Recently, I have been reading the autobiographical (and Sunday Times Bestseller) Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh.
Mikey was born into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a closeted 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 rarely went to school, and seldom mixed with non-Gypsies. The caravan and camp were his world. But although Mikey inherited a vibrant and loyal culture his family’s legacy was bittersweet with a hidden history of grief and abuse. Eventually Mikey was forced to make an agonising decision — to stay and keep secrets, or escape and find somewhere he could truly belong.
As you can probably guess, this book is a rather emotive read and it also gives a fascinating insight into the Romany Gypsy way of life. I think that it helps us non-travelling folk (aka ‘Gorgias’) to understand the Gypsy view points, and highlights that there is a big distinction between Romany Gypsies and the apparently more disruptive Irish Travellers with whom the Romany Gypsies are oft mistaken with.
Of course, it is incredibly hard for me, as a reviewer, to review a book such as this. What one has to remember above everything else is that this is Mikey’s real life story that I am discussing, and I would never seek to belittle his experiences or worse, to patronise him. If I make any clumsy comments, I hope that they’re not taken in such veins.
Many people may remember A Child Called It series of frankly horrific books that burned themselves into your memory, and like me, you may be expecting Gypsy Boy to share experiences and emotions of that scale. However, what Mikey’s book admirably does is to remain remarkably upbeat, even when describing some pretty shocking stuff, and ultimately Gypsy Boy still seeks to defend and explain the Romany Gypsy way of life, despite the story that Mikey has to tell. There is not one trace of bitterness in the book, and I can openly say that I think that makes Mikey Walsh a better man than I am – I really don’t think that I’d be able to be so forgiving or strong having gone through the experiences described in this book.
Having been totally immersed in the story of Mikey Walsh and his gypsy upbringing for several days now whilst I was reading the book, I found the writing style very effective – I wasn’t really sat on the 07:57 train into London, instead I was sat in a gypsy caravan in Reading or getting ready to join a travelling convoy whilst playing with Mikey and his beloved He-Man toys. There still remains some romanticism about the gypsy way of life (maybe I read too many Enid Blyton books as a child!), and so I found it very easy to get swept into this book, to identify with the colourful cast of characters in Mikey’s life, and to hang on his every word.
I think the book would also be an inspirational read for fellow gay people, especially those struggling with the idea of ‘coming out’. Although the book is not really about Mikey’s sexuality, it does come into it quite strongly in places, and I think that it shows that above everything else, and despite inherent prejudices or fears of abandonment, things can work out much better than you’d expect.
Regular readers of Attitude magazine may recall the awesome interview that they ran with Mikey in their issue last year (requires a quick registration with the Attitude website to read).
If you are considering your next book to read, I would strongly suggest this book.
I was very lucky to have conversed fairly frequently with Mikey via twitter recently – I think that I was one of his first followers. I have no idea how he came across my twitter account to start following me, I can only presume that it was because of my love of 80s cartoons which, from reading Gypsy Boy, it is evident we shared. I’d certainly go along with the notion that He-Man was the best (but I still throw in Thundercats as being equally as good!). I noticed that several of my twitter-friends also started to get in contact with him and it seemed that he had a lot in common with us all. Alas, when I came to tweet to him last night to tell him that I’d finished his book, I noticed that he’d disappeared, which was a huge shame, having only chatted in 140 character sentences for a few weeks. Hopefully he’ll re-surface sometime soon and he’ll get to read this blog post.
I don’t think that it would be spoiling Gypsy Boy to say that I am very happy that things have worked out very well for Mikey. In all the interviews that he’s given, he’s always commented on how happy he now is, and the book itself even opens with this. Now a thirty year old man with his whole life ahead of him, one can only want to wish him continued success and I am sure that we’re all thrilled that he managed to get his ‘happily ever after’.
‘Gypsy Boy’ is published by Hodder, and is out now at all good bookshops and online retailers.