Janna Eliot is a writer based in London of Russian, Armenian and Roma heritage. Her collection of short stories is not the traditional Gypsy, Roma and Traveller tales but contemporary accounts of based, one suspects, on actual events.
The stories range from that of Eva, a survivor of the concentration camps, who meets her sister from whom she has been separated for sixty five years, Gabi, a Romanian Roma girl living with her family in squalid conditions in Italy, Peri from London who goes to the Great Amazing Romany Summer School in Serbia, Joey and his brother Mark, who enter a singing competition at Barnet Horse Fair, Zena from Russia who begs at the bus station and takes comfort by talking to a statue of the poet Pushkin, who was dark like a Gypsy, to young Irish Traveller girl Breed living on Dale Farm refusing to go to school for fear of being taken into care.
Interestingly, for ACERT members, Lord Averbury makes an appearance in this story opening of the community centre on the site. Breed was expecting him, being a lord, to have ‘red robes and long white wigs’ but she says, “He was a grand talker though, and a supporter of the Travellers.”
Janna portrays her characters with sensitivity to their marginal position in society and her understanding and empathy with their culture and history. Some of the stories are harrowing, but at the same time she brings out the pride and resilience inherent in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples. Janna has a good ear for language and her characters come alive through the dialogue. A Romani/English glossary is provided following each story.
This collection of short stories gives an insight into Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across the UK and Europe today and is highly recommended.
Review by Tim Everson
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