In this story of a family and its place in history, Joseph O'Neill reconstructs the fate of two men he never met and who never met each other, but who have had a profound effect on his life. His Turkish and Irish grandfathers, Joseph Dakad and James O'Neill, were both vigorous and strong-willed men, patriarchs and visionaries. And they were each imprisoned, one in Palestine and the other in Ireland, during World War II. The Turkish hotelier and entrepreneur was suspected by the British of being a spy for the Germans, and left a vertiginous testament of his experiences in colonial jails. The Irish labourer and poacher was a dedicated IRA man in Cork, an area where memories of the Black and Tan war were recent and bitter. In retracing their lives, their grandson writes about the sunlit world of provincial Turkey, and the fierce passions of rural Southern Ireland. The secrets he uncovers are haunting and tragic, and resonate in him and his family. He explores the different meanings of a passionate commitment, and how compelling and dangerous they can be.
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Joseph O'Neill was born in Cork in 1964 and is the author of two novels, The Breezes and This is the Life. A lawyer, he lives with his wife and two sons in New York and London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From the prologue:
At some point in my childhood, perhaps when I was aged ten, or eleven, I became aware that during the Second World War my Turkish grandfather—my mother’s father, Joseph Dakad—had been imprisoned by the British in Palestine, a place exotically absent from any atlas. A shiver of an explanation accompanied this information: the detention had something to do with spying for the Germans. At around the same age, I also learned my Irish grandfather, James O’Neill, had been jailed by the authorities in Ireland in the course of the same war. Nobody explained precisely why, or where, or for how long, and I attributed his incarceration to the circumstances of a bygone Ireland and a bygone IRA. These matters went largely unmentioned, and certainly undiscussed, by my parents in the two decades that followed. Indeed, the subject of my late grandfather was barely raised at all, and, save for a wedding-day picture of Joseph and his wife, Georgette, there were no photographs of them displayed in our home. Dwelling in the jurisdiction of parental silence, my grandfathers remained mute and out of mind.
Partially as a consequence of this, it was not until I was thirty that the curious parallelism my grandfathers’ lives struck me with any force and that I was driven to explore it, to fiddle at doors that had remained unopened, perhaps even locked, for so many years; and not until then that I began to make out what connected these two men, who never met, and these two captivities— one in Levant heat, the other in the rainy, sporadically incandescent plains of central Ireland.
As soon will become apparent, I wasn’t bringing a reflective political mind to bear on my grandfathers’ lives, or any expertise as a historian, or even any abnormal inclination to wonder about what might lie behind a closed door. In general, I’m as content as the next man to proceed on the footing that any information of importance—anything that has a bearing on my essential interests—will be brought to my attention by those entrusted with such things: families, schools, news agencies, subversives. This is so even though the information I have on most historical and political subjects could be written out on a luggage tag; is almost certainly wrong; and, at bottom, probably functions as a political soporific—which perhaps explains why the insights I gained into my grandfathers’ lives often took the form of a slow, idiotic awakening. It took anomalous forces—a writer’s professional curiosity turned into something like an obsession—to push me, reluctant and red-eyed and stumbling, into the past and, and, it turned out, its dream-bright horrors.
To inklings set me on my way, one for each grandfather.
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