Hugo Hamilton

QuotationsNotes

Life
1953- ; b. Dun Laoghaire, of Irish-German parents, his father [Ó hUrmoltaigh] being an expert in the operation of specialist machinery at ESB and enthusiastic member of Craobh na h-Aiseirig (later Ailtirí na h-Aiseirighe), the “youth” wing of the Gaelic League; his mother had come to Ireland after the war as a governess to a Killiney family; brought up bilingually; on leaving school Hamilton became a copy-boy (journalist), but shortly moved to Germany and began working for a publishing company, 1973; his early writing appeared in Faber's First Fictions anthology; received a Gael Linn 6-month sabbatical to write Surrogate City (1990), a novel concerning Irish girl in Berlin searching for father of her unborn child;
 

issued The Last Shot (1991; rep. 2006), winner of Rooney Prize 1992, a love story set in the final days of World War II; The Love Test (1994) concerns the breakdown of a marriage in the time after the fall of the Berlin wall; issued Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (1996), short stories set in Ireland and Germany; issued Headbanger (1997), a thriller set in Dublin centred on the character of the detective Pat Coyne, a detective with a “Dirty Harry” streak, v. Drummer Cunningham, the crime-world ‘general’; issued Sad Bastard (1998), continuing the career of Garda Pat Coyne (“Mr Suicide”), now on sick leave but drawn back in to rescue a young woman;

 
issued The Speckled People (2003), an autobiographical novel based on the torments of an Irish-German childhood at the hands of an obsessive Gaelgóir father like his own; acted as one of the judges of the Fish Story Competition, 2004; winner of the 2004 Femina Award (France); speaker at the Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco, Oct. 2004; issued The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006), a sequel-autobiographical novel, dealing with teenage years and with the legacy of his grandfather, who served in the British Navy; travelled to China in 2008 (‘a trip to far’); issued Disguise (2008), a novel set in present-day Germany in which Gregor, an ageing Jew unwillingly adopted by a refugee mother in wartime, attempts to make sense of the past; Hand in the Fire (2010), in which a German seeks to learn the history of his parents in the Nazi era; Hamilton lives in Dublin.

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Works
Novels
  • Surrogate City (London: Faber & Faber 1990), 197pp.;
  • The Last Shot (Faber & Faber, 1991), and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Harper 2006), 192pp.;
  • The Love Test (London: Faber & Faber 1994), 197pp.;
  • Headbanger (London: Secker & Warburg 1997), 230pp.;
  • Sad Bastard (London: Secker & Warburg 1998), 272pp.;
  • The Speckled People (London: Fourth Estate 2003), 298pp.;
  • The Sailor in the Wardrobe (London: Fourth Estate 2006), 271pp.; Disguise (London: Fourth Estate 2008; pb. 2009), 269pp.
Short fiction
  • Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (London: Faber & Faber 1996), 134pp.
Miscellaneous
  • review of Francis Stuart [reprints], in The Irish Times (10 Sept. 1994) [written from Berlin];
  • review of Michael Collins, The Feminists Go Swimming (Phoenix 1995), in Irish Times (17 Feb. 1996), p.9 [writes with compelling inaccuracy ... like an Ed Wood remake of Ryan’s Daughter’];
  • ‘Hitler’s New Children’, review of Ingo Hassleback & Tom Reich, Führer-Ex: Memoirs of a former neo-Nazi (London: Chatto & Windus [1996]), pp.26-27.
  • Introduction to Fighting Tuesdays: stories by fourth year students from Larkin Community College, foreword by Roddy Doyle, introduction by Hugo Hamilton (Dublin: Stinging Fly 2010), xvii, 187pp. [Dublin teenagers’ stories].
Miscellaneous
  • ‘Welcome to the Club’, in The Irish Times (1 May 2004) Weekend [infra];
  • Jean-Marie Fiorucci, interview, in Nice-Matin (October 2004) [infra];
  • ‘Can the Indefensible be Defended and Justified?’ [on Hiroshima, Dresden, The IRA and the London bombings], in The Irish Times (13 Aug. 2005), Weekend, p.12 [infra].

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Criticism
  • Kathy O’Shaugnessy review of The Love Test, in Times Literary Supplement (20 Jan. 1995);
  • Desmond Traynor, review of Headbanger, in Books Ireland (May 1977), p.125;
  • Katie Donovan, review of Headbanger, in Irish Times (22 March 1997);
  • C. L. Dallat, review or Sad Bastard, in Times Literary Supplement (9 Oct. 1998) p.29;
  • [...]
  • Aoileann Ní Éigeartaigh, ‘Homesick while at Home: Hugo Hamilton and The Speckled People’, in Exploring Transculturalism: A Biographical Approach, ed. Wolfgang Berg & Ní Éigeartaigh (Hackensack, VS Research [Verlag] 2010), pp.113-30.
  • Colm Tóibín, ‘Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton: The Dialect of the Tribe’, in New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (London: Viking [Penguin] 2012), pp.166-85.
See also various critics under Commentary [infra].

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Commentary
Eileen Battersby, ‘Lake Woebegone’, review of The Love Test, in Irish Times (24 Dec. 1994); Mathias and Claudia, parents of a ten-year old, coexist in stalemate; author makes no play on reader’s sympathy for either; people frustrated without really knowing the cause; she not sufficiently worshipped, he dangerously remote obsession with facts; ‘he and Claudia had been driven out of paradise and into a world of tact and caution’; Mathias working [as a journalist] on story about Christa, formerly blackmailed into working for the Stasi, and now searching for the child she was told died at birth; Claudia panicked into retrieval; Christa non committal; less about love than the fear of the unknown; reviewer notes unsentimental description of Christa’s first sight of her son; intelligently observant of life’s randomness.

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David Flusfender, ‘A view from the edge of Europe’, review of Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow, Times Literary Supplement (9 Feb. 1996), selects for attention a ‘nearly perfect’ story, beautifully weighted with irony, ‘Nazi Christmas’ in his first collection, concerning a child afflicted by the bullying of knee-jerk anti-German neighbours in Dublin, autobiographical and plainly a ‘fragile memoir of a family life written by someone who still winces at the memory’; in the new collection ‘Long Before they Knew’ is set on the edge of Ireland, at the Burren; in it a man and woman aim for each other and miss before coming to some kind of accord; others are ‘The Compound Assembly of E. Richter, in which an Irish musician in Berlin stumbles into a love triangle; and ‘Freedom of Speech’ in which a couple teetering on break-up go to Morocco; reviewer regards his staccato style as an occasional tic; title-piece a bittersweet study of marital life in Dublin, with memories of procreation in Canada and a sea breeze from Tonga. (p.24.)

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Desmond Traynor, review of Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow, in Books Ireland (April 1996), p.91, calls the style quirky, deadpan; cites “Mad Dog”, and “Freedom of Speech” as most enjoyable; also cites [stories] “Fog” and Long Before they Knew”; “Nazi Christmas” and “The Irish Worker”; “Above and Beyond”; “The Compound Assembly of E. Richter”; “The Supremacy of Grief” (the latter two both prev. published in Faber First Fictions (Introductions 10); “Goodbye to the Hurt Mind”; “A Third-a Third-a Third”, and “Drowning”.

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John Kenny, review of Sad Bastard, in Irish Times (3 Oct. 1998); ‘Hamilton has basically written the same flawed novel twice’ [reference to Headbanger]; central character still Coyne; quotes, ‘what evolutionary platform had the Irish reached now, Coyne thought. Their identity was what they purchased”; reviewer regards Hamilton’s indignation as arguably justified by uncontrolled, and occasionally nonsensically cynical, viz., ‘the Irish would eat anything as long as it was dead and came with French fries’. also notes clichés: ‘maybe Ireland was not a real place at all but existed only in the imagination’; compares Hamilton’s world adverse to that of Michael Collins [also reviewed].

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Carlo Gébler, review of The Speckled People, in Times Literary Supplement (14 Feb. 2003), notes ‘a remarkable trio of literary novels with German settings’ as well as Headbanger, ‘a work that lays bare the awfulness of modern criminal Dublin, written in vigorous demotic English’. Writes that ‘the author [of The Speckled People] wants to understand what made his parents into the people who gave him the childhood that he had [and] narrates their back-stories as well as his own.’ Considers ‘[t]he plaiting together of the two narratives […] is beautifully done’. Besides a full account of the father’s flogging of his children in pursuit of his Gaelic-Ireland agenda, Gébler reports of the mother’s background that she was neice of a local German mayor and was sent to a factory on the Dutch border at nineteen or twenty and was raped by her boss, who continued to do so regularly throughout the war, finally sending her to the Eastern Front - ‘sufferings [that] left her extremely passive’. Gébler concludes: ‘This book should not just be praised for what the author avoids, however; it has also to be celebrated for what it achieves. The Irish tend to think of themselves as kind, good, tolerant people. But Hamilton’s father’s Anglophobic Irish-language home regime was, in its own Irish way, fascist. Moreover, Hamilton claims that in his father’s school of nationalism (which had then, and continues to have now, many adherents) there is a capacity for repression equal to that associated with German National Socialism. Hamilton’s contention (which is skilfully folded into the narrative at the end) is that the Irish could easily have gone the same way as the Germans had in the 1930s and 40s. Hamilton’s father did almost become a National Socialist and his mother was never able to wean her husband from his ideological beliefs despite her knowledge, based on bitter personal experience, of the awful truth about Nazi Germany. If Ireland is ever going to become the strong, democratic and tolerant culture that it claim it wishes to become, it needs this sort of book.’ (p.9.)

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Paula Shields, ‘Troubled Histories Interwoven in One Child’ [interview-article], in Fortnight (April 2003), p.22: ‘In beautifully crafted prose, prose that reads like poetry, Hamilton weaves a fascinating story of the unorthodox family with three languages. Born to a German, escaping the privations of her post-war homeland, and an ardent Irish nationalist, he and his siblings are “the speckled Irish”, literarlly dressed in “lederhosen and Aran sweaters, smelling of rough wool and new leather, Irish on top and German below”. Their father imposes his authority with all the brutal discipline customary at the time, forbidding the speaking of English in the house. “We can speak Irish or German, but English is like a foreign country outside the door.” Further, ‘His parents are people who are not afraid to be different, and at least some of’ his father’s ideas, such as those on the value of multi-culturalism as opposed to cultural imperialism, would be rnore widely understood these days. In a glorious Canute-like image, Hamilton remarks, “he almost tried to stop Anglo-American culture at the sea front.” The writer himself’ admits he has come to terms with some of those ideas, however dogmatic they seemed in origin. “Until very recently, I still had this longing to be purely Irish, it would have been so much easier for me. So much later on - now - I do see the value of it, I do see myself as one of the speckled people, one of this new wave of people that we will have in Ireland.”’ Shield speaks of Hamilton’s coming to join the Anglo-American culture the part of the parents’ personal past in the novel, emphasising that Jewish genocide was Germans against Germans; the controversial nature of the 1916 Rising for most Irish people, and the extreme poverty of the Irish in German eyes in the 1940s.

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Sue Leonard, ‘A Youth of Shame and Embarrassment’ [interview-article with Hugo Hamilton], in Books Ireland (March 2003), p.45 [with photo-port.]: Hamilton was given the Irish name Ó hUrmoltaigh by a Cork-born father who attempted to make up for his own father’s joining the Royal Navy by becoming a gaelgeóir engineer in the ESB; m. German woman who arrived as governess at Killiney in post-war times; f. a stern disciplinary who severely beat the boys for using English in the home; m. threatened to leave but confined by children and circumstances. Leonard writes: ‘Though it has its moments of rich humour, The Speckled People is essentially a sad story, of homelessness and dislocation. There is a terrible poignancy to Hamilton’s accounts of his father’s many abortive attempts to start his own [importing] business … His mother emerges as a warm and loving character, deeply devoted to her children, but also very lonely and isolated and never quite accepted in her adopted country. The Hamilton children, dressed in Aran jumpers and lederhosen - “Irish on top and German below” - endured endless taunts […/] It’s such a sad story that Hamilton couldn’t bear to tell it until now. In his fiction - five novels and a collection of short stories - his speckled past is barely alluded to.’ Quotes Hamilton: ‘It’s a story that I’ve always associated with shame and embarrassment […] so I’ve kept it hidden for a long time. Even my friends and colleagues were taken aback when they read the book. It was only when I began to write that I was able to talk about it.’ Hamilton left home at 20 (1973) and settled in Berlin for ten years, maintaining little contact with his father though writing regularly to his mother. Sent the first short story he ever wrote to his father (‘pretty much summed up how I felt about him’) and received a letter with congratulations’. Father began to acknowledge his mistakes and ask forgiveness in later life; Hamilton remarks: ‘I don’t the beginning know if I really forgave him until I wrote this book.’ Returned to Ireland in the mid-1980 , after his father’s death in 1978 and before his mother’s in 1989; ‘Becoming a father myself, I suppose I began to understand, or to want to understand, where my own parents were coming from. If I’d written this book any earlier, I think there might still have been a trace of anger in it, not just at my father but at the whole situation, and it was important for me not to accuse him or call him names. Yes, he was uncompromising but everything he did was for us and for his country, and if he was cruel it was a cruelty born of dedication, not of malice. And despite the hardships, they were proud of the family they created. it was after all a very ambitious undertaking, to start an Irish-German family in the Ireland of that time.’ Further, ‘In my writing until now I’ve been pushing away from my own story, I just wasn’t ready to deal with it. Writing this memoir felt like going back to the beginning and starting again and that’s given me a great sense of freedom.’ Leonard’s review of The Speckled People [same issue, pp.62-63], incls. quotations: ‘We would have to talk Irish together as if there was no other language in the world. Everybody would look at us. They would know that we were homeless and had nowhere to go, because we lot the language war’; ‘If you wanted to have friends you had to start speaking to yourself in English so nobody would call you a mahogany gas-pipe.’ Further: ‘No matter what happens, you’re free to go anywhere you like inside your own head.’ (p.62.)

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Patricia Craig, review of The Sailor in the Wardrobe, in Times Literary Supplement (10 Feb. 2006), p.29: ‘In Hugo Hamilton’s memoir of 2003, The Speckled People, there is a moment when the children of the family, in late 1950s Dublin, are playing in their father’s wardrobe and unearth a black-and-white photograph of a sailor, among letters, postcards and a bronze medal dating from the First World War. These items are kept hidden because Hamilton Senior, the sailor’s son, has no wish to acknowledge a British connection in his family. He is an ideologue, an Irish-lrelander with a German wife, and head of a household in which the English language is banned. Irish and German are the only permitted means of communication for the Hamilton children, which does not make for good relations with neighbourhood contemporaries. If it’s not the taunt of “Nazi” flung at them in the street, it is the sense of being at odds with their portion of the world, in a dismally anomalous position. The author’s strong feeling of exclusion takes root at this point, along with the need to evade the pressures of a dual inheritance in which the emphasis forever falls on horrors and miseries, coffin ships and concentration camps, angers and humiliations, the wreck of the GPO on O’Connell Street, and the bombs raining down on German cities. […]’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Le Figaro (5 Nov. 2004), announcing the award of a Femina prize to Hugo Hamilton for Sang impur (Phébus), a translation of The Speckled People (2003): L’écrivain irlandais Hugo Hamilton raconte dans «Sang impur» son enfance dans le Dublin pauvre de l’après-guerre, écartelée entre les cultures allemande et irlandaise de son père et de sa mère. Hamilton a écrit plusieurs livres, dont un seul a été traduit en français, «Berlin sous la baltique» (éditions du Rocher, 1992).

Jean-Marie Fiorucci, interview with Hugo Hamilton, Nice Matin/Monaco Matin interview (October 2004)
 

You have just been awarded the Prix Femina Etranger for Sang Impur (The Speckled People); what do you think the ladies of the jury particularly liked about your writing?
I am enormously flattered that my book has been chosen by the Prix Femina jury. When I met them in Paris, they told me that it was the voice of the child, the rescuing humour of my mother and the sympathy for my father which influenced their decision.

How do you think a male jury would have reacted to your book?
Just the same I hope but there is no doubt that women have a more holistic approach to life.

Why did you write such a profound book about your Irish-German childhood? Were there demons who needed to be exorcised?
My childhood (German/Irish) story was hidden for years because it was full of shame and embarrassment and isolation. I re-lived this whilst writing the book. If there is something profound, then it's there by luck, maybe also because my mother is still whispering in my ear.

Was this book easy to write and how long did it take to complete?
It took five years to write this book but the truth is that it has taken all my life.

What does the Prix Femina Etranger mean to you and will it make a difference to your life and your literary works?
The Prix Femina is a huge recognition both for me and my publisher Editions Phébus. It's also a recognition that my way of telling things from the point of view of a 'speckled' child with a confused sense of belonging is a subject that is important all over the world, not just in Ireland.

What are your projects in the coming months?
 I am currently writing the screenplay of Sang Impur for film-maker Neil Jordan.

 

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Kim Forrester, review of Disguise, at Kimbofo’s Typepad (22 Nov. 2009): ‘It opens in war-torn Germany at the height of the Second World War. Mara Leidman’s young son, Gregor, is killed during the bombing of Berlin - “He was almost three years old and went straight from his dream into death” - and so, bereft and shocked, she flees south, into the arms of her father, Emil, a war deserter who drives a delivery truck collecting defective weapons. When Emil presents her, shockingly, with a refugee orphan (given to him by an old woman he meets on the road) to replace her dead son, Mara looks at the boy with revulsion.  [...] There’s a lot of big themes and issues in this book about memory, loss, belonging and the ways in which Germans dealt with the aftermath of the war. And while Disguise had the potential to be absolutely heart-wrenching in places, I found the prose style so distant and removed - there’s a lot of telling and not much showing - that it made very little emotional impact at all. This is a shame, because the opening chapter is one of the saddest and most exciting, and morally troubling, pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. But the rest of the book fails to live up to this promise and, as a result, Disguise, while an enjoyable read, doesn't deliver the truly emotional wallop that would have elevated it to something really special.’ [Kimbofo’s Typepad, online; accessed 21.11.2009.]

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Liam Harte, review of Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton, in The Irish Times (20 March 2010): ‘[...] Vid Cosic, the narrator of Hand in the Fire, is cut from the same cloth. Vid is a recently-arrived Serbian migrant eager to build a new life for himself in Dublin. Far from wanting to maintain a sense of cultural distinctiveness in his new environment, he is keen to acquire a “true certificate of belonging” and assimilate as quickly as possible. His opportunity comes when his discovery of a lost mobile phone brings him into the social orbit of affluent young lawyer Kevin Concannon, who gives him occasional work as a carpenter. / The speed with which Kevin befriends Vid proves decidedly double-edged. On the one hand, it gives this newcomer a much-desired sense of belonging; on the other, the suffocating intensity of Kevin’s bonhomie makes Vid party to a violent attack in which a man is left for dead. The legal machinations that ensue transform Vid’s relationship with Kevin, yet he will not easily relinquish the satisfaction he derives from being treated as a trusted insider. [...] As the narrative unfolds, deeper correspondences between the two central protagonists emerge. Like Vid, Kevin is in flight from a troubled history - he disposes of his biography in a single sentence, “like something he needed to leave behind” - and he too knows what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in London, he “did his best to be Irish” when his mother returned to Ireland with him when he was nine. His Connemara father, who is a mysterious absence for much of the novel, is another misfit, a refugee from a time when Irish people “mistrusted success, when they laughed at enterprise, when they could not even trust friendship because emigration spread so fast, like contamination”.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
What is this freedom the silent herds want so badly?’, in The Irish Times (10 Nov. 1989), p.6: ‘The “Freedom Express” which has so far brought 185,000-plus East Germans and Poles of German origin to West Germany, has also brought problems - an unprecedented competition, for the fruits of prosperity; jobs, accommodation and opportunity. In some West German cities the strain has begun to show with a rise in the number of skinheads and other neo-fascist groups showing hostility towards the newcomers. How willing is the West German to share? / In addition to the massive cast of playing host to the influx of refugees from the East, the West German, Government has now set up a 3 billion mark media campaign to make sure the new immigrants remain welcome.’ [For full version see attached.]

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Welcome to the club’, in The Irish Times (1 May 2004) Weekend [cover feature]:‘[…] Shortly after we joined the EU in 1973, I queued up for a work permit in Berlin along with people from Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Morocco, all waiting for permission to take part in the great German economic miracle of that time. You could see by the smoke in the waiting room how long it was going to take. Men fidgeting with worry beads. Men dressed up in suits to make a good impression. Whole families with children having their lunch while they were waiting their turn. / Then, out of the blue, I found my name being called ahead of everyone else and went forward to the hatch. / “You’re Irish”, they were telling me. “You’re in the EU now, aren’t you?” [For full version see attached.]

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The Speckled People (2003): ‘We are the German-Irish story. We are the English-Irish story. My father has one soft foot and one hard foot, one good ear and one bad ear, and we have one Irish foot and one German foot and a right arm in English. We are the brack children. Brack, homemade Irish bread with German raisins. We are the brack people and we don’t just have one briefcase. We don’t just have one language, one history. We sleep in German and we dream in Irish. We laugh in Irish and we cry in German. We are silent in German and we speak in English. We are the speckled people.’ (Quoted at HarperCollins.com; Oct. 2004.)

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From the Author’ (Powells Booksellers: online, Oct. 2004): ‘In my book The Speckled People, I describe how we had no idea what country we belonged to. You don’t know where you are, or who you are, or what questions to ask. We had the Germany that my mother was often homesick for. We had the ancient, Irish Ireland that my father aspired to go back to with such ruthless dedication and self-sacrifice, to the point that he used us as his weapons, his foot soldiers in a language war. And finally, outside our hall door on the street was a different, far away country, where I could hear the gardener clipping the hedges in English. / In many ways it was inevitable that writing would become the only way for me to explain this deep childhood confusion. […]’

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Can the Indefensible be Defended and Justified?’ [on Hiroshima, Dresden and London bombings], in The Irish Times (13 Aug. 2005), Weekend, p.12: ‘The arguments around moral bombing only apply to those who carry it out. In this respect, the historians always get it wrong, because they seem to apply the logic of retrospective justification. They see the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima as morally expedient in the face of evil. […] The argument, in effect, is that human fallibility causes us to break the law, but please don’t write that moral fallibility into the law. The justification of Hiroshima is the justification of a physical-force tradition. There are no exceptions. […]. In the early 1970s, when the IRA began its new campaign in Northern Ireland and Britain, my father tried to dissuade me from every joining or having the least sympathy for such action. Ironically, he said it was something the IRA had learned from Churchill: there was no such thing as a moral bombing. / So 30 years later, the IRA has come around to agreeing with him, but not, it seems, many historians and current policy-makers who still justify Hiroshima by holding on to the moral right to bomb cities, now or in the future.’

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Double Identity’ [interview-article], in Books Ireland (Summer 2008), pp.133-34: ‘It’s hard to tell why certain books appeal to a broad readership […] I think timing had something to do with it. I sometimes wonder, if I’d published that book ten years earlier, would it have had the same impact, or would people have even got it. Here in Ireland we’ve been focused for a long time on the business of being Irish, gaining our confidence and questioning who we are. Now that Irishness is beginning to accommodate different versions of itself and we’re more open to the idea of the speckled Irish person. / The book changed my life, financially and in terms of my reputation, but that’s irrelevant compared to what it did for me personally. I was nervous about writing a memoir and it took me a number of years to convince myself to allow other people past my front door and into my life story. But I realised that I had buried this story for a very long time and it was tormenting me. As a writer of fiction, it was hard to tackle the subject head-on, but it released me. I had been holding myself back as a writer, refusing to confront certain things, and writing The Speckled People, and its sequel, The Sailor in the Wardrobe, was very liberating. Now I’m no longer hiding from my own story!’ (p.133.) Further: ‘There’s something terribly difficult and painful about writing about your own life. It’s such an emotionally charged process. After that, there’s freedom in writing fiction, even though Disguise continues the themes of identity and origins and at times it felt like I was still telling my own story. There’s that same ambiguity of belonging!’ (Idem.)

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Last things: contribution to ‘Some novel ways to end on a high’, compiled by Sinéad Gleeson, in The Irish Times (10 July 2010), Weekend Review [with Jon McGregor, Tana French, Joseph O’Connor, et al.]: ‘The walk-away line at the end of a novel is just as important as any opening line. It’s like closing the door on the story but also leaving it ajar, so that the reader cannot help glancing back in at the last minute to see the entire novel undressed. Not something a writer can possibly plan in advance. Come to think of it, the last line is probably more like a first line, a final twist of irony, something uncomfortable, a question mark, anything to stop the story being neatly tied up like a gift. Albert Camus’s short novel The Outsider  has never been far away from my grasp. In fact there are at least three editions of it in various parts of the house right now. The protagonist is on trial for the mindless murder of a man in Algeria. The profound detachment from human feeling throughout the novel is brought to a provocative screech in the last line when he suddenly welcomes the imminent shower of public condemnation. "For me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration."’ (p.8.)

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Notes
Disguise (2008): Set primarily in contemporary Berlin, with flashbacks to the wastelands of post-war Germany, it tells the story of Gregor Liedmann, a Jewish man in his sixties. Gregor believes he was unofficially adopted in 1945, when he was two, after his “mother” lost a two-year-old child in the bombings. Gregor, found amongst the refugee trains by his “grandfather”, would replace the lost child and his adoptive mother would never reveal his origins, not even to her husband, who returned from the war to find his family apparently intact.The inspiration for the novel came to Hamilton in the form of a Jewish man whom he met in Berlin in 1974 - the first he had encountered. (Books Ireland, Summer 2008.)

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Hand in the Fire (2010): ‘You have a funny way of doing things here.’ The voice is that of Vid Cosic, a Serbian immigrant whose immediate friendship with a young Dublin lawyer, Kevin Concannon, is overshadowed by a violent incident in which a man is left for dead in the street one night. The legal fallout forces them into an ever closer, uncertain partnership, drawing Vid right into the Concannon family, working for them as a carpenter on a major renovation project and becoming more and more involved in their troubled family story. While he claims to have lost his own memory in a serious accident back home in Serbia, he cannot help investigating the emerging details of a young woman from Connemara who was denounced by the church and whose pregnant body was washed up on the Aran Islands many years ago. Was it murder or suicide? And what dark impact does this event in the past still have on the Concannon family now? As the deadly echo of hatred and violence begins to circle closer around them, Vid finds this spectacular Irish friendship coming under increasing threat with fatal consequences. Drawing his own speckled, Irish-German background, Hugo Hamilton has given us a highly compelling and original view of contemporary Ireland, the nature of welcome and the uneasy trespassing into a new country. (Notice in COPAC.)

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