Can there be any ethnic group more maligned than the Roma in contemporary Europe? Garth Cartwright seeks to dispel distorted, bogus notions of Roma life to reveal the enduring joy, sorrow and pathos at the heart of Gypsy culture – a vibrant, diverse and evolving culture in which music has always been a crucial driving force. In a style at times reminiscent of Jack Kerouac or Hunter S Thompson, the author wanders through extremes of Balkan post-modernity: he gawks at the ‘castle’ constructed by Ceca, the widow of fascist warlord Arkan in Serbia; is struck by the optimism and relative freedom of Gypsies in Macedonia; confronts a right-wing, gender-bending Roma pop star called Azis in Bulgaria and winds up with pneumonia in Romania. He notes the failure of Western governments to provide constructive intervention in the horrific ethnic conflicts of the Balkans and explores links between Jewish and Roma communities. Along the way, leading musicians speak of their music and culture with an illuminating openness and honesty. Although Cartwright’s account is highly subjective, and readers may tire of the way he ogles women when drunk, the prose is carefully written and keenly observed.
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