Synopses & Reviews
A vivid and funny memoir about growing up Gypsy and becoming American
Fifteen-year-old Oksana Marafioti is a Gypsy. This means touring with the family band from the Mongolian deserts to the Siberian tundra. It means getting your hair cut in “the Lioness.” It also means enduring sneering racism from every segment of Soviet society. Her father is determined that his girls lead a better, freer life. In America! Also, he wants to play guitar with B. B. King. And cure cancer with his personal magnetism. All of this he confides to the woman at the American embassy, who inexplicably allows the family entry. Soon they are living on the sketchier side of Hollywood.
What little Oksana and her sister, Roxy, know of the United States theyve learned from MTV, subcategory George Michael. It doesnt quite prepare them for the challenges of immigration. Why are the glamorous Kraft Singles individually wrapped? Are the little soaps in the motels really free? How do you protect your nice new boyfriend from your opinionated father, who wants you to marry decently, within the clan?
In this affecting, hilarious memoir, Marafioti cracks open the secretive world of the Roma and brings the absurdities, miscommunications, and unpredictable victories of the immigrant experience to life. With unsentimentally perfect pitch, American Gypsy reveals how Marafioti adjusted to her new life in America, one slice of processed cheese at a time.
"At 15, Marafioti, granddaughter and daughter of Roma performers, arrives in Hollywood from Russia, encountering culture clash and the rapid disintegration of her family, both rendered with touching, funny, and outlandish details. In the U.S.S.R., she'd been part of the upper class and traveled with the act, but was subjected to intense prejudice as a mistrusted 'gyp.' In her new homeland, her father marries his mistress, while Marafioti, her sister, and mother furnish their own apartment scavenging Beverly Hills castoffs and she learns that Gypsies are Stevie Nicksesque bohemians plus history and hatred. It's a source of liberation for her, and for her father and stepmother, who rely on the old ways and become sought-after palm readers. As the best English speaker among them, Marafioti is routinely conscripted into serving as a translator for the readings, even getting dragged to the cemetery to steal dirt for a curse. Her struggles between the two worlds play out daily as she deals with her father's chauvinism and his push for her to join the business and marry one of their own while she's trying to learn English, figure out how to have a Brazilian boyfriend, and get through the immigrant teenage experience. Although her journey would be more satisfying if it went beyond high school, Marafioti has a rich, colorful story about a long misunderstood culture that she treasures, despite some truly antiquated beliefs. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Engaging . . . Marafioti describes with humor and introspection how the self-described ‘Split Nationality Disorder she experienced growing up only magnified upon her familys emigration from the former Soviet Union to Los Angeles when she was 15 . . . Marafiotis probing observation of the contrast of American individualism with fierce Roma ethnocentrism, even xenophobia, yields a provocative exploration of identity. Contrasting cultural values shine in this winning contemporary immigrant account of assimilation versus individuation.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Touching . . . Funny . . . A rich, colorful story about a long misunderstood culture.” —Publishers Weekly
“A most entertaining, informative and worthwhile read . . . American Gypsy is warm and funny—often very funny—and, always, is a revelation.” —Ellen Stirling, Living Las Vegas
“Beyond the usual stereotypes of thieves in caravans, this drama of finding a home at last strikes universal chords, not least with the hilarious family theatrics and the contemporary immigrant mess-ups . . . [A] wry, unforgettable memoir.” —Booklist
“American Gypsy is a fun, humorous and sometimes heartbreaking memoir of a teenage Russian immigrant . . . [A] spirited and touching coming-of-age tale.” —Cindi Moon Reed, Vegas Seven
“[Oksana Marafiotis] witty, often hilarious account of her new life (not quite what MTV had promised) takes us for a ride through an immigrants world, presenting the challenges of reconciling boyfriends, fast food, and séances with her familys strict Roma traditions.” —Annasue McCleave Wilson, Biographile
“An illuminating and unvarnished peek into a much-misunderstood culture, one thats been plagued for centuries by discrimination and worse. That said, while American Gypsy documents some dark and troubling events, it offers just as many funny and heartwarming moments.” —Geoff Schumacher, Las Vegas CityLife
“Oksana Marafiotis American Gypsy stands apart . . . A rare firsthand glimpse into the reality of contemporary Romani life.” —Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies, the University of Texas at Austin
About the Author
Oksana Marafioti moved from the Soviet Union when she was fifteen years old. Trained as a classical pianist, she has also worked as a cinematographer.