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Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies Hardcover – February 14, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Brash and frightening and funny -- tonally, think of Frank McCourt meeting Axl Rose.” ―The New York Times

“In this violent yet often comic memoir, Walsh writes of life as an English Gypsy.... Gypsy Boy feels, in all its cocky, awkward affection and anguish, like the real deal.” ―The Boston Globe

“A poignant memoir that bears comparison to the bestselling Running With Scissors--but better written and far darker.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“The earthy, violent, funny memoir of a gypsy boy in England. It's absolutely riveting, un-put-downable.” ―Anne Lamott, The Miami Herald

“He's an irresistible guide through this secret world, and the tour is strongly recommended.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“This book is the extraordinary story of how a young man found his way in the secretive and illusive world of Romany Gypsies. ... Written with insight and a powerful and at times shocking narrative, this is an incredible book about a young man's courage and his pride in his family and culture.” ―Tucson Citizen

“Absolutely can't be missed. If you're up for a funny, brutal, sharp memoir, this is the book you want.” ―Long Island Pulse Magazine

“His story is shocking, eye-opening, but finally triumphant. And remarkable.” ―Hudson Valley News

Gypsy Boy tells the poignant story of a boy living in an unusual and secretive environment of shoplifting, boxing, and virtual illiteracy, a boy who desperately wants to please his abusive father but all the while grapples with his own clandestine issues. This extraordinary memoir about resilience and the human spirit is a rare glimpse into a world few of us can imagine.” ―The Advocate

“Absolutely can't be missed. If you're up for a funny, brutal, sharp memoir, this is the book you want.” ―The Washington Blade

“A sobering and compelling portrait of Gypsy life that is written by an insider.” ―The National

“Harrowing ... exposes disturbing connections between culture and abuse.” ―The Washington Post

“An inside look at the Gypsy world through the eyes of a Gypsy.... Read this book, and you'll never look at, or think of, a Gypsy in the same way.” ―The Washington Times

“This stunning childhood memoir takes readers into the insular culture of Romany Gypsies. … It is astounding that Walsh survived such brutality, without emotional support or formal education, to pen this unflinching but oddly generous memoir, demonstrating a respectful attitude toward Romany culture and affection toward his family.” ―Library Journal

“This is a wonderfully readable tale of love, abuse, and eventual escape--all lived in the heart of an English Gypsy family. The father is one of the most frightening figures I've encountered in years.” ―Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story

“Reading Gypsy Boy, I felt invited into a secret society. I've always found Gypsies mysterious and even slightly dangerous, and Mikey Walsh does an excellent job describing the cloistered lifestyle and fascinating traditions of the Romany people. Moreover, Mikey's personal story of being a misfit among misfits is both compelling and universal. I cheered for him every step of the way.” ―Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land

“A revelation. Moving, terrifying, funny and brilliant. I shall never forget it--an amazing achievement.” ―Stephen Fry

“Touching, insightful, funny, and incredibly shocking.” ―Heat magazine (UK)

“Best memoir since Running with Scissors.” ―Attitude

“Gypsy Boy sits somewhere between the grittiness of Irvine Welsh and the charming warmth of Frank McCourt.” ―Dermot O'Leary, television and radio presenter, The X Factor

“Mikey Walsh provides an unsentimental and compelling look at the louche and brutal culture of Romany Gypsies in the U.K. ... Walsh analyzes the grotesqueries of Gypsy life in painful detail--garish trailers, stifling family ties, crime and crudeness, and the constricted options for women who are considered old maids at 21. Yet despite his gruesome experiences, he also praises the fierce loyalty and cultural continuity that have allowed Gypsies to maintain their dignity in the face of hatred for centuries.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A gripping and heartfelt page-turner.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“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.” ―Shelf Awareness

“Fantastic.” ―Bookpage

About the Author

Mikey Walsh left the Gypsy community and moved to London. It is the longest he's ever stayed in one place. He taught himself to read and write and now works at a primary school, where he works as a teaching aid, and also picks up the formal education he missed out on as a child.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312622082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312622084
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan L. Chase VINE VOICE on February 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the past few years, there have been literary scandals in which it has been revealed that stories reported to be memoirs of deeply troubled individuals have been made up out of whole cloth. So, any discerning reader much approach a pseudonymous work with some degree of skepticism. Having laid that caveat on the table, I must say that I found "Gypsy Boy" to be both deeply troubling and deeply moving. The degree of violence that made up the every day life of "Mikey Walsh" is almost unimaginable. From the age of five, the young boy from a historic Romany family living in England experienced savage beating from his father - all aimed toward preparing him to inherit the crown as one of the Gypsy communities top bare knuckle fighter. But Mikey was wired differently than other Gypsy males, and suffered humiliation of every sort - physical, verbal, emotional and sexual.

As a teenager, he finally found a champion who helped him to escape from this dark world. he writes now as an adult looking back on his troubled past with equal parts loathing and nostalgia. I agree with other reviewers who have likened Walsh's memoir to "Angela's Ashes" and "Running with Scissors." He shines a light into a dark corner of the world that is seldom accessible to outsiders. His courage and honesty are laudable.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was excited to read Gypsy Boy: the description sounded fascinating, and the reviews have been extremely positive, but it wasn't the read I was hoping for.

While the story is an honest (one hopes) retelling of what by anyone's account was a horrible childhood, it felt less engaging that I hoped it would; a collection of terrible tales from childhood that could have occurred in many places with less of a connection to Mikey than I wanted to feel.

The promises of new insights into Romany culture were a bit overblown as well: I didn't learn anything I didn't already know or suspect (and I'm not exactly an expert), and every negative stereotype about Gypsies was reinforced with nothing particularly positive ever described.

And that's one of the oddest things about the book: Mikey claims to love Gyspy culture, and to be proud to be a Gypsy. But reading the book gives no indication of WHY he feels that way. He was beaten regularly, treated like garbage by the vast majority of Gypsies (he rarely had a friend), and was ultimately forced to flee and change his name to avoid the contract his own father put out on him.

The culture is portrayed as excessively violent, bigoted, criminal and absurdly sexist. In short, a culture that appears to have completely failed to evolve in any way over the last hundred years. What Mikey finds in all of this to be proud of I don't know, because he just never says. And frankly, I would have loved to hear it.

I am sickened by what happened to Mikey and glad that he has reportedly found some peace, happiness and acceptance. But that doesn't change the fact that I just couldn't connect enough with him and his story for it to get beyond feeling like an unpleasantly voyeuristic look at a horrible childhood in a thoroughly unlikeable culture.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The pseudonymous Mikey Walsh had a childhood that could only be described as brutal. His father wanted Mikey to be the heir to a bare-knuckles champion dynasty. This included training that began at age 5, being regularly beaten up by his father to try and build up that fighting spirit. The fact that Mikey was not going to be a star fighter, angered his father even more and led to constant beatings. Mikey also endured sexual abuse from an uncle. Mikey describes a harsh world that both feared and hated non-Gypsies. The men were expected to fight, drink, marry young, and earn income usually through criminal enterprises. Mikey's father specialized in a type of driveway paving that involved lying about the initial cost, and then laying diluted tar, that would dissolve in the next big rain. The women were housewives, for the most part, who kept their caravan's sparkling clean, and raised the children. Facing discrimination even, when he did on occasionally attend school, Mikey was trapped by this closed society. However, Mikey was gay, and the homophobic Gypsy world hated gays even more than non-Gypsies. His only chance at a free life was to run away from home. This probably saved his life (although for awhile his father did take out a contract on him), and allowed him to come into his own. Functionally illiterate at age 15, this book illustrates how he not only learned to read and write as an adult, but to be able to tell compelling stories.
Mikey describes a world that is foreign to most of his readers, yet lurks just outside their door. By describing with harsh honesty the world of the English Gypsy, he lifts the curtain on a culture that many know nothing about.
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I hate to fall into cliche in this review, but two spring to mind... "It will make you laugh, it will make you cry" and "You won't be able to put it down." But I can't think of anything more accurate to say about this curious and compelling memoir from Mikey Walsh.

Mikey's story grabs you from the start, his conversational style of writing and colourful descriptions of his life growing up (starting with his hilarious birth) will have you immersed in his world immedietely. Mikey is a Romany Gypsy and his story revolves around his upbringing in this harsh, colourful, secretive and sometimes brutal world. Mikey's story unfortunately is quite a harrowing one and although it is a quick and well paced story it can hardly be described as an "easy read." However, do not let this discourage you from buying this book as you will truly be missing out on something unique and special.

The thing that saves this book from falling into the over-crowded "misery lit" category of the shelf, is the brilliant, light and humourous way Mikey tells his tale. His life was hard, yes, but it was also hilarious, ironic and interesting. He tells the story like it happened, matter of fact, good and bad. Where he succeeds in the tone of the book is that he doesn't dwell or languish in the darkness, and is quick to point out the beauty and the boisterousness of his childhood as well. Also, anyone who grew up or lived through the 80s will revel in the pop culture references (tv shows, toys, films, celebrities) that define and shape Mikey's understanding of the "outside" world as he grows up.

A truly touching, wonderful little book that will tug on your heartstings and one of the few books that has made me laugh out loud, I highly recommend it and am very much looking forward to what other offerings we can see in the future from Mr. Walsh.
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