The Gypsy in Me: From Germany to Romania in Search of Youth, Truth and Dad

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By the time he turned fifty, Ted Simon had seen a great deal of the world - even circled the globe by motorcycle. But eastern Europe was an area he had never explored. It resonated in his history, however: His mother was German; his father, who vanished when Simon was five, was a Romanian Jew. Simon became curious about his heritage only after his mother died in 1992. He then conceived the idea of traveling between the two poles of his legacy - through Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania - seeking to ...
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Overview

By the time he turned fifty, Ted Simon had seen a great deal of the world - even circled the globe by motorcycle. But eastern Europe was an area he had never explored. It resonated in his history, however: His mother was German; his father, who vanished when Simon was five, was a Romanian Jew. Simon became curious about his heritage only after his mother died in 1992. He then conceived the idea of traveling between the two poles of his legacy - through Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania - seeking to understand more about this turbulent region and more about his parents, whose brief and explosive marriage arose from their attempt to escape their cultural pasts. Insightful, humorous, and often moving, The Gypsy in Me vividly recounts Simon's 1,500-mile journey. Covering much of the trip on foot, Simon gets an up-close and personal entree into the lives of these around him, and also learns unexpected lessons about his physical limitations. In the former East Germany he stays with a family longing for the lost security of Communism; in Russia he finds himself beset by entrepreneurs eager to do business American-style. He befriends a Russian colonel and his family who are struggling to keep up propriety and comfort when the economy is so bad they have to grow their own food. In Ukraine, far from any tourist spots, he is adopted by a rural family and welcomed with a heartwarming Orthodox church service. In Romania he is intrigued by the Gypsy culture, and he miraculously locates a man who knew his grandfather and gives him clues to his family's past. Everywhere he goes, the specter of history lingers: in the last standing buildings of a Russian ghetto long purged of its Jewish population; in Polish towns reclaimed from Germany after World War II (where, ironically, prosperity comes through the tourism of nostalgic Germans who used to live there). Writing with wit, grace, and a finely attuned sensitivity, Simon brings out the profound aspects of traveling i
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Simon's spunk is indomitable, even if his self-involvement becomes tedious. Recently he set out to find traces of his Romanian-born father, whom he had not seen since the age of 13. So 96 years after his father, who committed suicide in 1962, emigrated to England, Simon, a man with a "hole in [his] personal fabric" that he attributes to his parents' divorce in 1937, when he was six, left his Northern California home with his girlfriend to rendezvous with a German acquaintance and walk from east Germany through Poland and Russia to Romania. With tensions simmering among them, the trio soon splintered, leaving Simon, a seasoned traveler who wrote about his four-year motorcycle trip around the world in Jupiter's Travels, to his solitary quest. He proves to be perceptive and has much of interest to say, at least when he isn't complaining about his sore feet. Simon conveys the sense of dislocation felt by most of the Central Europeans he encountered who have lost whatever small security they enjoyed under Communism, who still must queue to buy food and rent out rooms in their cramped homes. Accepting himself as a Jew only now, Simon makes harsh judgments about Poland ("A pure-white Christian nation that must be the envy of every white supremacist and Jew baiter"); of Romania, where he found his father's birth record if little else about him, the author observes that "everything is running down" and that the populace has no faith in the future. This is a somber book that makes the reader ponder, along with Simon, how much can be stripped from life before it becomes intolerable. (June)
Library Journal
Simon, whose previous work, Jupiter's Travel (Jupitalia Prods, 1983, 3d ed., pap.), recounted a motorcycle trip around the world, has now walked through parts of Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. Armed with a few youthful memories, he visits sites associated with his family and finally reaches his destination, Romania, where he finds the roots of his Jewish parents and grandparents. Freed of his usual obligations and social context, he learns as much about himself along the way as he learns about the country. His odyssey offers readers memorable sketches of life in eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era. This work joins a growing bookshelf of well-written travel literature. It belongs in general collections and should have broad appeal.Rena Fowler, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, Cal.
Kirkus Reviews
In this affecting travel memoir, Simon (The River Stops Here, 1994) pursues both a component of his own history and a vision of post-Soviet eastern Europe circa 1994.

A Californian reared in wartime England, Simon decided to check out eastern Europe, the one area of the world he had not traveled. (He wrote about his global curcuit by motorcycle in the widely translated Jupiter's Travels, 1980.) He knew virtually nothing of his estranged father's background other than that he was a Romanian Jew who emigrated to London as a young man. The trip, he suspected, would help him deal with the fact that, through much of his life, he had neglected (and even denied) his Jewish heritage. The civil war in Yugoslavia also pressed home on him the realization that the Balkans were more than a global hot spot—they were also his family's old home. From this welter of factors he formed the idea of walking through eastern Europe to connect the two halves of himself, northern Aryan (his mother was from Hamburg) and southern Jew. The result, this book, is lush with personality and anecdote on subjects ranging from the author's shrewd reading of the nature of life behind the now vanished Iron Curtain to eastern European youth's "tangible sense of self-worth" in the face of drastic economic decline and hardship. "It was the society itself that had fallen apart," he writes, "and it was clear that they thought of themselves as part of the solution." When, with luck, he finds in the town of Botoani, in Romania, the original record of his father's birth, he notes that "the handwritten page had for me something of the quality of . . . a piece of clothing that a loved person might have left behind."

Simon is a connoisseur of travel and travel writing, and his story shines with an understated brilliance. He weaves a vibrant, detailed tapestry of character and experience; his discoveries are manifold.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679441380
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/6/1997
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.17 (d)

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