REQUIEM FOR A GYPSY – Michael Genelin

Michael Genelin has a sort of good news/bad news situation in that his books are set in Slovakia, an area in central Europe that used to be Czechoslovakia.  It is bad news because most Americans know little about Slovakia so it is difficult to place one’s self in the scene.  The good news is that the author is presenting a country that we know little about so we don’t question the atmosphere.

Czechoslovakia was created on political lines during World War I, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918.  With the rise of the Third Reich, Czechoslovakia was divided into pieces, all of which ended as the part of Europe Hitler would use in his plan to defeat the USSR and expand Germany’s “lebensraum”, more territory in which the Germans could live and grow food.  At the end of the war, the area came under the influence of communist Russia and the citizens remained something of a thorn in the side to their Russian guardians.

That is until “Prague Spring” in 1968.  Alexander Dubcek became the leader of the Czechoslovakian in January, 1968.  He was a liberal and he believed that the majority of the people would follow him.  He loosened restrictions on the media, and on speech and travel.  His chief goal was to decentralize of the government and the economy.  He oversaw the division of the country into the Czech and Slovak states but by August, 1968, the Soviets had had enough and came into Prague in tanks.  One hundred and eight Czechs and Slovaks were killed and the move to less restriction ended.

On January 1, 1993 the country peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  This very much abbreviated history explains in some small way who Commander Jana Matinova is.  She is one of the highest ranking female officers in the Slovak state police.  She is grandmother to a child who is half American, a child Jana sees rarely.  The author hasn’t given any substantive hints as to Jana’s age but she was likely too young to participate in Prague Spring.   She is certainly a product of the changes it brought to Slovakia.  No longer a Communist country, the people are still reminded of their history.  It seems that no country in on the European continent has yet been able to escape from the years when Hitler dominated the lives of all.

To a degree, not understanding Jana’s past and the growing pains of her country, the reader benefits.  The reader can concentrate on Jana.  Slovakia is a country that is still trying to find its feet and one of the issues is the Roma population, a group that has never been welcomed in any nation.  A young gypsy is killed and this becomes a case that Jana knows will be difficult.  The Roma have no reason to trust the police and their culture is secretive.

In Paris, an old man is working through the Saturday outdoor market.  “The old man never saw the truck that hit him….Pascal was killed on impact….The truck proved to be stolen, so the police could not find anyone to hold responsible…and Pascal had three separate sets of ID on his person, which made things even more troubling for them.  After all, how can you notify the decedent’s next of kin, or even his landlord, if you don’t know who he was or where he lived?”

Jana finds herself forced to go to a party being given by “one of the new breed of businessmen that the country was hell-bent on developing: high profile figures who wanted to be international players and were determined that everybody should love and admire them for their ruthless corporate plundering.  So far, at least, tonight’s businessman, the larger-than-life Oto Bogan, had miraculously avoided criminal prosecution and so was still on the  ‘we can associate with him’ list for police officers.”  That status changes when the party is barely underway.  While standing with Jana, her boss, Colonel Trokan, and her husband, Klara Bogan is shot, hit by a bullet likely meant for her husband.

The murders are linked when Jana learns that Pascal had a tattoo linking him to the Hlinka Guard,  a group who, under the direction of the SS, led the roundups of the partisans, the Jews and the gypsies.  They Guard killed without question when ordered to do so by the SS.  Into this mix comes Em, a young teenager who meets Jana when she sells her a pair of earrings.

Eventually all the various threads come together and there are no degrees of separation.  The plot is complicated and Jana is a complicated character.  She is mistress of her own destiny in her work life but there seems to be few boundaries in her personal life.  Her relationship with Em is difficult to explain given Jana’s commitment to her job.

REQUIEM FOR A GYPSY is the fourth book in the Jana Matinova series.  I don’t think it is necessary to read them in order but read them you should.

The author hasn’t given any substantive hints as to Jana’s age but she was likely too young to participate in Prague Spring but she is certainly a product of the changes it brought to Slovakia.  No longer a Communist country, the people are still reminded of their history.  It seems that no country in on the European continent has yet been able to escape from the years when Hitler dominated the lives of all.

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4 Responses to REQUIEM FOR A GYPSY – Michael Genelin

  1. Condorena says:

    I was happy to read that there was a new entry in this series. The historical background you have provided is just the kind of thing that grabs my interest.

  2. Beth says:

    Unfortunately, the historical background grabbed my interest, too, and I spent more time returning to the events of Prague Spring than I did writing the review.

    In 1970, two years after Czechoslovakia had its brief taste of freedom of speech and the media was reporting on real life rather than printing information ordered by the government, I was taking grad school courses in Ireland. The group of international students that comprised my social circle included one from Czechoslovakia. Just before the courses ended, the college offered this man a fellowship, all academic expenses paid and money for living expenses. He contacted the attache for permission to accept the offer and was told he had to go to the embassy in London, He was refused. He knew he would be but he had to follow the instructions so that it would appear that his request had been denied because of his particular circumstances. The rest of us were infuriated, and that included people from Austria and Germany whose parents were no strangers to totalitarianism. We thought he should just stay; the the Irish weren’t going to force him to leave. Of course, that was the naive thinking of people who had no clue just how strangled life was in Communist controlled countries. His parents were college professors, his brother was a member of the state supported symphony orchestra, and his sister-in-law was in medical school. They were the hostages and they were the reason he was allowed to leave Czechoslovakia. He had to go back or his family would lose jobs, homes, education, and be forced out of the city to make a life in a rural area.

    Prague Spring was brief, emotional, brave, and doomed from the start.

  3. kathy d. says:

    I’m glad that the author dealt with the issue of the Roma people here. They are so often overlooked and still face oppression and discrimination. Sarkozy ordered encampments taken down and deported some. They are being scapegoated in areas of Europe for the economic crisis — by the right wing.
    Even in histories of WWII, they were incredibly persecuted by the Nazis; many died alongside Jewish people. This has not been told until recently when more history books about the war are telling about this.
    I didn’t know this myself until about 10 years ago when I read some book reviews about WWII history and this was explained.
    It’s terrible that they still face such awful discrimination and harassment and more.

  4. Pingback: AUTHORS E – H (A Long List) | MURDER by TYPE

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