In a literary age awash with father-fixation, Joseph O'Neill goes back a generation to recall the lives of not just one but both his grandfathers. This is not mere indulgence: their experiences connect beyond their mutual grandson, and bear comparison with each other. On the one side was Joseph Dakad, a Christian Turk living in the port of Mersin, running a hotel and an import-export business. Jim O'Neill was a Corkman with a fiercely republican heart, who supplemented his graft with salmon poaching. Both grew up among conflict and prejudice, and both suffered at the hands of the British in the Second World War: Joseph was imprisoned as a spy in British-controlled Palestine after a misconceived business trip to import lemons, while Jim was interned in the Curragh as an IRA terrorist. However, the circumstantial meat, or fruit in Joseph's case, of their lives in these famously hospitable, yet divided, countries had remained shrouded by a veil of silence for decades.
While the impressively researched detail owes much to his legal training, O'Neill reconstructs his grandfathers' lives with the literary flair of the talented novelist he also is (The Breezes, and This is the Life), yet without ever losing sight of contemporary contexts such as the Good Friday Agreement, and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East. As an outsider with an "in", the conclusions he draws are subtle, profound, and in places bravely troubling, such as when considering the assassination of Protestants by Catholic extremists in the Irish Republic, and the Turkish massacre of the Armenians, of which each man respectively probably had knowledge. In identifying the unavoidable political stitch in the personal weave, though, he seeks to free both men from their exile in silence, if only, as he conjectures with admirable self-scrutiny, to perhaps "lock them up in words as a punishment for the hurt silence which they'd bequeathed my parents". The sense, however, in this splendid account, is of liberation; both of their stories, and from a silence that speaks louder than words could ever imprison. --David Vincent
Published family annals generally fall into just two categories: fascinating and why did the author and publisher think anyone else would be interested. This particular one is definitely in the first category. Joseph O'Neill, like most young people, was obviously aware of his parents' fathers and mothers but had no special interest in exactly who they were or what they had done. Two chance discoveries changed all that. He found in the storeroom of the Mersin hotel, run by his formidable chain-smoking Turkish grandmother, an account by her husband, Joseph Dakad, of his arrest in Palestine in 1942 on suspicion of being a German spy. Later, when the O'Neills were living in The Hague, he found some cuttings enclosed in a Dostoevsky novel revealing details of his paternal grandfather Jim O'Neill's death in Eire in 1973, disclosing that he had been a prominent member of the IRA. These two coincidences set Joseph O'Neill on a quest to find out about the lives of his grandfathers which has resulted in a book outstanding for its frankness about political fanaticism, injustice, family secrecy, loyalty and delusions and its recognition and honest portrayal of two men, flawed like the rest of us but steadfast in their beliefs and attachment to their families.<br /><br />Joseph O'Neill's story of his two grandfathers, one Irish, the other Turkish, moves between West Cork and Mersin, a port in south-east Turkey. He knew from the age of ten that both were imprisoned by the British during the Second World War, but it was not until he was 30 that he was driven to find out more about the historical and political circumstances surrounding their imprisonment. Born in Cork, educated in Holland and England, and now a barrister living in New York and London, he says it was a writer's curiosity which finally pushed him into this obsession with the family history. As a child O'Neill spent holidays in Mersin with his maternal grandmother, and it is to there that he returns to find out from her about Joseph Dakad, her husband, a Christian Turk, who was arrested as a spy on the Turkish-Syrian border after a business trip to Jerusalem to buy two hundred tonnes of lemons for re-sale in Turkey. The account of Joseph Dakad's journey and the horrific details of his time in captivity are from his written testimony, re-discovered by O'Neill in 1995 and translated from the Turkish by his aunt. The family continued to run the Toros Hotel in Mersin where O'Neill's father stayed in the 1960s while working in Turkey, when he met and subsequently married young Georgette Dakad - thus the Irish/Turkish connection. Jim O'Neill, the author's paternal grandfather, was a republican living in Cork city. It is from his widow, the other grandmother, that O'Neill learns about the background to her husband's arrest in 1940 and the true story of the notorious murder of Vice-Admiral Somerville in West Cork in 1936. This is a very honest account - 'I found myself in a state of shocked, almost angry clarity, as if these revelations of Cork's past, which were so tangled with my family's past, formed a recovered memory of something I'd concealed from myself', and illustrated with humorous and painful anecdotes. He learns of his grandfather's time at the Curragh - the old internment camp - from his Irish grandmother, and visits other family members and the Curragh Military Museum. In the epilogue he finally appears to come to terms with his findings. This is a fascinating and moving account of political commitment, and its effect on a family through the generations. --Kirkus UK