The Color of Smoke (Lakatos)

I admit it; I judged this book by its cover. I had never read “an epic novel of the Roma.” The blurb said it was “the first novel in which a Gypsy himself depicts his people. .  . with complete authenticity.” I was sold. After all, we read (sometimes) in order to enter other worlds. I knew nothing of the Roma. Here, the cover said to me, is a chance to learn.

Without wasting much time, Lakatos’ work, translated by Ann Major, made me ask myself whether it was okay not to like this ‘authentic’ presentation of the Roma culture. If the way women are treated in this novel is anywhere close to accurate, then yikes.

The novel, by all indications based on the life of the author himself, also raised another cliche – just because it is true doesn’t make it a good story. The novel meanders. Small things are presented as disproportionately huge, with little justification. There is a great deal of repetition and ponderous dialogue. I neither liked nor was much interested in the protagonist. I certainly never accepted his so-called wisdom.

It can be hard to tell with a translation, but there are numerous examples where Lakatos seems to reach for lofty prose and fail miserably, that I have to believe it’s his doing, not Major’s.

There are poignant moments. The ending. The love for horses. But they are too few to sustain 464 pages.

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