Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh
|Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: Gays are reviled in Romany culture, so when Mikey falls in love with Gorgia, Caleb, he is challenging his family in every way. Mikey decides that his only choice is to leave. His anguish at being on the run laces his hard-hitting story with drama and pathos.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 308||Date: July 2011|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
I was surprised to find that Gypsy Boy on the Run is Mikey Walsh's second autobiographical book. The book stands alone as a very satisfying read,and there isn't really any feeling that vast chunks of his life have been left out – although presumably his first book Gypsy Boy, has more detail on Mikey's childhood as a travelling Romany Gipsy.
In this book, Mikey starts from the moment he flees the family caravan to live openly in Liverpool with his friend, Caleb. A charge of homosexuality is the worst invective that can be flung at another man and to come out as gay in the Romany culture is impossible. After their escape, both Mikey and Caleb are pursued by hit men, armed with such weapons as diamond-studded knuckleduster jewellry. Shockingly, Mikey's father, Frank, has put a price on Mikey's head and set whole gangs searching for his son, to punish him and bring him back into line. Caleb is beaten up several times in an attempt to scare him off. That Mikey survives on his own, thrives in a city environment and even manages to educate himself well enough to write two books is down to his force of character and a dose of gritty pragmaticism that you can't help but admire.
Why did I enjoy this book so much? Well, first it's an immediate page turner, with Mikey's escape and the conflict with his Dad, spilling over with adrenaline from the very first pages. He sets a fast pace which rarely slows. One of my delights in reading is to be swept to the end of a story by a good storyteller who insists that I keep on reading!
I appreciated the authenticity of Mikey's account. What a hard, muddy life in the dirtier corners of our society. No middle-class namby-pambyism here about the cultural heritage of a vanishing way of life. This story is about a childhood as hard as it gets in this day and age. Romany tradition emphasises gender stereotyping, so Mikey's sister is dressed in frocks and learns to clean and cook. Meanwhile, Mikey is trained to withstand physical punishment so that he will take his rightful place in his family of renowned fighters. Physical force is the weapon of choice to instil his fathers' fierce discipline on all the kids.
Mikey's relatives live together and work in close-knit groups: Mikey speaks casually of family shoplifting expeditions and his father's cowboy builder tactics with old people who he happily cons out of their savings. It's shocking, too, that a twelve or thirteen year old is of working age; Mikey's early introduction to driving, drinking and smoking follow inevitably. These Romany boys are presented as tough, big and strong with any emotional intelligence drummed out of them. As they have dropped out of school so early, mostly they are functionally illiterate too. Mikey is different in that he has grown up sensitive to the feelings of others in his family, and as the reader, you're really rooting for him to succeed in his new life.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to peer at our Gorgia society from the outside in. Seeing things from the other point of view is a salutary experience.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.
Suggestions for further reading
If you are interested in their traditional lifestyle, Eva Petulengro's autobiography, The Girl in the Painted Caravan gives another, more positive view of Romany life.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh at Amazon.com.
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