An Eye-Opening Memoir of Growing Up Gypsy
Mikey Walsh was born into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a secluded community, and little is known about their way of life. After centuries of persecution, Gypsies are wary of outsiders, and if you choose to leave you can never come back.Read more...
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An Eye-Opening Memoir of Growing Up Gypsy
Mikey Walsh was born into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a secluded community, and little is known about their way of life. After centuries of persecution, Gypsies are wary of outsiders, and if you choose to leave you can never come back.
This is something Mikey knows only too well.
Growing up, he didn't go to school, he seldom mixed with non-Gypsies, and the caravan became his world. It was a rich and unusual upbringing, but although Mikey inherited a vibrant and loyal culture his family's legacy was bittersweet, with a hidden history of violence and grief. Eventually Mikey was forced to make an agonizing decision--to stay and keep secrets, or escape and find somewhere to belong.
"Gypsy Boy" ""shows, for the first time, what life is really like among the Romany Gypsies. A surprise #1 bestseller in Great Britain, this is a one-of-a-kind memoir of a little-seen world, one both fascinating and heartbreaking.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-10-31
- Reviewer: Staff
First-time author Mikey Walsh provides an unsentimental and compelling look at the louche and brutal culture of Romany Gypsies in the U.K. Walsh’s education began at age four with training as a bare-knuckle boxer, a family tradition. “Training” meant a decade’s worth of his father beating him up. Walsh’s sensitivity left him open to further abuse, both sexual and otherwise. His sole escape was the company of other semiferal Gypsy children and in school; unfortunately, Gypsies frown on school, and he was put to work at age 12 in his father’s scams. Walsh’s realization of his homosexuality drove him to escape a world where he would always be a pariah. Walsh analyzes the grotesqueries of Gypsy life in painful detail—garish trailers, stifling family ties, crime and crudeness, and the constricted options for women who are considered old maids at 21. Yet despite his gruesome experiences, he also praises the fierce loyalty and cultural continuity that have allowed Gypsies to maintain their dignity in the face of hatred for centuries. (Feb.)
A Gypsy boy becomes a man
“Somehow, this time, I would make it work.” That’s the quiet plea of 12-year-old Mikey Walsh, desperate to fit in with his Romany Gypsy family. Such is the power of Walsh’s fantastic memoir, Gypsy Boy, that your heart breaks for his empty hope. Being an outsider is bad enough, but Walsh (a pseudonym) reveals the special hell that is being a pariah in a band of outsiders—and the courage required to start anew.
Walsh’s destiny is sealed as soon as he is born. Like his father, Frank, the boy is meant to become a bare-knuckle boxer, continuing a grand family tradition of clueless pugilists. But it never happens; Mikey never responds to Frank’s abusive boxing lessons, which begin at age four and segue into a bloody blur of nonstop torture. Then Mikey, vulnerable and ignored by his family, becomes the target of his Uncle Joseph’s deviant sexual urges, and can do nothing to stop the much larger man.
In the testosterone-driven Gypsy world, Mikey is an outlier and he’s gay—which is literally life-threatening. If his father ever thought Mikey’s homosexuality was real, “rather than just the worst insult he could think of, he would go ballistic and would, almost certainly, kill me.” Walsh must flee, though he has no idea how; formal education and marrying for love remain mystifying, disdainful concepts in this dangerous environment governed by backward traditions.
Yet it’s the only world he knows, and flowers do bloom there: his salty mom, adventures with his sister, the occasional promising glimpse of friendship. It’s a testament to Walsh’s skill that he portrays his hopelessness so eloquently, without wallowing in sordid self-pity. His understated, lyrical sentences carry the book. You remember the little touches as well as the giant horrors: a magical, midnight car ride to London that serves as Walsh’s youthful salvation, the small gift from a friendly teacher that represents a nearly incomprehensible generosity. “We were all old before our time,” Walsh writes. “That’s the way we lived.”
The last portion of Walsh’s riveting book shows him breaking away from the Gypsy culture. It exacted a heavy price. But as an arts teacher living in London who recently married his partner, Walsh has finally made it work.