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The Heroic Present: Life Among the Gypsies
Synopses & Reviews
As a boy of twelve, Jan Yoors fulfilled many an adventurous youth's fantasy when he left his comfortable Belgian home to live and travel with a tribe, or kumpania, of Gypsies. Adopted into the extended family of Pulika, Yoors passed his days with the patriarch's sons and nephews, learning the traditions and participating in the rituals of the Gypsies, or Romani. As the years passed, he divided his life between the world of his birth, where he became a noted tapestry artist, filmmaker, and war hero, and the world of the Romani, where he returned regularly for more than five decades.
Yoors was also a gifted writer and photographer: his memoir, The Gypsies, is a riveting account of his life with the Romani; his many hundreds of images — most of them never before published — document the personalities and daily existence of his kumpania. The Heroic Present: Life Among the Gypsies brings together Yoors's photographs and excerpts from his memoir. The nuanced portrait details the rhythms of life among the Romani; the exceptional occurrences of birth, marriage, and death; and the highly codified system of conduct of the Gypsies. Roadside caravans, evening meals, multifamily feasts, village fairs, convocations of the kris (the Romani tribunal of justice), and wedding celebrations: all are powerfully evoked in both word and image. Comprehensive and vivid, expressive and lyrical, this volume is testimony to the author's remarkable facility with language — both written and visual — and an unequalled portrait of daily life among the Gypsies.
Belgian-born Jan Yoors, who would grow up to become an acclaimed artist, photographer, and writer, ran away from home at age twelve, in 1934, to join a kumpania (band) of Roma, or Gypsies, near Antwerp. He spent several years traveling with the Roma and returned to the group for extended periods in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, he published The Gypsies, a first-hand account of life among the Roma by one of the few outsiders ever to be accepted into their ranks. His writings, at once clear-sighted and warmhearted, detached and engaged, demonstrate an acute understanding of Romani life and remain required reading for any study of the Roma. The Heroic Present brings together excerpts from The Gypsies and from Yoors's unpublished works with photographs of the Roma taken by Yoors over more than forty years--in France, Spain, Hungary, Romania, Greece, and India--that reveal the daily fabric of life: intimate rituals of birth, marriage, and death and large, joyful celebrations. Also included is an essay be renowned Roma historian Ian Hancock that elucidates the position occupied by the Roma, notably the Lovari Romanies, with whom Yoors lived. Comprehensive and vivid, visual and literary, The Heroic Present is an unequaled portrait of daily life among the Gypsies, revealing a rich culture that has endured for centuries.
About the Author
Jan Yoors was born in Antwerp, Belgium; trained as a sculptor in Brussels; and became an acclaimed tapestry artist and weaver in New York. He is the author of The Gypsies and Crossing: A Journal of Survival and Resistance in World War II.
Ian Hancock was born in England of British and Hungarian Romani descent and has been active in the Romani movement since the 1960s. He is professor of Romani studies and director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
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