The Gypsies (aka ‘Roma’ or ‘Rom’) are much maligned and misunderstood. Two books written by the Belgian Jan Yoors present the nomads of Europe in a positive and life-enhancing light.
Here are my reviews of his two books.
I first learned of the existence of this extraordinarily fascinating book by Jan Yoors when I was reading Fonseca's book about gypsies (Roma), "Bury me Standing". Published in 1967, this book is available from on-line second-hand stores.
Sometime in between the 2 world wars, Jan Yoor, a young Belgian teenager, did something very unusual. He ran away with the gypsies. He joined a group ('kumpania') of Roma camping near to his home, and was eventually adopted by them. His understanding parents did not seem to mind him being away from home and school for long periods whilst he wandered around Europe with his new companions.
Yoor's first-hand experiences of living the life of a young gypsy were not wasted. Years later, he described them in his book "The Gypsies". His account of living with the Roma is detailed and seems accurate. Yet, it is not a dispassionate anthropological study. As I read his book, I felt that I was almost experiencing the trials and tribulations of life on the road with the gypsies. Yoors shows a deep understanding of the subtleties of the Roma mentality, and describes their beliefs, traditions, and daily life, exquisitely. At times, his writing has a poetic quality, yet it never becomes trite or flowery. The Roma could not have wished for a more sympathetic yet objective description of their lives than that written by Yoors.
Read this gracious book, and you will see the Roma in an entirely new light.
This book is written by the Belgian Jan Yoors. It is the second of his books that I have read. In his first book “The Gypsies” he describes how he began living with a gypsy (Rom) ‘cumpania’ as a teenager, and begun to learn about their ways of life whilst they gradually accepted him as one of their own kind. In the second book, “Crossing”, Yoors, by now regarded as a fully-fledged Rom by the cumpania that had adopted him and also by other Rom that he met, writes about his experiences with the Rom community during the Second World War (‘WW2’).
The Allied authorities fighting the Germans realised that the Rom were eminently suited to assist the efforts of the Resistance in France. Monsieur Henri recruits Yoors to become an intermediary between the Rom and the mysterious groups who worked incognito to organise acts of resistance against the Germans. All goes well for a while, but inevitably Yoors is arrested by the Nazi security police.
As in his first book, Yoors writes lyrically and sensitively about the Rom and what he learned about their idiosyncratic philosophy of life. It was what he learnt from his fellow Rom that helped him survive the most horrendous imprisonment and interrogations.
The last and very exciting part of the book describes Yoors’s role in smuggling people from Axis-occupied Europe across the Pyrenees into Franco’s neutral Spain.
After the war, Yoors became an artist in the USA, specialising in tapestry. This book, like his first, is a work of - art a fascinating tapestry of words beautifully woven together.