- Review: The Swedish Gypsy
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Author: Mary L. Paulson
Publisher: Eloquent Books
In her debut novel, The Swedish Gypsy, Mary L. Paulson draws on her extensive research in unlocking the world of Sweden between the years 1897 and 1911 wherein two distinct cultural societies, the unique world of the Swedish Gypsies and the Swedes lived- side by- side. Paulson interweaves the complexities of these two unique cultures describing their beliefs, prejudices and hierarchies that are set against the background of the political, social and economic climate that prevailed in Sweden at the time.
The novel bounces back and forth in the form of brief sketches focusing on two principal characters, the beautiful gypsy Lilly and the handsome Swede Fredrik.
Lilly is first introduced to us at age twelve and we notice how determined she is to survive, even if it means a little petty theft from time-to-time. On the other hand, Fourteen- year old Fredrik comes from an affluent upper middle class Swedish family who enjoys playing pranks on his girlfriend Amalia. Survival is certainly not part of their agendas and unlike Lilly, both are able to attend school without being harassed while at the same time enjoying a care -free life.
As the narrative unfolds, Fredrik and Amalia fall in love with each other, and with their families’ blessings, marry. Life seems to be good to the young married couple and Fredrik becomes a successful café owner catering to artists, politicians and intellectuals.
Lilly is not as lucky in love, as her longing to marry her cousin Ramon is turned down by his father who feels that she is not good enough for his son. Eventually, Lilly who is very independent minded, decides that she needs to run away from her mapped out life. And, although she loves her Kalderash Family and the Rom culture, she knows that there must be more to it than being a gypsy. Lilly winds up in Stockholm where she crosses paths with Fredrik who employs her as a waitress and fortune –teller in his café. The rest of the story focuses on the familiar triangle love theme and just as the story might be ending, Paulson throws another rock into the pond.
Paulson inserts some interesting tidbits into her narrative including the history of the Swedish Gypsy, the invention of the X-Ray, the great workers’ strikes in Sweden in 1902 and 1909, and the tragedy of Tuberculosis that was rampant at the time. However, although much of this is very informative, it has little to do with the development of the plot or the characters and in fact proves to be distracting. Moreover, the principal and minor characters that populate the story with their naïve and one-dimensional dialogue seem to be darting by, wandering off, or frolicking out without any fluidity. I feel that the novel would have been more potent if Paulson had concentrated on the budding romantic feelings and personalities of Lilly and Fredrik.
These criticisms aside, Paulson shows great promise particularly with her research abilities and no doubt with a re-write and a good editor could conceivably craft a more poignant and profound novel.