Damian Le Bas

Roaming Charges

I Met Lucky People: The Story of the Romani Gypsies

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Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 275pp £20 order from our bookshop

No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers

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Oneworld 335pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The embossed copper title and two laughing Romani women on the cover of I Met Lucky People might suggest a coffee-table book, the kind of book you could safely give most people for Christmas. In fact, this disguises a dense text with an academic tone and a corrective, sociological air. Linguistics professor Yaron Matras’s achievement is to show just how deep the roots of Europe’s phobia of Gypsies are, and how hard it is to propagate a different, more nuanced picture.

The book is arranged by cultural and historical themes rather than by time periods or geographical regions. Other histories of the Roma – such as Sir Angus Fraser’s The Gypsies – have taken the more obvious route of tracking their westward migration, stopping to sketch their changing circumstances along the way. Matras does this too, at points: sections on the Roma in Byzantium, and their subsequent descent into hundreds of years of slavery in Romania, are alternately fascinating and harrowing. 

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