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Unlike Frank McCourt, whose wretched Irish boyhood was chronicled in the bestselling Angela's Ashes, Irish novelist Hugo Hamilton did not grow up in a world of excruciating poverty and deprivation. More psychological than physical, Hamilton's youthful misery sprang from the cross-cultural confusion of his home life, a mulligan stew of unhappy contradictions concocted by his intensely nationalistic Irish father and gentle German mother.
In this fine literary memoir, Hamilton describes how he and his siblings were raised in post-WWII Dublin as "speckled people" (half Irish and half something else), forbidden to speak English and forced to dress in lederhosen and Aran sweaters to signify their dual heritage. He focuses a child-sized lens on his tyrannical father, a delusional Irish patriot trapped in the past, who speaks in slogans and fails miserably at every business venture; and his warm, loving mother, a tragic conciliator who emigrated to Ireland to escape the Nazis but who cannot escape her own haunted past.
Unfolding in Joycean rhythms that make it feel more like a novel than an autobiography, The Speckled People captures the baffled incomprehension of a child caught in the cultural crossfire of a war of words -- where language is king but silence prevails, where meaning gets lost in translation, and where the list of things that can't be talked about grows longer every day. Poetic, witty, and bravely unsentimental, it provides a boy's-eye view of what it's like to be a stranger in your own country. Anne Markowski
From Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Hugo Hamilton's charming book deserves to rank high on the list of distinguished memoirs that, with prodigious craftsmanship, combine the confusion, heartache, and joy of an Irish childhood, yielding incredibly affecting literature.
As the offspring of an Irish father and a German mother, Hamilton is one of Ireland's "speckled people" -- a term coined by his father for those of mixed ethnicity -- who struggle to find their place on the Emerald Isle. Hugo's father, a fierce Irish nationalist, forces his children to speak either Irish or German (but never ever English!), and Hugo finds himself suspended between his parents' competing cultures and histories. His father's grim determination to rebuild an Irish culture independent of the British stands in stark contrast to Hugo's mother, whose warmth and humor belie the ghosts that still haunt her: memories of her own childhood under the ever-encroaching shadow of the Nazis.
Told through the eyes of a child, The Speckled People resonates with a sense of youthful wonder and exuberance, and the simple, unadorned truth. And it perfectly illustrates Hamilton's literary gifts, in a re-creation of a world that is tender and deeply disturbing at the same time. (Summer 2003 Selection)