Between Two Fires

Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism

Between Two Fires

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 18 b&w photographs, 1 table, 1 map Published: July 2000

Author: Alaina Lemon

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Since tsarist times, Roma in Russia have been portrayed as both rebellious outlaws and free-spirited songbirds—in each case, as if isolated from society. In Soviet times, Russians continued to harbor these two, only seemingly opposed, views of “Gypsies,” exalting their songs on stage but scorning them on the streets as liars and cheats. Alaina Lemon’s Between Two Fires examines how Roma themselves have negotiated these dual images in everyday interactions and in stage performances.
Lemon’s ethnographic study is based on extensive fieldwork in 1990s Russia and focuses on Moscow Romani Theater actors as well as Romani traders and metalworkers. Drawing from interviews with Roma and Russians, observations of performances, and conversations, as well as archives, literary texts, and media, Lemon analyzes the role of theatricality and theatrical tropes in Romani life and the everyday linguistics of social relations and of memory. Historically, the way Romani stage performance has been culturally framed and positioned in Russia has served to typecast Gypsies as “natural” performers, she explains. Thus, while theatrical and musical performance may at times empower Roma, more often it has reinforced and rationalized racial and social stereotypes, excluding them from many Soviet and Russian economic and political arenas. Performance, therefore, defines what it means to be Romani in Russia differently than it does elsewhere, Lemon shows. Considering formal details of language as well as broader cultural and social structures, she also discusses how racial categories relate to post-Soviet economic changes, how gender categories and Euro-Soviet notions of civility are connected, and how ontological distinctions between “stage art” and “real life” contribute to the making of social types. This complex study thus serves as a corrective to romantic views of Roma as detached from political forces.


Between Two Fires addresses an important series of topics for anthropology in general and for the study of the Soviet Union and for postsocialist Russia in particular. Lemon weds current theoretical concerns to an understudied but significant community.” — Martha Lampland, author of The Object of Labor: Commodification in Socialist Hungary

“This is an extraordinarily insightful account of the performance of being ‘Gypsy’ in Russia. Theoretically sophisticated, it illuminates Russian as well as Romani culture, and delves into issues of naming, mobility, transgression, and authenticity. This book is a must for anyone interested in advances in anthropology as well as contemporary Russian culture.” — Caroline Humphrey, coauthor of The End of Nomadism? Society, State, and the Environment in Inner Asia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alaina Lemon is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Notes on Orthography and Transcripts


1. Pushkin, The Gypsies, and Russian Imperialist Nostalgia

2. Roma, Race, and Post-Soviet Markets

3. “What is Your Nation?” Performing Romani Distinctions

4. The Gypsy Stage, Socialism, and Authenticity

5. The Hidden Nail: Memory, Loyalty, and Models of Revelation

6. “Roma” and “Gazhje”: Shifting Terms

7. Conclusion: At Home in Russia

Appendix A. Roma and Other Tsygane in the Commonwealth of Independent States

Appendix B. Dialect Differences

Appendix C. Vlax-Lovari Romani Glossary




Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2001 Heldt Prize

Winner, 2001 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2493-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2456-0
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