I have just read the most extraordinary book, an autobiography written by a gypsy or a boy from the rom people. On the book’s cover it says that he is from a Romany Gypsy family.
The book is called “Gypsy Boy” and became a best seller in England when it was published in 2009.
I have always been fascinated by the gypsies as many others. I guess I have thought it quite romantic to travel around like that. I have liked the women’s colorful dresses and long hair and I have come to appreciate their music. Every first weekend in September there is this Iagori Gypsy Festival in Oslo organized by Raya and her family.
I’ve been there many times and always come out with new energy and joy after watching the dances and listening to their music. Raya then says that we can call them gypsies even though the official name is Roma.
We don’t have many gypsies in Norway, but I have learnt to know their music in Russia and Eastern Europe first through the classical Russian literature, music and films. Later on I started to listen to The Balkan gypsy music and Hungarian. Singers like Esma Redzepova and Emir Kustirica’s Non Smoking Orchestra are some of them.
I have read books about the gypsies, Raya’s biography and Isabel Fonseca’s Bury me standing, so when I saw this book at Waterstone’s in London, I knew it would be interesting.
The book’s author is Mikey Walsh, or that is what he calls himself in the book.
It’s a Romani family in England and Mikey tells about his growing up in this family with a father who wants his son to become a fighter so he pushes him into the boxing ring from he is 5-6 years old. But Mikey doesn’t want to fight. “I’m a lover not a fighter”, he says about himself using a quote from Michael Jackson.
Life in the camp is hard but also colorful and warm with tight connections inwards in the family. The father trying to find work around the place they camp, the mother and sister at home cleaning and cooking, a very traditional life. So traditional that you are not allowed to do anything else than your ancestors have done for ages.
But they also listen to music, watch films and TV and lie in front of the TV for the soap operas. On day the mother comes home with new music and I could not resist quoting this from the book:
“Mum introduced us to Michael Jackson, who would be blasted throughout the camp from our speakers as we sang along to “Thriller”, Frankie doing Michael and me roaring the monster sounds and miming the Vincent Price bit. We practically wore out the tape of the music video, which our mother had bought for us, joyously watching over and over again, practicing the dance moves and debating which zombie was the coolest and the prettiest.”
But life gets harder and harder for Mikey. He and his sister are sent to school but they have difficulties in behaving like the others and are often sent away. But Mikey loves to learn and one teacher is especially kind to him so he looks forward to go to school but then they move on again and it’s all over.
We hear about how the children grow up to adult life very early, how they start smoking at about 10-12 years of age, how the girls are not allowed to see other boys or talk about sex until they marry and that should be before 18 years.
Then Mikey understands that he is different and that he is gay. This is not tolerated in the gypsy community so he understands that he can never tell anyone.
His uncle has abused him since he was very small and when he tries to tell his father he will not listen and is only beaten more. There is a lot of violence and hard to read about. Nothing romantic about this life!
At 15 Mikey manages to run away from home, but his father does everything he can to find him so that Mikey has to hide. But after some time he manages to get an education and live a life. And after some years he misses his family, especially his mother, so much that he gets in contact with her and we hear that he also has contact to his father.
But there are others in the gypsy world who wants to take him so he has to hide.
One British newspaper has made an interview with him where it is clear he does not want his picture to be taken.
That Mikey decided to write this book is what is most extraordinary. Many will not believe that this story is true, and perhaps there is a lot of fiction in it. Anyway this story is very well written and a page turner so this young man shows that it is possible to come from the gypsy community and become a writer. They are not only musicians. I enjoyed the book very much even though it was hard to read many times about their harsh every day life.