Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh
If you’re like me, you LOVE memoirs about rough childhoods. Maybe it leads to a greater appreciation of one’s own upbringing, or maybe these types of memoirs are effective anti-depressants. (Think your life is bad? Be happy you aren’t picking coal off the streets!)
Gypsy Boy is one such memoir, and while Walsh’s childhood is brutal, his telling of the story is straightforward and in many ways, quite fascinating, as he shares with us the daily life of a truly secretive community: the Gypsies of Britain.
Walsh was born into a family of Romany Gypsies – not the Irish travelers, which are a different group with different origins. His father was a legendary bare-knuckle fighter, and expects the same from his first-born son. Fight training begins at age four – Mikey’s father beats him regularly to teach him how to take a punch. And while his mother objects at first, there is no stopping Mikey’s dad, who also gives regular beatings for disobedience, attempting to avoid training, and losing fights with other gypsy boys, even if they are twice Mikey’s age.
Despite his father’s efforts, this is not Mikey’s destiny. Small and not prone to violence, he eventually learns to defend himself enough to survive the taunts of the non-Gypsy children at school, but he still can’t fight off an uncle who molests him. In addition to all this, Mikey realizes in his early teens that he is gay, and keeping this secret is what ultimately leads him to escape his community.
Is he bitter? No way. What is clear about the memoir is that Mikey loved living as a Gypsy. And anyone who has dreamed of a life off the beaten path will understand this. Gypsy communities are located on the outskirts of cities. They live in wooded areas that offer privacy and seclusion from the non-Gypsy world. Schooling is minimal, the parties are huge, and the family ties are for life. Leaving the Gypsy community means you can never return – and Mikey must eventually decide whether to stay and live a secret life, or risk everything to escape.
Mikey’s story of growing up and surviving his culture is absolutely riveting – I could not turn the pages fast enough. The Gypsies are maligned, stereotyped, hated, and yet romanticized – but no one can REALLY tell their story unless they come from that world. Mikey Walsh (a pseudonym, by the way) tells all, and tells it with heart.
By D @ Main