In the opening scenes of the first book of Kiba Lumberg’s Memesa trilogy, Musta perhonen [The Black Butterfly], published in 2004 as a single book, the reader becomes acquainted with the protagonist Memesa and her family in Lappeenranta, eastern Finland, and is witness to life in a Romani community through the child’s eyes.
Memesa describes her courageous mother and the necessity of knowing how to defend oneself. She is used to fights but admits to being afraid when the fights become so violent that they risk resulting in murder followed by a blood feud.
Memesa experiences violence and bullying both inside and outside her home and feels repelled both by the traditional female role expected within the Roma community and by the hypocrisy of the majority population in Finland. She feels different from other girls; and when she finds out at the age of 13 that she cannot escape the sexual harassment of the men who surround her, she escapes from home and seeks refuge in Helsinki. Here the first volume of the trilogy ends.
In the second book, Repalaiset siivet [Tattered Wings], first published in 2006, Memesa is living in a children’s home, where she sees further violence and from which she is kidnapped by her family, only to escape once again. She experiments with drugs and ends up in a reform school. She becomes aware of her lesbian orientation but makes peace with her family and begins to work and study art.
The closing section of the third book of the trilogy, Samettiyö [The Velvet Night], first published in 2008, presents the grown-up Memesa living in Helsinki, working in various institutions and being confronted with racism, discrimination and injustice towards Roma as well as towards other forms of ‘otherness’. She studies and practises music, dance and arts and crafts but is harshly criticised by some members of the Romani community, especially when she begins to comment on Romani issues in the media. She is unlucky in love but successful as an artist and takes part in the Venice Biennale. In the closing chapter, she is awarded a prize for her ‘versatile creative work and defence of human rights’.