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.