Jun 17, 2011

The Speckled People

a memoir of a half-Irish childhood
by Hugo Hamilton

One I picked up at a book sale, just because the title intrigued me. The Speckled People is the memoir of a boy growing up in Ireland with mixed heritage. His mother escaped Germany which was falling under Hitler's power, but in spite of the fact that she is adamantly against "the fist people" her neighbors are suspicious of her and her children get called names and executed in games by the other kids for being Nazis. His father is an extremist, full of nationalistic pride for the Irish people and trying to resurrect their native language by teaching it to his children and forbidding them to speak English in the house. This again alienates the children from others around them. For instance, at one point the father insists they only play with children who also speak Irish (Gaelic) so they have to bus to and fro with kids found miles away and none of the imposed friendships last. The story is full of sorrow and resentment; the boy ends up hating his father for all the rules forced upon him, and feeling pain for his mother when he finally learns the full extent of her story and why she fled Germany. In fact, more of the book feels like telling the story of his parents than of his own experience. His mother writes a journal to tell her children what happened to her, and several significant family stories are told again and again, woven into the narrative each time in a slightly different way. All is told from the unclear perspective of the child, with his impressions of moments that float in and out of focus: sitting on the bottom of the pool blowing bubbles at each other, watching a dog at the beach that barks at the ocean, trying to avoid bullies, welcoming new babies into the family, struggling through recurrent illness, riding on the bus... The tone of it all reminded me quite a bit of Call It Sleep, and also the feel of Chaim Potok's novels (though I couldn't really tell you why). At the same time, it all felt a bit too distant to me. I felt like I was getting more a relating of family history, patched together by childhood memories, and never got close to the narrator himself. O well. It was a nice enough read.

Funny, how some books that are otherwise entirely unrelated yet have a connecting theme. Another book I recently read, The Tapestry of Love, had a bit about beekeeping in it, which I found interesting because not too long ago I'd read a few books where beekeeping was the focus. It was intriguing that even in the few pages that discussed bees in Tapestry I learned something new about bees. Here too, in The Speckled People the father takes up beekeeping and again, I learned a few new details. The bees caused tragedy here, though...

Rating: 3/5 ........ 298 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
It's All About Me
16 Book for 16 Days
Still Point


bermudaonion said...

I do enjoy a good memoir and this one sounds intriguing to me. It seems his parents couldn't settle on a middle ground.

Jenny said...

Lord, this sounds sad. It must have been so difficult for people of German descent after the war -- I had a teacher in high school whose father was German and her mother was Japanese, and her parents apparently had a terrible time in America. She got a bit of it too, although I think she was young enough to where there wasn't quite the same level of resentment by the time she hit school.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

This one sounds interesting. Curious even. I may check it out.
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