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The Speckled People    by Hugo Hamilton order for
Speckled People
by Hugo Hamilton
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

According to author Hugo Hamilton's father, 'The speckled people are the new Irish, partly from Ireland, partly from somewhere else.' This is very confusing to Hugo as a child, growing up in Ireland with an Irish father and a German mother. It is after the Second World War and Hugo and his siblings must speak both German and Gaelic in the home. Their father is determined that Ireland will be free of its oppressor, England, and insists that the new Ireland must speak Gaelic, not the hated English language.

This is a gently written memoir of Hugo's growing up years. It is full of the passion of his father to reunite Eire with the six northern counties, and of stories that his mother tells of Germany - the softer side of that country. Hamilton shows us how the children coped with the division. Wearing lederhosen with Irish handknit fisherman jumpers, it's no wonder these kids had a hard time identifying with any one country.

The father seems more concerned with the Ireland of the future than with his own children's future, ruling with an iron hand at times. His mother never loses her capacity for laughter, although she was sorely tried during the war. 'When you're small you know nothing ... Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about. Maybe it's not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit ...'

This memoir is a delight to read. It is written simply, full of a child's insights and bewilderments, so that the reader feels more like a participant than an observer, as though the characters are one's own relatives rather than those of the author. The Speckled People is sure to become a classic.

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