The son of a German mother and an Irish father, Hugo Hamilton grew up in Dublin in the 1950s wearing "lederhosen and Aran sweaters, smelling of rough wool and new leather, Irish on top and German below." His family spoke both German and Irish, but English was strictly forbidden--even uttering a few words of the cursed language was enough to earn an often brutal punishment from their father, a staunch Irish nationalist. His father maintained that "your home is your language" and insisted that they be a model Irish family and an example for others to follow. Hamilton and his siblings were not even permitted to play with children who did not speak Irish exclusively--a particular problem in a country where English is the primary language. Ironically, he was taunted mercilessly for his German heritage and children jeered him with cries of "Eichmann" and "Heil Hitler." He was even put on "trial" once by a gang of kids who sentenced him death by snowball firing squad. This confusing quest to discover his identity and to gain an understanding of his family history is at the heart of The Speckled People
, a profoundly touching and beautifully written memoir.
His parents' secrecy concerning their own pasts only exacerbated his frustration, forcing Hamilton to cling to fragments of information gleaned secretly from hidden photographs and buried family relics. Written from the perspective of a child, Hamilton captures his feelings of confusion, guilt, and fear convincingly and with much humor and insight. Full of poetic passages, sharp observations, and the kind of subtle epiphanies that are best expressed by a child, the book is a joy to read. "When you're small you know nothing and when you grow up there are things you don't want to know," he writes. This memoir is Hamilton's attempt to reconcile the two. --Shawn Carkonen
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From 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 cliched, 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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