The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro

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The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro

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Buy The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: A nostalgic memoir of Romany life in the mid-20th century
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0330519991

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Eva Petulengro was born in a painted caravan in 1939. Her Romany family had travelled in Norfolk and Lincolnshire for generations. She has had a very successful career as a clairvoyant, writer of horoscope columns and publisher of magazines, and her daughter is also a well known media astrologer. The Girl in the Painted Caravan is a memoir of her childhood and youth, up until her marriage in her 20s and the beginning of her career.

She is clearly nostalgic about the way of life she describes and regrets that in the end her family moved into a house in Brighton, as their traditional way of life had come to seem too difficult. She writes about her childhood as being the end of an era, as the Romany lifestyle was never quite the same after the 1950s. Her mother had five sisters, and her mother's family was a loving, affectionate and supportive one.

The family had plenty of problems, not all of them to do with threats to their lifestyle. The back cover says Eva Petulengro's childhood seemed to her to be idyllic in every way, but the story told in this book is more complex and interesting than that. Her father was not a Romany at all. He made bad business decisions, he made choices about where they would live, away from his wife's family and the support they could offer, and he played really mean and frightening tricks on his young daughter, saying he wanted her to learn not to be too trusting! She mentions that the times he left the family to their own devices for a while were often something of a relief to all. There are lots of stories not just about Eva herself but about many of her extended family, some happy, some funny, some terribly sad.

I was interested to notice that she uses her mother's surname before and after marriage, as does her daughter Claire Petulengro, and I wondered if this was personal choice or a tradition. There is a lot here about the ways in which the women in the family, before and after marriage and children, earn an income.

There is plenty of material about Romany traditions and customs, some that confirmed what I've read elsewhere, but much that was quite new to me, such as elopement being considered the normal way for couples to get married.

The author didn't go to school but did learn to read and write, and later got a lot of support from a friendly librarian in her informal learning, who also told her something really useful about their legal rights which she continued to use when councils tried to move them on from where they were staying.

The writing style of The Girl in the Painted Caravan is chatty and engaging and flows really well. In places it is overwritten, with points the author wants to make about the Romany lifestyle repeated and really rammed home, but overall it's an enjoyable read. Thank you very much to Pan Macmillan for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Two other books about Roma reviewed here are both aimed at children: The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett and The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth. If you enjoy reading memoirs, Jennifer Worth was a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s, and has written a great trilogy about her experiences and the people she met, including Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End.

Buy The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl in the Painted Caravan: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Eva Petulengro at Amazon.com.

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