The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain Hardcover – 7 Jun 2018
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"Tender and intensely lyrical ... the prose is pure delight. The author breathes life into everything he sees ... To read The Stopping Places is to better understand the curious history of the Roma and how they have survived into 21st-century Britain" (Jackie Annesley The Sunday Times)
"A beautiful writer who seems born to tell this fascinating story. It's brilliantly researched, avoiding stereotype and explaining misconceptions, while showing what is vital and special about modern traveller culture" (Amy Liptrot)
"A fine prose style, vividly conjuring the smell of a hop pillow, the whinnying of a horse fair and the ‘wet-look hairstyles’ of the men, as well as the dead cold of a wagon in winter... An element of memoir clings to this excellent account of folk most of us don’t understand... The end of the book hints at redemption, as Le Bas comes to terms with the conflicts of his dual world. But he is too good a writer to make a meal of it" (Sara Wheeler The Spectator)
"An insight into the hidden world and culture of travelling people, written with delicacy and affection" (Ken Loach)
"Beautifully written and deeply affecting… While this is a beautiful, important book about Gypsy culture, it’s also a moving exploration of what it means to belong" (Clover Stroud Daily Telegraph)
"An illuminating journey into a British culture and landscape about which most of us know nothing. This is a beautiful, important and revelatory book from a graceful new voice" (Patrick Barkham)
"Le Bas is a thoughtful writer, observant of nature and with a lovely turn of phrase... by turn lyrical, edgy and wistful... the book is rich with lore and history" (Kathleen Jamie New Statesman)
"I loved Damian Le Bas’s beautiful, questioning memoir, at once an introduction into a hidden world and a profound meditation on belonging and difference" (Olivia Laing)
"He conjures up soaring, poetic descriptions of his surroundings... But The Stopping Places is more than a travelogue. It is also a colourful dive into gypsy culture, history and language... The Stopping Places is an enjoyable and enlightening account of an overlooked part of British society" (The Economist)
"A delicate description of a life split between two identities... Le Bas has a cinematic writing style that shifts between images, memory and history. He deftly traces the origins of his people, the language and persecutions as well as modern British hypocrisies... This is a thoroughly enjoyable read that manages a near-perfect balance of the personal and political" (Morgan Meaker Prospect)
About the Author
Damian Le Bas was born in 1985 into a long line of Gypsies and Travellers. He was raised within a network of relations who taught him how to ride and drive ponies, tractors and trucks, sing melancholy cowboy ballads and speak the thousand-year-old Romani tongue. He was awarded scholarships to study at Christ’s Hospital and the University of Oxford. Between 2011 and 2015 he was the editor of Travellers’ Times, Britain’s only national magazine for Gypsies and Travellers. The Stopping Places is his first book.
Damian lives and works mostly in Kent, with his wife (the actor Candis Nergaard); and Sussex, where he grew up and where his nan – who taught him the old Romany Travellers’ little-known routes and ways – both still live.
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Damian Le Bas, brought up in the midst of his extended Romany family but with a public school education (thanks to a scholarship) and a degree from Oxford, clearly has to sometimes defend himself against suggestions, from both outside and inside the Roma community, that he has become what my mother would describe as 'neither nowt nor summat'.
Sometimes he seems unsure himself despite, as he himself says in an interview I have just read, knowing that you cannot educate away someone's ethnicity.
The Stopping Places looks realistically at what it means to be a Traveller in Britain today when many are no longer nomadic, and the relationship between Roma from across Europe, as well as telling the reader a lot about, particularly, his maternal family.
And he does this whilst on a journey to find the fixed places of each Romany family's life on the road, for there were definitely fixed places; the atchin tans, ‘the stopping places’. It is also, in some ways, a journey to find out more about himself.
None of that really describes the book properly, somehow - the readability, the need to stay up late to read another chapter, is in the way all this is woven together.
If you try to look for Damian Le Bas online you might, at first, be shocked to see mainly obituaries - these are for his father, also Damian Le Bas, who was a well know Traveller artist.
One final note ~ academics agree English Gypsies came from Northern India, but how do we know where they/we came from before? There are Gypsy stories that say they/we lived in these isles in pre-history and I can't completely discount them because Sanskrit which turned up in India fully formed has been found in Syria at an earlier time. Around that area Irish genes are surprisingly common. Tagore said to Yeats that Irish is the same language as Sanskrit. Jasper Lee said the Irish tinkers are in some strange way more Gypsy than Romanichals. Many Irish have red hair and blue or green eyes but the Picts were a people who didn't have written language and were matrilineal and taught the Celts horsemanship, metal work and various arts and crafts and the dark featured Picts (or 'black Irish') more evident on the west coast of Ireland may hold clues as to earlier ancestry.
My only criticism is that the pace is very slow at times, especially in the second half and, in some way, the book fades away disappointingly at the end.
but, in all, well-worth-reading ...