GYPSY BOY by Mikey Walsh


My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies
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Grim, well-told memoir of a boyhood among the much-maligned Romany Gypsy “travelers” of Britain.

The pseudonymous Walsh begins by debunking some well-known myths that have contributed to a pervasive historical bias against Gypsies: “contrary to popular belief, they don’t believe in magic, and the Gypsy ‘curse’ is no more than an age-old way of scaring non-Gypsies into buying something.” Unfortunately, the biographical reality he reveals is more disturbing than the old prejudices. Walsh explains that in the decades following World War II, many Gypsy families prospered and bought land and businesses such as scrapyards, while still maintaining elaborate vehicular “caravans.” He also asserts that within this closed society remain a number of unsavory traditions, like the persistence of elaborate cons to rip off non-Gypsies. The author portrays the men as devious, crude and angry, exemplified by another tradition that caused Walsh much misery: bare-knuckle fighting. This tradition was especially important for Walsh because his father was a third-generation champion; their relationship turned monstrously abusive when Walsh’s father realized his first-born did not display the necessary aggression. Years of torment and beatings followed, along with grisly sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle. By adolescence, Walsh’s realization that he was actually gay made matters worse. He ultimately realized he must escape the confinement of his culture, which inherently necessitated fleeing his family. Despite this framework of personal misery, Walsh writes thoughtfully about his connection to this heritage, focusing on his tangled but less-vicious relationships with his mother, sister, younger brothers and extended family. Walsh tries to end on an uplifting note, but this portrait of violence and ignorance cloaked in cultural tradition may prove hard for readers to shake off.

A poignant memoir that bears comparison to the bestselling Running With Scissors—but better written and far darker.

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-62208-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2011


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