Speckled People: A Memoir od a Half-Irish Childhood

Speckled People: A Memoir od a Half-Irish Childhood

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by Hugo Hamilton
     
 

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"We wear Aran Sweaters and Lederhosen. We are forbidden from speaking English. We are trapped in a language war. We are the Speckled People." In one of the most original memoirs to emerge in years, Hugo Hamilton tells the haunting story of his German-Irish childhood in 1950s Dublin. His Gaelic-speaking, Irish nationalist father rules the home with tyranny, while

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Overview

"We wear Aran Sweaters and Lederhosen. We are forbidden from speaking English. We are trapped in a language war. We are the Speckled People." In one of the most original memoirs to emerge in years, Hugo Hamilton tells the haunting story of his German-Irish childhood in 1950s Dublin. His Gaelic-speaking, Irish nationalist father rules the home with tyranny, while his German-speaking mother rescues her children with cakes and stories of her own struggle against Nazi Germany. Out on the streets of Dublin is another country, where they are taunted as Nazis and subjected to a mock Nuremberg trial. Through the eyes of a child, this rare and shockingly honest book gradually makes sense of family, language, and identity, unlocking at last the secrets that his parents kept in the wardrobe.

Editorial Reviews

Nuala O'Faolain
“An astonishing account, both delicate and strong, of great issues of twentieth-century Europe, modern Ireland, and family everywhere.”
A.L. Kennedy
“A prize—delicate, achingly well-observed and wonderfully moving.”
Colum McCann
“A masterful piece of work—timely, inventive, provocative and perfectly weighted. Don’t be surprised if it becomes a classic.”
Patrick McCabe
“A memoir of warmth and wisdom...tender and profound and, best of all, tells the truth. I loved it.”
Margaret Forster
“Full of several different kinds of passion with a real tragedy at its heart.”
Joseph O'Connor
"A fine and timely book from an exquisitely gifted writer...beautiful, subtle, unflashy, perfectly realized and quite extraordinarily powerful."
Joseph O’Connor
“A fine and timely book from an exquisitely gifted writer...beautiful, subtle, unflashy, perfectly realized and quite extraordinarily powerful.”
GQ
“The long wait for this most talented novelist to cast his eye over his homeland has been worth it.”
Irish Times
“A wonderful, subtle, problematic and humane book....about Ireland...about a particular family...about alternatives and complexities anywhere.”
Orlando Sentinel
“A complex and layered story, intriguingly different from all those other Irish-childhood memoirs.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Unlike most Irish memoirs, this one is devoid of sentimentality. Which doesn’t make it any the less heartrending. ”
Independent
“Evocative, agitating and inspiriting, Speckled People sticks up for diversity and principled dissent...extending the scope of Irish memoir.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“A memoir of childhood that often reads like a craftily composed work of fiction.”
Irish Voice
“Hamilton’s most successful book to date, after building up a fine reputation as a novelist.”
New York Newsday
“A fine reminder that there are many ways of being Irish.”
New York Times Book Review
“Hamilton’s style is an engaging mix of the salty and literary.”
Washington Post
“An astonishing achievement...a landmark in Irish nonfiction…a masterpiece.”
Roddy Doyle
“The most gripping book I’ve read in ages...a fascinating, disturbing and often very funny memoir.”
The New York Times
The author of this painful, funny, densely beautiful memoir grew up in a household so at odds with itself and the world around it, the wonder is he was able to piece together any identity for himself at all, let alone write a book of such piercing cogency. As it happens, Hugo Hamilton has written several books -- literary novels as well as a couple of crime thrillers -- and the rare quality of this memoir owes much to his novelistic skills, not least his handling of the child's point of view throughout, with its luminously uncomprehending attentiveness to adult behavior. — James Lasdun
The Washington Post
Though Hugo Hamilton's story will mesmerize anyone whose identity mixes cultures or marks them as out of place in that place called home, the lyrical power of his writing stamps his story not as journalism but as literature -- and great literature at that. The Speckled People is an astonishing achievement, clearly a landmark in Irish nonfiction; and I cannot shake the conviction that for many years to come, it will be seen as a masterpiece. — Trevor Butterworth
Publishers Weekly
"I know what it's like to lose, because I'm Irish and I'm German," explains Hamilton in this beautiful memoir of a mixed childhood in the years after WWII. Hamilton's father says they are speckled, breac in Gaelic: spotted like a trout. With an Irish father and a German mother, Hamilton comes to Ireland as a boy in the 1950s and finds a homeland that will never fully accept him. Other children call him "Kraut" and "Nazi" and taunt him with "Sieg Heil!" salutes. Yet Hamilton is in many ways more Irish than they. His father never allows him to speak English and insists the family use the Gaelic form of their last name (O hUrmoltaigh), which many of their neighbors can't even pronounce. Despite these efforts, Hamilton knows, "we'll never be Irish enough." There is much in this Irish memoir that's familiar to the genre: the dark, overwhelming father; the tragic mother; the odd mix of patriotism and self-loathing ("the hunger strike and Irish coffee" are the country's greatest inventions, Hamilton's father says). But the book is never clich d, thanks largely to Hamilton's frankly poetic language and masterful portrait of childhood. This is really a book about how children see the world: the silent otherworld at the bottom of a swimming pool, the terror of a swarm of bees, the strangeness of a city transformed by snow. By turns lyrical and elegiac, this memoir is an absorbing record of a unique childhood and a vanishing heritage. (May) Forecast: A blurb from Roddy Doyle, ads in Irish newspapers and an author tour to Boston and New York ensures Hamilton's book will surface on the Irish memoir radar screen. It was published in the U.K. earlier this year and garnered rave reviews. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In an attempt to deal with his troubled past, novelist Hamilton (Sad Bastard; Headbanger) offers powerful reminiscences of searching for identity while growing up in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s. Half-Irish and half-German (hence "speckled") in an English-speaking society, he and his trilingual siblings were isolated from the world around them. Their father, a fanatic Irish nationalist, allowed no English to be spoken at home; Irish was preferred but German permitted as their mother's language. Because of their German heritage, other children attacked them as Nazis; because they spoke Irish, they were taunted as mired in the country's past. Meanwhile, the mother was wrestling with ghosts from her own past in Nazi Germany, details of which her children learned slowly. Events are reported from a child's perspective in a quasi-stream of consciousness style, reminiscent of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well as the obvious point of comparison, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. Despite the seriousness of the content, this compelling book has its share of humor. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Denise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist Hamilton ('Sad Bastard,' 2002, etc.) recalls childhood in Dublin with a German mother and an Irish father so intensely chauvinistic he would not allow English to be spoken in his home. As one of the "speckled people" (not purely Irish), the author suffered especially for his German blood in post-WWII Dublin. Other youngsters labeled his brother "Hitler," called Hugo "Eichmann," and a couple of times held mock trials, once condemning "Eichmann" to death for war crimes. They had actually begun to carry out the sentence when Hamilton managed a sort of perverse Tom Sawyer escape. Fundamentally concerned with language, the memoir begins with a stark, spare sentence of the sort that Hamilton favors ("When you�re small you know nothing") and ends years later in Germany in the gloom of evening as he and his widowed mother have lost their way. Hamilton shuffles several stories in this ample deck: his own rough coming-of-age; his father�s feckless attempts to make a fortune (Dad failed as an importer of wooden crosses from Oberammergau, as a builder of children�s wooden toys, and as a beekeeper, stung to death by the ungrateful little buggers); and, most alarming of all, his mother�s account of brutal serial rapes she suffered at age 19 from her employer, a randy businessman cozy with the Nazis. Unsurprisingly, Hamilton�s mother says her family was not cozy with the Nazis; her intrepid sister once declared in public that it was a shame an assassination attempt on Hitler had failed. Hamilton employs a weird recurring image of a dog that goes to the seashore every day and barks itself hoarse at the waves. Many years later--many dog-years later--an adolescent Hamilton, having decided being aNazi isn�t such a bad thing, nearly drowns the animal for spite. Hamilton writes well and knows the secrets of narrative propulsion, but his story does not always engage or convince.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780007156634
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/27/2004
Edition description:
First Fourth Estate U. S. Paperback Edit
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
935,738
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

What People are saying about this

Joseph O'Connor
“A fine and timely book from an exquisitely gifted writer...beautiful, subtle, unflashy, perfectly realized and quite extraordinarily powerful.”
Patrick McCabe
“A memoir of warmth and wisdom...tender and profound and, best of all, tells the truth. I loved it.”
Roddy Doyle
“The most gripping book I’ve read in ages...a fascinating, disturbing and often very funny memoir.”
Colum McCann
“A masterful piece of work—timely, inventive, provocative and perfectly weighted. Don’t be surprised if it becomes a classic.”
A.L. Kennedy
“A prize—delicate, achingly well-observed and wonderfully moving.”
Nuala O'Faolain
“An astonishing account, both delicate and strong, of great issues of twentieth-century Europe, modern Ireland, and family everywhere.”
Margaret Forster
“Full of several different kinds of passion with a real tragedy at its heart.”

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