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Fires in the Dark


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About the Author

Louise Doughty is the author of the novels Crazy Paving, Dance with Me, Honey-Dew, Fires in the Dark, and Stone Cradle, as well as the nonfiction book A Novel in a Year, based on her popular newspaper column. She has written plays for radio and has worked widely as a critic, broadcasting regularly for BBC Radio 4. She lives in London.


British novelist Doughty (Dance with Me) takes Holocaust literature in a new direction with her chronicle of the fates of a nomadic Romany family. Emil, the light-skinned first child of the leader of a Kalderash Roma tribe, is born in 1927, just as "persons of no fixed abode" are being fingerprinted and made to carry identification papers. Raised by the mild, loving Josef and the strong, lovely Anna, Emil knows that the customs of Roma differ from those of gadje (anyone not a Roma), who eat with utensils instead of fingers and send their children to school instead of teaching them how to gut a chicken and raise a shelter. A few years later, he becomes aware of another way in which the Roma are different: the Nazi regime in Germany, bent on ethnic cleansing, is murdering Jews and harassing Gypsies. When he's 15, Emil and his family are incarcerated in a Moravian labor camp. Doughty recounts the horrifying conditions of the camp in unrelenting detail; the only bright moments come with a mad cook's reminiscences about a career selling Hoover vacuums and Emil's budding friendship with Marie, another young Gypsy. Though Emil's father and siblings die, he escapes and makes his way to Prague, where, due to his light skin, he passes as a gadjo. With false papers and a false limp, Emil returns to the camp to rescue his mother, only to discover that everyone has been sent to Auschwitz. Doughty, whose own ancestors were Romany nomads, tells a heartrending tale of individuals struggling against unimaginable horrors, but offers readers a ray of hope at her novel's close. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

The Nazi persecution of the Roma (Gypsies) during World War II is an aspect of the Holocaust rarely explored in fiction, but Doughty, a British novelist better known for her psychological mysteries (Dance with Me), does just that in her heart-wrenching account. In 1927 Czechoslovakia, a Roman couple named Josef and Anna Maximoff celebrate the birth of their first son, Emil. (Three sets of names are actually used for this character: Emil is the name his family calls him, Frantisek is the survival name Emil uses among the non-Roma, and Tenko is a secret name that only he and his mother use.) Although they are expert metal workers, the times have turned Josef and his clan into farm workers following the harvests. Czech and Nazi laws, in turn, constrict the family's mobility until they are rounded up and sent to a concentration camp from which there is no escape but death. Doughty follows Emil, who alone escapes to Prague, where, passing as Czech, he survives as a black marketeer, never forgetting his Roma heritage. As the novel unfolds, Doughty, who is descended from the Roma, vividly re-creates the life of a proud people who are thrown into a nightmare world where the burden of an ancient tradition rests on the shoulders of one teenage boy. Strongly recommended for most public libraries.-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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