Sometimes the story behind the novel is as inspiring as the novel itself

Last Queen of the Gypsies by William Cobb

A recent review from Foreword Reviews of The Last Queen of the Gypsies, by William Cobb, reminded us that we needed to share it with you, blog readers. And it wasn’t until we stumbled upon this story from the Birmingham News that we realized how lucky we were to distribute this book for NewSouth.

You might already be familiar with author William Cobb (he’s a big name in Alabama literature and has published seven books to date). But by this time last year, William thought his writing career had ended for good.

William had suffered from a mysterious neurological condition for about three years. He had trouble keeping his balance, and he couldn’t concentrate. Day-to-day life was a challenge. Writing became almost impossible.

“‘I can’t do this anymore,” he told his wife. “We can’t travel anymore. We’re old. This is it.”

But thankfully, William’s doctor recognized some of his ailments as symptoms of normal condition hydrocephalus, a rare condition in which the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord doesn’t drain normally, which causes difficulty walking and leads to mental decline. William underwent surgery for the condition.

“I swear, before I left the hospital, I could walk without a cane,” he told The Birmingham News. “And I could just tell that my dementia was reversing itself. It was amazing.”

Almost a year later, Cobb is rejoicing in his return to health with the release of The Last Queen of the Gypsies, his first book in nine years.

The Last Queen of the Gypsies is a brilliant, quirky, highly readable story as compelling as it is fresh and original. The book interweaves the stories of Lester Ray, a 14-year-old boy who was deserted by his mother when he was a baby and has now escaped his abusive alcoholic father, and Minnie, a woman who was abandoned by her Gypsy family of migrant fruit pickers when she was 11— while they journey on parallel quests to find families they never really knew. It ranges from the Great Depression to the new millennium and from the panhandle of Florida, where the novel is basically set, to New York City during World War II, to the Georgia and Carolina coast, to Fort Myers and south Florida.

It seems Foreword reviewer Julie McGuire enjoyed this novel as much as we did: “In The Last Queen of the Gypsies, William Cobb masterfully parallels the stories of Minnie and Lester Ray, and the various colorful characters they meet along the way—including a dwarf named Virgin Mary Duck, the freakish crew of a traveling carnival—in a story of love and loss, hope and despair, and the resilience of the human spirit.”

This is one book I’m adding to my holiday wish list. Considering it for yours? Maybe this excerpt will sway you. You can also meet William Cobb on Nov. 17 at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama. More details here.

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