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DUKE OF EGYPT by Margriet de Moor Kirkus Star


by Margriet de Moor & translated by Paul Vincent

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-55970-546-9
Publisher: Arcade

From the internationally acclaimed Dutch author (First Gray, Then White, Then Blue, p. 979, etc.), a richly imagined, subtly constructed exploration of an unusual fictional subject: Europe’s gypsy populations and their adversarial relationships with settled societies.

Stage center is the marriage of Lucie, a beautiful Dutch woman who runs her family’s horse farm, and Joseph Plato, a charismatic nomad whose effortless empathy with all creatures domestic and wild (and also the ingenuous souls with whom he trades horses) is matched by the easy power he exerts over the smitten Lucie and their three children. Every spring, Joseph leaves his family to wander (belonging as he does to “a race of people with lungs so full of air that it simply has to escape”) across the continent; every fall, he returns, seemingly unchanged. Scenes from different stages of his courtship of Lucie, their union, and numerous separations and estrangements are shown from their viewpoints, as well as those of Lucie’s widowed, roughhewn father Gerard (who grudgingly admires the sleek, confident Joseph almost as much as he distrusts him) and of an unidentified narrator who seems, at various times, to be Joseph (observing himself as he observes others), Lucie’s sister, the voice of her village, and the omniscient author. Behind Joseph’s “story” (which is central) loom the travels, and travail of his people, recorded in tales told by his elders, the complex memories Gerard resists and compulsively recycles, and piecemeal historical information (invariably vividly dramatized). It’s a resonant, bittersweet history of romance and adventure, elaborate confidence games (e.g., itinerant public performances with a trained bear reputedly capable of “cur[ing] gout and tumors by laying on one of its paws”) and other strategies for survival, and the continuing threats (and the realities) of persecution and imprisonment.

Once again, de Moor offers an enchantingly original novel. She’s getting better with every book.