DAMIAN LE BAS Chatto, 320pp, £14.99, Oldie price £10.03 inc p&p

Damian Le Bas has writ­ten an ‘ex­cel­lent ac­count of folk most of us don’t un­der­stand’, said Sara Wheeler in the Spec­ta­tor. Part Ro­many and tagged a ‘dirty gypsy’ at school, Le Bas took a schol­ar­ship to Christ’s Hos­pi­tal and then went to Ox­ford Univer­sity to read the­ol­ogy. In his words, ‘In spite of my con­fu­sion over who I re­ally was, I loved our world.’ Armed with sto­ries told to him by his Nan, a Tran­sit van, some Ro­mani vo­cab­u­lary, he set off to visit the Stop­ping Places (or ‘Atchin tans’), that have been the an­cient en­camp­ment sites of gyp­sies for hun­dreds of years. For Jackie An­nes­ley, in the Times, his feel­ing of dis­lo­ca­tion makes him ‘an ideal writer to dis­em­broil this much mis­un­der­stood itin­er­ant world… The prose is pure de­light.’

‘In spite of my con­fu­sion over who I re­ally was, I loved our world’

This ‘stun­ning travel mem­oir’ moved Clover Stroud, writ­ing in the

Daily Tele­graph. Beau­ti­fully writ­ten, ‘his de­scrip­tions of early child­hood, liv­ing on the edge of a yard, of­ten in car­a­vans, sur­rounded by har­nesses, wheels and scrap metal, crackle with en­ergy’. This is a book not only about gypsy cul­ture, but it is also about get­ting to the ‘heart of what it means to be a gypsy’.

He is a ‘thought­ful writer, ob­ser­vant of na­ture and with a lovely turn of phrase’, agreed Kath­leen Jamie in the New States­man. His writ­ing ‘is lyri­cal, edgy and wist­ful’. Her only reser­va­tion was that she felt there to be a lack of in­ti­mate en­coun­ters or in-depth con­ver­sa­tions with gyp­sies on the road, ‘it’s more about ghost trails than Trav­ellers’ liv­ing re­al­ity’. Still, Jess Smith, re­view­ing for the

Trav­ellers’ Times, said that this ‘won­der­ful book’ had ‘won my heart’. For her, ‘this book is packed with facts and sto­ries and laugh­ter, and tears fall from the pages as easy as an April shower’.

Gyp­sies of the New For­est in the 1890s

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