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The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton

Hugo Hamilton grew up in Dublin in the 1950's, son of a softly spoken, good natured German mother and an obsessive Irish Nationalist father. His father was obsessed with reviving the Irish language and he went around Ireland during war time making speeches for Irish neutrality and married Irmgard after the war as part of his plan for "bringing people from other countries over to Ireland". He seemed more concerned with the Ireland of the future than with his own children's future, ruling with an iron hand, severally punishing his children whenever he caught them speaking english. He is an intimidating, sometimes brutal figure, who refused to acknowledge his name in english, and at one stage while he worked for the ESB, he left a large area without electricity for days because the correspondence was not addressed to him in his beloved Irish name. The issue of mixed culture is dealt with very well by Hamilton and anyone who is of a dual nationality will relate very well with the young boy's feelings.

The parents disagreed on how to live. The mother believed in laughter and inner strength as a means of survival, a tactic which her own father used to survive under Nazism. It is interesting to observe how the parents do not discuss politics eventhough both their lives have been very affected by it.

Although the book is written very simply, full of a child's insights and bewilderments, it is done in a very effective way of conveying the deep emotions and isolation associated with emigration and a boys struggle from a very early age with the idea of identity and conflicting notions of Irish history and German history.

This book was much appreciated by our book club members, for its sensitive observation of a family trying to deal with real issues of identity and belonging and the way it is told in the language of a child who has not yet learned to query all he observes engages the reader all the more.

Reviewed by Kilrush Library Book Club