February 14, 2014 6:50 pm

‘Romany and Tom’, by Ben Watt; ‘I Met Lucky People’, by Yaron Matras

Romany and Tom, by Ben Watt, Bloomsbury, RRP£14.99, 368 pages

 

Assuming responsibility for elderly parents can be disorientating and painful. Ben Watt – one half of pop duo Everything but the Girl – has written a memoir of this experience that also explores the earlier lives of his mum, an actress admired by Richard Burton, and a dad whose jazz career was snuffed out by rock’n’roll.

Watt tries to make sense of the role reversal, his parents and himself. Their marriage is bumpy, and his portrait is unsparing: toe-curling details of his father’s escape from the care home to catch a pint; his mother in bed after a mastectomy.

Romany and Tom is not a happy book; it moves slowly and death shadows every line. Yet Watt’s prose is measured and infused with both the glamour of postwar London and the sickly odour of retirement homes. A poignant, life-affirming work.

Review by Alexander Gilmour

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I Met Lucky People: The Story of the Romani Gypsies, by Yaron Matras, Allen Lane RRP£20, 256 pages

 

In I Met Lucky People, linguist Yaron Matras skilfully debunks the numerous myths surrounding Romani life, and reveals the history and diversity of this culture across the world.

The portraits of Romani people are sparky and thought-provoking, as is the author’s contempt for those he considers to be adopting elements of Gypsy culture as a fashionable lifestyle choice. Matras’s primary argument is that majority populations project their fears and insecurities on to Gypsies; indeed, he claims, “Gypsy” has become a brand of sorts, shaped over generations, that has more in common with fairytales than reality.

Although rather academic in tone, this book should nonetheless be required reading for anyone who presumes to have views on Romani Gypsies.

Review by Isabelle Fraser

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