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Den dag jag blir fri (The Day I Will Be Free) by Lawen Mohtadi; a biography over Katarina Taikon, author, Swedish Romany activist and leader in the civil rights movement. Romani have lived in Sweden since the early 16th century, and as in most other countries they have been met with considerable prejudice and aggression. Nowadays they are considered a national minority in Sweden along with Jews, Sami, Sweden Finns, and Tornedalians. Katarina Taikon who was born in 1932 didn’t learn to read and write until she was 30, and then she wrote the book Zigenerska (Gypsy Woman) which was a very prominent work in the struggle to finally allow Romani to live in hoses instead of tents and caravans and to go to school. In 1969 she started to write the Katitzi-series, biographical novels for children. It begins when Katitzi is seven. Her mother, a Swedish farmer’s daughter who ran away to marry, dies when she was a baby and when her father remarries when she is five, friends of the family takes in Katitizi. But as they are not allowed to adopt her, she eventually returns to her father. As a small child, Katitizi’s father was quite wealthy, and her foster family was too, but now her father, who runs a tivoli, is a lot poorer. For Katitzi who has forgotten her family, the return is a cultural shock. She quickly grows close to her three older siblings, but her step-mother, who also is Swedish, dislikes her step-children, and in particular Katitzi. In the course of several books the step-mother’s abuse escalates and when Katitizi is fourteen her father marries her off to a man several years older, as a way to remove Katitzi from her step-mother. Her husband, despite having promised to not have sex with Katitzi until she is older, rapes her and after a miscarriage, she runs away and eventually manages to get a divorce. The series ends when Katitzi is sixteen, she lives in a girl’s home in Stockholm and is starting a movie career. Resonating through the books are Katitzi longing to go to school, and also her anger over the prejudices she encounters.

The biography was very interesting. Katarina Taikon suffered a cardiac arrest when she was only 50 and was in a coma for 13 years before she died. The author draws heavily on interviews with Katarina’s older sister Rosa, who was a very interesting person as well. She was 36 when she learned to read and write and then went to art school and reinvented her father’s profession as a silversmith, traditionally something only Romani men did. You can find her work in museums today. Anyway, it was very interesting to learn how accurate the Katitzi-series are in regards of Katarina Taikon life, and gave a very interesting background to how Kalderash Romani came to Sweden in the late 19th century, and what Swedish attitudes and laws in regard of Romani looked like then. We also get an account of Katarina and Rosa’s lives as adults and their work for Romani rights.

But it also has some curious holes. There is nothing about Katarina’s older siblings as adults, which is especially odd as her brother Paul was murdered in the early 60’s, a murder which never got solved, probably largely because the murdered was Swedish. It is also very little about the stepmother and the younger half-siblings. Katarina’s own mother evidently adapted well to Romani culture and her marriages were happy, despite an age difference of nearly 25 years. But her step-mother, who ran away from husband and children t marry Katarina’s father, never integrated with her husband’s family, and could never understand why she, a blond Swedish woman, was met with the same prejudice and hate. It’s clear from the books that her abusive behaviour in large part is due to her own unhappiness. So there was a large chunk of things missing. I can imagine this is because a lot of these people are still alive, or have children who are, and may not want to be featured in a book. But overall it was a very interesting read.

I’m still reading Diana Wynne Jones. Soilers are under the cuts.

A Tale of Time City It’s 1939 and Vivian is evacuated from London. Only she gets kidnapped by two boys from the Time City, a place which consists outside time. They think she is a person called the Time Lady and the want her to stop the imminent destruction of the city and help find Faber John, the Time Lady’s husband and co-founder of Time City. It’s impossible for me to not see Romana and Four as these characters, especially since Faber John’s name means John Smith, and the book contains a lot of time travels. It’s more SF than fantasy, and a book I didn’t like much when I first read it, but now enjoy very much.

Conrad's Fate Fantasy meets Downton Abbey. Conrad has been told he has very bad karma and the only way to fix it is to start working at the Stallery, a huge manor house and find the person who he was supposed to murder in a previous life. He starts working as a trainee valet, along with a boy called Christopher. As in Christopher Chant, future Chrestomanci, who is looking for his friend Millie who has run away. I thoroughly enjoy this book, which is partly a parody of the romance of the big house with its numbers of happy servants. I also like Christopher more when he isn’t just the awe-inspiring Chrestomanci, even if he has wonderful dressing gowns.

The Pinhoe Egg Chronologically speaking this is the last Chrestomanci-book, written from the viewpoint of Cat Chant, and a girl, Marianne Pinhoe, living in a village close to Chrestomanci Castle. Her family is witches who have spent generations hiding from Chrestomanci, as they don’t want him to have opinions on their use of magic. But when her grandmother, the family’s matriarch, becomes senile, things start to dissolve quickly. And it certainly doesn’t get better when she befriends Cat and gives him an egg they find in her grandmother’s attic- an egg which turns out to be of a griffin.

I really like this book too. Marianne is a great character and I also enjoy how Cat is allowed to grow in the series- understanding himself and how he isn’t always behaving very practically- or nicely. And change. I also like the different magic the Pinhoe family practices; much more in tune with nature and with herb-lore than the high magic of Chrestomanci.

I like less that the betrayal of the adults Pinhoe and the way they have treated Marianne when she is the only one who can see the truth is never completely solved. Marianne ends up with a recognition of her own powers, but the rift between her and her father is not healed by the end of the book, and it makes me a little sad after I have finished reading.

House of Many Ways This is the third Howl-book, and I find a little uneven. I like the heroine- bookish, sheltered Charmaine who dreams about working in the King’s library and is drafted to take care of her wizard-uncle’s house when he is ill. I love the concept of the house, which is like the TARDIS- bigger on the inside, and I Like the magical dog, Waif. And it’s always lovely to meet Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer again. I also approve the clarification of Princess Beatrice’s marital status. In Castle In the Air she is only described as an elderly spinster, but here it is made clear she is unmarried because that is what she has actively chosen, not for lack of opportunity. But the feeling I get from the book is that it takes a lot of time simply to set it up, and then we are straight at the conclusion and the book ends. And though I’, not more exasperated by Child!Howl than Sophie, it is very trying for the eyes to read his lisp. I also don’t care much for the villain. The Lubbock is evil just for the sake of evil, which is always rather boring, and its half-human offspring is evil by inheritance. Still, even the weakest Wynne Jones-book is still an enjoyable read.
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