It’s January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona’s-a young, rebellious [Roma]-the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the [Roma] community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever. Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all [Romani] are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. They soon find themselves in Madrid-a city of passion and dancing, but also a treacherous one full of smugglers and thieves. Caridad and Milagros must help in the [Roma]’s struggle against society and its laws in order to stay together; it’s a dangerous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won. From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe. (goodreads.com)
What I know of the Romani is that they originate from India and were exiled. They traveled through Egypt and were kicked out of there too. Then they got to Europe and they moved around a lot and were heinously persecuted. That’s about the extent of it. I also know that the term ‘gypsy’ is considered derogatory so while the book uses it with abandon I’ll stick to using the Roma/Romani term (although I’m unsure of when and where to use which version so I apologize if I misuse it). Anything in brackets [ ] in the above quoted blurb is my replacement.
I couldn’t find out too much about the author that was in English but I’m under the impression that he isn’t Roma. That being said I’m not sure of what kind of impression he was trying to make about the Romani in THE BAREFOOT QUEEN. Because the people in this book are just a-holes. They’re an exceedingly prideful people who feel they are the best people in the world and as such are exempt from being a contributing member of society or following any governing body’s laws. Some of them are blacksmiths but most are swindlers and hockers of stolen goods. They fight at the drop of a hat, usually as some perceived slight involving a lack of respect and they’re all so incredibly self-centered and selfish that it was nearly impossible for me to like any of them. For a book that 650 pages long that’s a lot of crappy characters to read about.
That’s not to condone their persecution. Genocide is bad. To split up an entire race of people and jail them for the sole purpose of not having them reproduce and then just work the living ones to death is rather awful. I can understand why the government wouldn’t want these guys hanging around because they do harass people and they were thieves and they didn’t contribute to the economy in many meaningful ways (within the story) but that could be applied to a lot of people and to target the Roma specifically in order to eradicate their race was horrible.
Caridad, for most of the book, is a submissive former slave who ends up in crappy situation after crappy situation and it takes her a solid two-thirds of the book to start standing up for herself and asserting herself as a human being in this world. I can half understand considering her upbringing: she was stolen from her parents and sold into slavery at 10. There’s a lot of indoctrination there and it’ll take more than a few pages to break that. It didn’t help that such a quiet, submissive person was contrasted against outspoken, assertive Romani and it really made her seem even more curled into her own self than what she might otherwise have been. She does eventually come into her own but even that’s hard to see around the more outspoken Romani. Plus Caridad as a character really isn’t that well-developed and she gets shoved around the story for most of it. It’s easy to lose her among other characters and since she doesn’t make too much of an impression she’s easy to forget about.
Milagros is such a selfish little girl who, while treating Caridad as somewhat of an equal, like an exceedingly selfish teenager it’s very much a one-sided friendship where Milagros’s interest in Caridad is not a means to help the former slave but to sate her own curiosity. It’s always about Milagros’s problems and her wants and needs and never about Caridad. She came off as being far younger than what she actually was as a result. Because the girl doesn’t listen to anyone she ended up making some heinous mistakes and paid dearly for them. I found it difficult to really feel bad for her because she chose not to see what was going on. Time after time she convinced herself her husband wasn’t cheating on her when she knew he was and the POV so much as said that. For someone who was so assertive she never stood up for herself and she was beaten down pretty badly. She came out the other side pretty humbled but by the end of the book she’d kind of faded into the background as well. Her story was over with so it was time to move on.
Ana, Milagros’s mother, was a consistent character in the story. She never wavered in her beliefs even though there were times she did want to give up. Especially when she was in jail she was downtrodden but she pushed on, pushed back and was punished time after time for it but she still pushed on. I could admire that in her. In terms of character growth there really wasn’t much but I was okay with that. Ana was probably my favorite character just for her strength. I could tolerate her attitude, her pride, and abide her person because she really was a great character.
Melchor, Ana’s father (Milagros’s grandfather), was meh. He was kind of a crotchety old man that liked to shake his fist at everyone. He was very proud of being a Vega and held an eternal grudge against the Garcias until the very end of the book (for mostly good reasons). Another character that really didn’t change but I didn’t feel him as being too strong of a presence on the page. He ended up helping Caridad along with her personal growth but whenever the story was in his POV it felt rather thin. He wasn’t very substantial and I couldn’t get behind him as a character because I didn’t feel there was much there to begin with.
This was a LONG book with a story that took a long time to be told. Those four people are the main characters but it often deviated to a handful more characters to get their perspective on things and then it gave some background information on, historically, what was going on. I’m trying to think of what made this book so long but really there were a lot of words that didn’t say all that much. It’s not that the story was cyclical or redundant. There was just a lot of fat, it takes place over about five years, and it doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot out during that story time. So much of it was insubstantial that I can’t remember a whole lot of it. There’s a lot of talk of cigars and a lot of people were whipped. A lot of Garcias/Vega hate and a singing morena. I didn’t get too much out of such a dense book but I can’t say I’m disappointed in that. I was still hoping for some kind of AH HA ending but that didn’t happen. It’s like subconsciously I expected this to not hit with me after only a few pages of reading. It sounded interesting but ultimately it was a slog to get through and didn’t leave any kind of mark on me.
I received this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.