Title: Gypsy Boy
Author: Mikey Walsh
Publication Year: 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Purchased from the bookstore in Gatwick Airport
From the cover:
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.
I have to admit that, as a Canadian who had never been to Europe until last year, I know next to nothing about “real” Gypsies. My first encounter with a Gypsy was probably this summer when I was travelling in Greece, and these encounters continued throughout my trip. So when I spotted this book at Gatwick Airport on my way back home, I knew that I had to pick it up.
Gypsy Boy is a fascinating look at Walsh’s experience growing up in a Gypsy family. While it doesn’t exactly shed much light on the overall culture of the community – something that I definitely struggled with, since he kept saying that he loved the culture and way of life, but didn’t elaborate – it does do a great job of illustrating his family life. That’s really where the strength of this book lies. As you hear about his family, particularly the way that Walsh is treated by his father for not being the stereotypical “butch” Gypsy boy, you really start to empathize with anyone caught in this kind of family or culture. By about halfway through, I just wanted to wrap Walsh up into a big hug and not let him go.
I’d recommend this book as a memoir of someone trying to escape an abusive father/family environment, but I wouldn’t go so far as to tell you that you will learn much about Gypsy culture. Walsh has written a second book, a follow-up that describes how he was hunted down for abandoning his community, and I might pick that up at some point in time. But for now, Gypsy Boy was enough for me. And if you like memoirs about people struggling through and eventually escaping difficult lives, you might enjoy it too.