Book Reviews

A Field Full of Butterflies: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Rosemary Penfold

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List Price: £8.99


Paperback: 320 Pages.

Published: 14 April 2011 by Orion

ISBN: 1409120953

EAN: 9781409120957

Rosemary Penfold was born in 1938 in a traditional Gypsy wagon, and grew up in the fields of the English countryside. In this beautiful and evocative memoir, she recounts her life within a loving extended family and small but close-knit community. From early memories of her father bringing home oranges during the war, to the simple beauty of a field full of butterflies on a hot summer's day, Rosemary's stunningly elegant narrative captures the love and losses, hopes and struggles, traditions and prejudices that bound her to her family and helped her adapt to a fast-changing world.


2.0 Stars2.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Rambling & Rose Tinted

This is a series of recollections about a childhood growing up in a Romany home and following their way of life. This is a static Romany way of life as opposed to travelling.

The blurb on this book made it sound interesting and full of reflections on a Romany lifestyle. Consequently I was looking forward to reading about the Romany customs, history, language and general way of life. What I actually got was a meandering collection of light anecdotes which rarely connected with the world around leaving the reader struggling to connect this into its correct historical place. The author was born in 1938 so WWII was a significant part of her childhood but it is only mentioned in passing.

The stories that are told are not really in any chronological order and just a set of past memories from a childhood with little real meat in them. The spectacles through which this childhood was viewed are extremely rose tinted!

The author didn't really do any favours to the Romany way of life. Although it was rose tinted and casual recollections such as never having a cold throughout her childhood are undoubtedly erroneous, the picture of the people involved isn't that nice. I didn't take to the author particularly and felt that she was quite a naughty and disobedient child. There are numerous tales of having taken things that didn't belong to her and eating, loosing or breaking them. She talks once of having cooked her Father's carefully stored seed potatoes with her cousins and again of loosing her Mother's brooch or giving away buttons belonging to her Grandmother. If that was my child who regularly got into trouble in this way I would have been very far from pleased yet she only seems to recall sentiments such as her Mother saying she is more important than the brooch or the extended family rallying round to replace the eaten seed potatoes and onions. Either this was a community where a child ran wild without true chastisement or the author has a very rose tinted memory.

I also didn't like the way that the author represented most non Romany people. They always seem to always be in the wrong when the Romanies are in the right. Why is it wrong for the farmer to chase a man off his field who is stealing milk from his cow? So yes, his wife & newborn baby may have needed it but does that make it right to steal? Did they even ask? This is quite a frequent trend throughout the book with a great impression of triumph over the non-Romanies. I don't suppose they were treated well by people in the village but in return they weren't particularly nice either. The distain in the writing "I would never want to eat their food" referring to non-Romany children in the school was all too clear. There is an all too frequent feeling of triumph and getting one over on non-Romanies & joy at thwarting their rules.

There was a distinct lack of background information on the Romany customs and history. To be honest the author's life sound similar in many ways to other children of that time just with more outdoor style living. Other children forraged amongst the hedgerows for berries, other children only had baths once a week, other children were cold & sleeping several to a bed. It was all quite normal in this era. The only custom that seems to be mentioned more than once is the burning of the wagon on someone's death. The reasons are not properly explained. I would have loved to know more about customs - why don't they celebrate Christmas? The author mentions God on several occasions. Where is the discussion about the language and historical background?

This was a book that offered much - an insight into the Romany way of life. In reality it was a poorly constructed rambling about a rose tinted childhood. I am certainly not in any hurry to read more by this author.

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