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The Year the Gypsies Came
     

The Year the Gypsies Came

5.0 5
by Linzi Glass
 

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Set in apartheid South Africa, this powerful and lyrically written novel is Linzi Glass's debut.

As twelve-year-old Emily Iris explains it, her mother and father have always been eager to take in travelers and vagabonds, relying on the presence of outsiders to ease the tension between them. Emily has her gentle older sister, Sarah, and Buza, the old

Overview

Set in apartheid South Africa, this powerful and lyrically written novel is Linzi Glass's debut.

As twelve-year-old Emily Iris explains it, her mother and father have always been eager to take in travelers and vagabonds, relying on the presence of outsiders to ease the tension between them. Emily has her gentle older sister, Sarah, and Buza, the old Zulu nightwatchman, for company and comfort. But her parents' continuing discontent leads them to welcome some peculiar strangers.

One spring, a family of wanderers-a wildlife photographer, his wife, and two boys-comes to stay, and their strange, compelling, and dangerous presence will leave the Iris family infinitely changed.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
The year is 1966 in apartheid South Africa. The setting is an affluent home set upon two acres of lush gardens and a lake in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Characters include Emily (12-years-old, the protagonist); her 15-year-old sister, Sarah; the servants, Buza and Lettie; and the parents, whose domestic unrest seemed to be eased by the frequent invitation of long term guests in the household. This time, however, the arrival of a rickety old trailer and its "gypsy" inhabitants--father Jock, mother Peg (whose constant companion is a six-foot python), and sons Streak and Otis--fails to simply divert attention from the more serious issues at hand, but reaches deep into the family with a lasting grip. A helpful glossary of Afrikaans and Zulu words and expressions can be found at the end of the book. This is the author's first novel and she based many of the stories told by Buza on tales told to her by an old Zulu night watchman, reworking and augmenting them to include other versions of similar African stories. Mature themes such as child abuse, mental illness, marital infidelity, rape, and accidental death are included. Highly recommended for older readers. 2006, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 12 up.
—Cindy L. Carolan
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This story of a fateful year in a girl's life takes place in 1960s apartheid South Africa. In order to divert attention away from their failing marriage, Emily's emotionally distant parents invite a family to stay in a camper in their yard. Emily befriends the younger son, Streak, while the older son, Otis, who is clearly brain damaged, becomes almost a devoted shadow to her gentle and loving older sister, Sarah. It soon becomes clear that the boys' father beats them regularly, and that one of his beatings most likely led to Otis's condition. Emily increasingly looks to Buza, the night watchman, for love and reassurance, and he shares folktales and traditional Zulu wisdom with her. The relationship between Otis and Sarah becomes more and more tense, and Otis rapes her. Through tragedy, the girls' parents finally come to a truce. Emily's relationships with the people close to her ring true, and her friendship with Streak has its touching moments. However, the dialogue is uneven. Streak's semi-educated speech, for instance, sounds more American than South African. While the story has emotional power and shows something of the class and race relationships of the time, it lacks a deep grounding in the social context, such as that shown in Beverley Naidoo's collection Out of Bounds (HarperCollins, 2003). Instead, it focuses primarily on Emily and her tragic family circumstances. Suggest this one to readers who are always looking for "a sad book."-Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A spring visit from a vagabond family ends in disaster for two white girls and their family in apartheid South Africa in 1966. Twelve-year-old tomboy Emily lives in Johannesburg with her older sister Sarah and their self-absorbed, sparring parents. Emily compares her family to Johannesburg-an illusion held together with dust. Ignored by her selfish mother and detached father, Emily turns to the old Zulu night watchman Buza, who comforts her with his stories of courage and strength. Out of nowhere, the rootless Mallorys arrive in their bedraggled camping trailer, bringing danger and discontent. Emily and Sarah are soon distracted with ragamuffin Streak and retarded Otis Mallory. But Emily feels "cracked . . . in too many pieces" when she discovers her mother is having an affair and suspects Mr. Mallory is abusing Otis. Tragically, Emily's world is torn apart, but Buza helps provide the glue that holds her together. Subtle parallels between Emily's family and apartheid South Africa provide great depth and meaning to this somber, sensitive, exquisitely narrated story for mature readers. (glossary of Afrikaans and Zulu words and expressions) (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"A spring visit from a vagabond family ends in disaster for two white girls and their family in apartheid South Africa in 1966. Twelve-year-old tomboy Emily lives in Johannesburg with her older sister Sarah and their self-absorbed, sparring parents. Emily compares her family to Johannesburg-an illusion held together with dust. Ignored by her selfish mother and detached father, Emily turns to the old Zulu night watchman Buza, who comforts her with his stories of courage and strength. Out of nowhere, the rootless Mallorys arrive in their bedraggled camping trailer, bringing danger and discontent. Emily and Sarah are soon distracted with ragamuffin Streak and retarded Otis Mallory. But Emily feels "cracked . . . in too many pieces" when she discovers her mother is having an affair and suspects Mr. Mallory is abusing Otis. Tragically, Emily's world is torn apart, but Buza helps provide the glue that holds her together. Subtle parallels between Emily's family and apartheid South Africa provide great depth and meaning to this somber, sensitive, exquisitely narrated story for mature readers. (glossary of Afrikaans and Zulu words and expressions) (Fiction. YA)" — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781627796866
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
06/16/2015
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
File size:
314 KB
Age Range:
11 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Year the Gypsies Came


By Linzi Glass

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2006 Linzi Alex Glass
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-686-6



CHAPTER 1

Beauty Time


Mother, Sarah, and I are in Mother's powder-blue bathroom. I think of it as Mother's bathroom and not Father's, even though he gets to use it too. Rows of her creams and lotions fill a small white cabinet that stands between the powder-blue washbasin and the powder-blue bathtub. Her set of electric curlers and five or six brushes of different shapes and sizes fill a basket on the porcelain back space of the toilet. Her silk robe hangs on a hook behind the bathroom door. Everything in this room is Mother's except for one small shelf that has Father's things on it. A bottle of Old Spice aftershave with what might be a pirate ship sailing across it, a ratty-looking shaving brush, and a can of shaving cream that's made a rusty brown ring underneath it. I've actually watched Father put the can back right over the ring, since Mother would be angry if she saw ugly marks in her bathroom.

* * *

Sarah's sitting on the toilet with the seat down, I'm in my scuffed-up shorts on the faded blue bathroom mat, and Mother, with wads of cotton stuck between her toes, has displayed herself on the edge of the bathtub. This is one of the few times lately that I get to have some of her attention, when Flaming Scarlet is drying on her nails. Mother's trapped for fifteen minutes like a bee in a hothouse, so she tells us stories from when she was young. These are her "nail-drying stories" that we only get to hear when we are invited to be stuck in the bathroom with her. They make her smile like the cat that ate the cream because mostly in her stories everyone comes out looking stupid, except herself.

I look up at Mother from my floor position. Her hair is glossy black, in the perfect latest style that flips at the ends, her mouth painted pink as bubblegum. Beautiful as always and "gussied up to the nines," as Father likes to say. I try long and hard to imagine that she once was, according to her, a tomboy just like me when she was my age. It makes me feel joined to her in a special kind of way, like I'll grow up pretty, just the way she says she did by the time she was fifteen, the age Sarah is now; except Mother was the most popular and one of the richest girls at school, and Sarah isn't all those things. Sarah's pretty all right, but we aren't super-rich with private drivers and crystal glasses at every meal like Mother used to have. Mother says manners are what matter most and that she could eat perfectly with real silver knives and forks by the time she was three. No true tomboy would ever eat with silver cutlery is what I believe.

Mother starts her story, her eyes moving back and forth from her nails to Sarah's pretty cheeks and hair. Sarah's hair is washed and shiny; the red color glows like fire around her face with flames falling loose onto her pale shoulders. She's sitting there so sparkly and bright, and me, I'm just a dark-haired pile on the floor that could easily be missed. Mother's eyes keep being pulled in Sarah's direction, and I feel a big lump starting in my throat like a piece of rough crust's got stuck there. If Sarah knew how badly I was hurting for Mother to look down at me just now and then, she'd come over and hug me and call me "silly billy."

* * *

"Mama and Papa Joe refused to let me go overseas with Delia Gordon when I was seventeen," Mother says, blowing frosted breath onto her hands. "You've met her, girls, tall and kind of beaky looking."

"Yes, Mother." Sarah sucks on a piece of her long red hair while I twirl bits of straggly blue rug thread around my finger and try to swallow the stuck-crust feeling out of my throat.

Mother waves her hands in the air so her nails dry faster. "Well, Delia's family was fantastically rich, richer than Papa Joe was, even though Papa Joe had a Bentley — that's a fancy car, girls."

"We know that, Mother." Sarah rolls her eyes, then smiles sweetly at Mother so as not to get her going on the fact that it's not ladylike to roll your eyes.

"Well, Delia wanted me to go with her for a month all over Europe. She was, poor thing, no great beauty, and thought having me with her on the trip would help attract the fine men of Europe into our company. Well, horror of horrors! Mama and Papa Joe flat-out refused, no matter how much I begged. Even Papa for once wouldn't budge. They had already planned a European family vacation with me."

Mother paces around the bathroom as she talks. Sarah's brushing her hair, and I've given up looking up at Mother like a sick puppy and started searching in the medicine cabinet for a Band-Aid for my scratched tree-climbing elbow.

"Girls, listen, this is good," Mother says impatiently, waving us to sit down, nail polish fumes hitting me in the face and making me woozy for a second. Sarah and I take our seats with our backs against the bathroom door. The curtain's about to go up and Mother's standing center stage, green eyes flashing like GO signs.

"Only ten more minutes till her nails are dry. I've got masses of homework to do," Sarah whispers to me, resting her head on her knees.

"Well, I was burning mad, you can only imagine. Papa went to his study and Mama went back to the sitting room to knit — I remember she was knitting a red sweater for her miniature schnauzer, Harriet — God, I hated that dog; anyway, I was so upset that I decided to run a bath to calm my nerves. I poured loads of mint-green bubble bath into the water, then went to my bedroom to change. Problem was, I felt so darn upset, girls, that I lay down and fell asleep on the bed."

Mother sits on the edge of the bathtub and taps her ostrich fluffball slipper up and down and blows hard on her nails.

"Well, girls" — sparks in her eyes as she holds Sarah's gaze — "can you guess what happened?"

"The bath overflowed," I say eagerly, like I'm supposed to win a prize or something.

"Right!" she says, looking for an instant at me, pleased as Punch and snapping her fingers so quick and sharp, like a gun popping. "The bathwater ran all the way from upstairs down the twenty-five cream carpeted stairs — remember the water was now green, girls — past Mama in her sitting room and right under the door of Papa's oak-paneled study."

"Oh, boy!" I say. "You must have got into so much trouble."

"Oh, they were angry, they were hopping mad!" Mother touches her hair with her palms like she's checking to see if it's still in place. "But they let me go to Europe with Delia."

"They did?" I say.

"See, it made sense in the end. Why, half the house looked like a moldy green swamp, and it would take about a month to repair. Mama and Papa decided it was better if I wasn't there, what with all those workmen about whistling and leering at me."

Mother seems happy for a second, then notices Sarah. The party's over. "Sarah, get your hair out of your mouth. That's disgusting! Fifteen and still sucking like a baby. What would a nice boy want with a girl who uses her hair as a pacifier?" She points hot Flaming Scarlet fingers at Sarah, who spits out her hair in what might be mistaken for Mother's direction.

Mother's always telling Sarah what boys want and don't want. She says they don't like a girl telling them what to do in a firm, tough-sounding voice. Mother says that Sarah should tell a boy what she thinks he ought to do, but she should use a real soft voice on him and always make the boy feel whatever you tell him was his idea and not your own. Mother must have different rules for girls once they get married because lots of times she raises her voice harshly at Father, telling him that he doesn't make enough money and what she thinks he should do in his chocolate business like they're her very important ideas and she knows best.

The other day, when Mother was lazing on her bed with cucumber slices on her eyelids, in a deep and earnest conversation with her lah-de-dah friend Anthea on the phone, I overheard everything she said. She didn't know I was in the room, on account of the cucumber slices. She told Anthea that Sarah, with her brains and beauty, would not be allowed to make the same mistake that she did and marry the wrong man, who couldn't provide her with the lifestyle she was used to. "Not if I have anything to do with it, she won't," Mother fumed.

And me? I wondered as I sat crouched quietly on the side of the bed. What about me? Then as if she had read my mind Mother continued, "Emily," she sighed, "Emily marches to a beat of her own. She's different. I daresay I haven't quite figured out what that beat is." Mother sighed again, patting the cucumber slices back into position.

I wanted to jump up from my hiding place and go and take those cucumber slices off her eyes and tell her that I would dance to any beat she wanted if only she would tell me which exact beat it was.

Mother can be sweet sometimes, especially to Sarah, and sometimes to me too. When she is, it feels like her friendly moods are going to last forever, but then suddenly it's over, like at the end of a good movie when the lights have gone on and you have to get yourself out of that other place, where everything felt better and unreal.

* * *

Sarah gets up off the bathroom floor. She sets her shoulders back and fixes her eyes straight ahead, like a page boy, then quietly closes the bathroom door behind her. Sarah tries to avoid Mother's up-and-down moods. She'd rather go to her room and read a book than slam doors and make a big show. Sarah's pure and good like clear water, while Mother's like thick oil, hard to look through. When you put both ingredients in a jar, it's the oil that always rises to the top. I guess Sarah knows that.

"Sarah's got to remember she's a young lady and not a child anymore!" Mother says, ripping the cotton out from between her toes.

I'm still sitting on the bathroom mat where I've made a blue-thread face with a sad half-circle mouth on the tile floor.

"I have a headache," Mother says, looking down at me. "I'm going to lie down. Pick up the stuff, Emily, okay?"

She leaves me with the sad blue-thread face and the pieces of cotton from her toes tossed all over the floor like bits of confetti after a parade, and patters out the bathroom in her silly toeless slippers.

* * *

While I'm cleaning up, I wonder about the story of Mother and her trip to Europe. About how much of it happened exactly the way she says. But both Mother's parents, who were quite old when they had her, were dead by the time I was born, so I can't check with them. I remember once hearing Father yell at Mother, "Don't try one of your manipulative bathwater tricks on me, Lil. It may have worked with your parents, but it won't work with me!" when she wanted to go away to the beach in Cape Town with another one of her fancy friends.

After I'm done in the bathroom, I go to Father's study, where books with maroon bindings and gold writing lie dusty and unread on the shelves. These are books that Father says he's mostly kept from his college days. There are even some that he's had from when he was a boy. Huckleberry Finn, The Hardy Boys, and lots of stuffy books about Roman-Dutch law. I think Father was planning on becoming a lawyer, but when he failed the exams he went into one of Papa Joe's businesses instead.

I find a dictionary that's new-looking and not dusty sticking out between the old books and look up the word manipulative. It means "someone who manages and controls cleverly." I place one of the used-up cotton balls that I spy lost in the cuff of my shorts inside the book and mark the place of the word.

Outside Father's study window two African hoopoes peck with their curved beaks for beetles in the bushes. One hoopoe is smaller and dull brown, and the other has a bright reddish crown. I wonder about beauty in the bird world, how it's always the male who's got the prettier feathers. Mother probably wouldn't have been too happy being a female bird. I sometimes think she married Father at nineteen because his last name was Iris, and by marrying him she became a double flower, Lily Iris. Mother likes things that look and sound pretty.

I'm still in Father's study when I hear him come in through the front door. The tired slapping of his briefcase against his leg, then a thud as he drops it onto the pinewood living room floor. Father smokes a lot and seems worried a good deal about things that I can't see or hear. He spends hours in his study going through papers that have to do with his imported chocolate business.

Father comes from Witbank, a small coal-mining town about a hundred miles from Johannesburg. Sometimes I'll catch him looking up from his papers and, if he's in the mood, I might get him to tell me a thing or two about being a boy in Witbank. His eyes always look past me when he talks about the faded yellow kitchen where his mother baked him apricot jam turnovers.

There's this picture of Father on the side table next to the riempie stool in the living room. He's maybe sixteen and is standing behind the dusty counter in his family's mining supply store. Father had lots of curly dark hair then, but his eyes had the same clear and kind of surprised look to them. On the shelves behind him you can see packets of Impala mielie meal, cans of Nestlé's condensed milk, and long strips of biltong hanging from hooks.

He left Witbank to go to university in Johannesburg soon after his mother died and hardly ever visited home again once he met Mother there. Mother didn't like Witbank. She said it smelled bad from the mines, and the black soot made her skin look dull.

I've often tried to imagine Witbank and the miners and the soot and the mining store, but I can't. Father has never taken us there. All I can come up with is a place where everything smells very bad or everything smells wonderful, like hot, freshly baked jam turnovers.

* * *

"Emily," Father says as I walk past him on my way to Lettie, our nanny, who is cooking dinner in the kitchen, "I have a new chocolate for you to taste. Just came in from the factory in Belgium. Almond-cream soft centers. They're quite delicious, actually." He holds a neatly wrapped dark-brown chocolate out toward me. I'm about to unwrap it, even though I'm sure I'll like it about as much as I like all his bitter-tasting imported chocolates, when Mother glides by.

"Honestly, Bob. It's almost dinnertime. Don't you ever think? She doesn't need all that sugar, and besides it's bad for her skin." She flashes eyes like a cat who's about to pounce at him.

Father sighs, looks over from me to her, and stuffs the chocolate into his jacket pocket.

"Tell Lettie to bring my dinner to me in my study," he says curtly to Mother. "Frankly, I don't need to come home to be instantly attacked every night." He marches past me and mumbles, "Sorry, Emmie, I'm too worn out to take on the likes of your mother right now." He hands me the chocolate from his pocket. "Taste it later, or whenever you please." He turns to Mother and shoots her a hard glare, then leaves.

I feel the chocolate, soft and crumbling, already melting from the heat of his hand. And I feel myself crumbling too, little pieces you can't see that break off on the inside.

Later, even though their bedroom door is closed, the yelling wakes me in the dead of night. It's twenty-two steps from my room to theirs. Fifteen steps from my room to Sarah's. Sarah's room is closer to them, so she gets to hear their yelling even louder than I can.

The fights always start with something as small as chocolates and then become something else, something bigger. I can't hear the actual words, just the sounds of anger. It comes at me from under their door and slams into me so hard that it takes my dreams away. Then, when it gets too loud in my head, I go to Sarah. I tiptoe softly, like a mouse that leaves no footprints on the carpet. Creep into her room that's perfect as a picture book. Everything has its place. Pencils lined up straight on her desk, shoes in neat matching rows in the closet.

I stand at the foot of her bed. Sarah's long red hair, shining like a glowworm in the dark, is the only part of her I can see. She's already awake.

"Don't worry, Em, it'll soon stop. It always does," Sarah says to me, but her voice sounds far off, like an echo that comes from an empty space — a place inside her where the door's already been shut. She gets out of bed in her ghost-white nightgown and takes me by the hand and brings me back to lie next to her in a warm spot.

"It's safe in here, Em," she whispers as she climbs in beside me. "The mess out there can't reach us in here, can't reach us at all," she murmurs in a sleepy voice.

I stay very still, keep my body so tight, try to stop the sounds that reach into me through the cracks. Close my eye-holes and cover my ear-spaces with a pillow, until the loud noises that come at me stop.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass. Copyright © 2006 Linzi Alex Glass. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Linzi Glass was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the United States as a young adult. She lives in California.

Linzi Glass was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the United States as a young adult. She lives in California.

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The Year the Gypsies Came 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ever. It is about a girl named Emily she is twelve. Live in africa. One day her dad invites a family of gypsies to stay. These include wildlife photographer Jock, wife Peg and sons Otis and Streak. Otis, the large mentally challenged one and Streak who wants to finally put down roots. Streak and Emily develop a fast friendship. And Otis attaches himself to her older sister Sarah. They all get on well. One day Emily learn that Jock hits his sons the eldest in particular. She begin to see that this family isn't perfect. Streak tell her that he hates his brother, and wishes more than anything that he would dissappear forever, so that Streak could be normal boy. One day the relationship between Sarah and Otis became too tense and Otis raped her. So they had to leave and she drowned in the lake.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love great fiction you simply can't put down, and 'Gypsies' has won a place in my collection. Linzi Glass tells an incredible but always subtle tale of one girl's initiation into adulthood. The story -- about 12-year old Emily's disintegrating family, the mysterious visitors who change all their lives, and especially the ancient Zulu warrior who tells Emily tales of his people -- is unique and compelling, but the themes of this novel are universal. Glass intricately weaves the setting of apartheid South Africa into her plot, turning it into a character as vivid and memorable as wide-eyed Emily. Highly recommended for teens and adults.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written novel evokes so realistically the memories I have of a place and a time where I lived as a child. The story is both haunting and hopeful. It will enthrall adults and teenagers alike. I can't wait to share it with my sixteen-year-old daughter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. I found the story and characters so real. What moved me most was the magical relationship between Emily and the old Zulu nightwatchman, Buza. The glue of the Honey Guide bird held this wonderful story together right to the end. I highly recommend this book to young and old alike.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Year The Gypsies Came is a must for readers of all ages. I picked up an advance copy and was instantly drawn into Emily's world. Every detail is beautifully conceived, every emotional note rings true. Such gorgeous use of the English language! I was truly captivated and couldn't put the book down until the very last page.