By Nily Naiman
Key Themes: fiction, WW2, gypsies, emotional pressure, mental health
“Tambourine” is dedicated to the good, brave people of Spain who provided refuge to Gypsies and Jews fleeing the Vichy French.
This is a story of courage and hope in the face of unrelenting danger. It is a story of ingenuity and strength, and the human capacity for survival. Anna and her Gypsy family are in constant risk of their lives as they attempt to reach Spain and find refuge there from the Nazis and Vichy French. The hatred of Gypsies and Jews that is perpetrated by the Vichy allies of Hitler is shared by many Frenchman who are ready to turn them over to the authorities.
“Tambourine” is as much a psychological adventure as it is a war story. Through fear, courage, violence, guilt, incredible passion, and unceasing emotional pressures the characters must struggle with how to interact with each other while at the same time struggling to survive.
Yet through all their travails the family finds help from unexpected sources – partisan fighters who protect them and welcome them as fellow fighters, Catholic priests who are willing to risk their lives to give them shelter, and simple French families ready to give what help they can. In this “Tambourine” is an affirmation of the basic decency that is at the core of our humanity and a rejection of ethnic hatred.
About the Author
Born in Israel in 1953, Nily Naiman grew up among Holocaust survivors and their children. Israel of the 1950’s was a confused mix of conflicting cultures, traditions, and tragic personal histories, all grating against each other in a new society struggling to define itself. This was the bewildering brew into which she was born. Her work is inspired by her childhood memories of the stories of her parents and their contemporaries.
Only now has she begun writing down the pieces of her life that are incorporated into her fiction. Her first novel, “Ahuva”, set entirely in Israel, has been published in the U.S.
“Once upon a time, there was a pretty little Gypsy girl,” Mama would start my favorite bedtime story, “far, far away in a land called Spain. The little girl was an incredible dancer. When she danced, she looked like she was floating on air. People passing by would stop and stare at the little girl, shaking their heads and wondering how anybody could dance like that.
“The little girl had beautiful wavy hair and shiny green eyes like emeralds. Everybody was struck by her beauty. More than anything in the world, the little girl wanted a tambourine, but her parents did not have the money to buy her one.”
“Why, Mama?” I asked.
“They were poor,” she said.
“‘Poor’ is when you have no money to buy food or clothes,” Mama
I was silent. I was trying to understand how somebody could be poor. There was always plenty of food in my house, and my closet was full of clothes. Mama would have to force me to eat all the time because I never felt hungry. My aunts and my grandmas were always sewing fancy dresses for me even though I preferred to run around in pants and kick the ball with the boys. Mama would style my hair with all kinds of funny hairdos, using hairpins that hurt me. I hated that.
Looking at my closet, I decided I would give the little Gypsy girl all my stupid dresses and all the food from the kitchen. Mama smiled. “It’s getting late Anna; you have to get up early for school.”
“Mama, just a little bit more,” I pleaded.
Mama petted my hair “Just a little bit more. One day, a good-looking prince passed through town. He was sitting in his coach, tall and handsome. All the girls were in love with him. The king was worried about his son. He brought him all the most beautiful girls in the kingdom to choose from. However, the prince was not interested in any of them. ‘When I meet my true love,’ he said to the king, ‘only then will I get married.’
“The prince was the king’s only son, and he would be the king one day. The wife he chose would be the queen. She had to be a fine, bright and beautiful girl from a noble background.”
“What’s ‘noble’?” I asked curiously.
“Rich! Rich and fancy, Nobles have blue blood, which means that they all come from the aristocracy.”
“Madame Norine said all blood is red; there’s no such thing as blue blood!”
“It is just an expression, Anna!”
Mama was starting to lose her patience; I could feel it in my bones. She closed the book. “Tomorrow we will continue. You have to go to sleep now.” She kissed me on my forehead and left the room.