of most oppressed minorities.
Another Darkness, Another Dawn by British academic Becky Taylor is a comprehensive history of the Roma’s arrival and travails in Europe that is accessible to an interested general reader. Unlike the well-known and excellent Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, which is far more ethnographic in structure, Taylor’s book is faithfully chronological. The story starts with the medieval arrival of the ancestors of the Roma from India into the Balkan peninsula, and surveys a chronicle of mostly oppressive interactions with other Europeans reaching a horrifying crescendo under the Nazi Holocaust.
Throughout the book, a theme of Taylor’s is to deal with the very definition of Roma identity, which is less straightforward than it might seem. In some times and places, Gypsy-ness has been defined by European states with the nomadic lifestyle and itinerant occupations (like horse-trading and “tinkering”) with which Roma were identified — and often limited to by prejudice. Nazi racists tried to define it in hereditary terms, and the similarities and differences between the Nazi views of Roma-ness and of Jewishness are dealt with vividly.
Fonseca’s book title was taken from the wishes of a Roma who didn’t wish to lie down in the grave because he’d been on his knees all his life. The title of Taylor’s book carries eerie relevance to our time when darker-complexioned migrants are arriving in Europe from the southeast to a decidedly mixed reception. It may be too early to tell if the next chapter is darkness or dawn.
1. Image of book taken from its Amazon page.
Mike McGraw is a native of Toledo, Ohio who has lived in the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights for two decades. His writing about homelessness and community issues has appeared in the Cleveland Street Chronicle and the Heights Observer.