Gypsy Boy

Mikey, call me!

Okay, sorry about that but I had to.  I finished the ARC of Gypsy Boy before Christmas, but I had to let this bubble for a bit.  And now, for the requisite cliche:  I laughed, I cried, he had me at the first paragraph.  Anyone who can, wiht tangible warmth and affection, describe his grandmother as an oger is a guy I want to spend time listening to . . . so I did, much to my delight.

Mikey Walsh is a pseudonym for this remarkable young man, who grew up a soft-hearted, kind young boy in a culture that demanded he be a cold, tough fighter, the Romany gypsy community in Britain.  Surrounded by the perfect set of “characters” for a memoirist, but a nightmare family come to horrifying life for a sensitive boy.  Mikey’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt they  just don’t quite “fit” in their family, their culture, or the world in general.

As anyone who has felt that “otherness” knows, life is far from a sitcom script, and Mikey’s was likely worse than most.  There are portions of his story that are literally gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to read.  I can’t even imagine what they were to live.

Is there a happy ending to Mikey’s story?  As in all real life stories – kinda.  I think he would say yes.  A fairy-tale happy ending?  Nope.  He is making his way through life, day by day, working as a teaching assistant in a school for special needs children, a post I bet he is fabulous at.  It also allows him ot fill in the yawning gaps in his widely intermittent formal schooling.

Perhaps what I find most remarkable is two-fold.  First, that with so very little education, Mikey Walsh’s voice is clear and compelling, more engaging than any I’ve read in a long, long time.  It is that voice that left me feeling both like I know him intimately, and wishing that I knew him better.  Second, he has to be one of the most genuinely loving and forgiving souls ever to walk this planet.  With all the truly horrific abuse heaped on him from as young as two or three years old at the hands of those who should have been protecting him, even after being what it is me inexcusably neglected by those who didn’t physically harm him but blatantly turned their backs, refusing to intervene, and the betrayal by those he trusted most deeply who turned their backs on him when he needed them most, Mikey still looks on them with a deep and abiding love, seeking to find the reasons for their pain and choosing to forgive and engage with them, even after being hunted as s fugitive for years at their order.  There is much to learn from a heart this magnanimous.

The highest compliment I can think of for a memoirist is this: I want to meet this  man, to spend time talking, laughing and learning together, not about his past, but just to share lives as friends.  And Mikey, should this ever make its way to your attention:  Please, please, please, do not stop writing.  Have at non-fiction, fiction, plays or screenplays, whatever.  The world needs your voice, your humor, and your wisdom.  I, for one, will be waiting.

Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies, by Mikey Walsh, is due to be released by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press this coming February, 2012.


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