My Name is Rose, by Sally Grindley
Themes: identity, Gypsy culture, Western culture, oppression.
Synopsis: Rose is a ten-year old Gypsy girl from Romania. The story opens with Rose living a happy and content nomadic life with her loving family. However, in Chapter 2 Rose’s world collides with the rich, opulent world of the ‘gadje’ (non-Gypsy people). A rich businessman named Mr Luca crashes his car into the gypsy caravan, killing Rose’s entire family. Racked with guilt, Mr and Mrs Luca take Rose home with them to England.
Torn away from everything she ever loved and knew, Rose feels out of place and lost in the Luca’s mansion. So traumatised by the crash, Rose becomes mute, not speaking a word for the entire story. The Luca family is a hostile, cold place for Rose. Mr Luca resents Rose and his daughter Victoria despises her. Even Mrs Luca regards the gypsy girl as nothing more than ‘a project’ to appease her conscience.
When Rose seems to have reached rock bottom, events take a turn when her musical ability is discovered. Rose begins to recover her identity which leads to the climatic end.
I was instantly gripped by My Name is Rose. Sally Grindley throws the reader straight into the action. After only a few pages, the reader is firmly attached to Rose when she is snatched away from her homeland and taken to the foreign world of the Lucas’ mansion.
Arriving in this rich and luxurious home, Rose meets a colourful mixture of characters. They tend to fall into two camps; either they scheme against Rose, or they offer her compassion. Often these characters are held in contrast to each other. The hard-hearted Mr and Mrs Luca contrast starkly to Rose’s recollections of her warm, loving parents. The deceitful and vindictive gardener contrasts to the soft, compassionate housemaid. And the bitter, hateful Victoria is a sharp contrast to Rose’s recollections of her companionable and loving brother.
Aside from Rose, Mrs Luca is perhaps the most interesting character. There are two conflicting elements that drive her behaviour. On one side is selfish ambition and greed, but on the other side, Mrs Luca is shown to be a sad, lonely person with her own baggage of hurt and tragedy.
A key theme in the book is Rose’s loss of identity. She has been snatched out of her Gypsy life and forced into a Western culture of material wealth, greed and education. Rose’s loss of identity is exaggerated by the physical loss of her voice and also by Mrs Luca giving her a new name (Anna) that is not her own.
Rose’s battle for her true identity drives the story. Sally Grindley effectively draws the reader into Rose’s shoes, letting them feel Rose’s traumatic loss and sense of imprisonment. I felt myself cheering Rose on as she gradually grew in determination to hold tight to her roots and fight for her true identity.
At the beginning of the story Rose recalls her father’s words, “Keep away from the gadje, they’re different from us. They have their ways and we have ours. The two don’t mix.” I had hoped that this statement would be proved wrong as the story unfolded. I hoped that the hard-hearted Luca family might have softened and let go of their greed and selfishness. However, Rose’s struggle for survival and fight for her true identity continue to the end.
Reading this book made me reflect not only on cultural identity, but also on the shallowness of western wealth. Whilst the Luca family had incomparably more wealth than any Gypsy family, Sally Grindley demonstrates that this material wealth is poverty in comparison to the wealth of love and contentment.
This is a great book for any readers 9 years and older. The themes and characters are rich and complex and lend themselves to much thought-provoking discussion.