“Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies” by Mikey Walsh— Growing Up Gypsy

gypsy boy

Walsh, Mikey. “Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012.

Growing Up Gypsy

Amos Lassen

The Romany Gypsies live in a secluded community and there is not much known about them. They are wary of outsiders since they have so long been persecuted. If someone leaves the community, he is never allowed to return and this is what Mikey Walsh knew. As a child, he did not go to school and did not mix with those who were non-Gypsies. He had a rich upbringing that was filled with tradition but his world was a caravan. His legacy was somewhat bittersweet with a mixture of grief and violence that was hidden and he knew he had to make a decision—to stay and live with the secrets or to leave and to find a place to belong.

We see for the first time what life is like with the Gypsies. It is a little seen world that tears at the heartstrings and fascinates at the same time. This is a very dark memoir and reading it feels voyeuristic. We have all heard stories about the Gypsies and so we approach this with preconceived ideas and we read about a lifestyle that is cloistered. Yet this is a personal story—it is Mikey’s story, the tale of a misfit among other misfits. Mikey wins us over and we root for him as we read his story of love, hate and abuse.

Mikey’s Gypsy family lived in the United Kingdom and a lot of what we read here is quite shocking. The family ties are stifling and suffocating, the relationships are crude, there is crime and women have few options but to marry. The communities are loyal and the way they are fun allows for the people to maintain a sense of dignity in a world that does not want them. (I found the community similar to some of the Orthodox Jewish communities who have not changed their lifestyles in hundreds of years).”From family violence to the horrors of cockfighting, from stealing bikes from the local sports center to squeezing juice out of slugs as a remedy for warts, Mikey makes the gaudy world of Romany Gypsies in the U.K. erupt into life, interspersing these scenes with moments of tenderness and goofy comedy.”

Interestingly enough, the reviews for this book have been rather poor and one reviewer even stated that it is written as a screenplay and we should be seeing the movie soon. I do not agree that the book is not what it promises to me. Some seem to think that Walsh wrote this to bring up the abuse that he suffered at the hands o his father and that might, indeed be true. But it is so much more than that. Maybe we do not get to be let onto the secrets of the Gypsies but we do get the story of one man’s life and a look at the life in a Gypsy community. It’s hard to believe that this world exists within our world, but it does. We also see the importance of accepting those who differ from the mainstream and what an unbelievable effect we can have on others.

When Mikey was born his father felt that his dreams had actually become real—he now had a son to carry the family legacy and he immediately began to plan for his son to become a fighter. However, Mikey didn’t match his tough, sadistic father’s ideals, and soon his young life was one torment after another. His father beat him daily as did bullies. Mikey’s own uncle began a campaign of tortures against him and Mikey suffered in silence. But there were other secrets aside from the abuse. When he was a teen, he fell in love but this love was not tolerated and certainly not accepted in Gypsy culture. Mikey was gay and because of this he would have to pay the price of being cast out of his community—the only world he ever knew.

I personally love the book and I certainly learned from it. Walsh wrote it to show us a world we do not know and there is a lot to be said for that. It is wonderful that reading allows us to go so many places and learn so much.

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