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The Speckled People [Paperback]

Hugo Hamilton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Oct 2003

‘This is the most gripping book I've read in ages … It is beautifully written, fascinating, disturbing and often very funny.’ Roddy Doyle

The childhood world of Hugo Hamilton, born and brought up in Dublin, is a confused place. His father, a sometimes brutal Irish nationalist, demands his children speak Gaelic, while his mother, a softly spoken German emigrant who has been marked by the Nazi past, speaks to them in German. He himself wants to speak English. English is, after all, what the other children in Dublin speak. English is what they use when they hunt him down in the streets and dub him Eichmann, as they bring him to trial and sentence him to death at a mock seaside court.

Out of this fear and guilt and often comical cultural entanglements, he tries to understand the differences between Irish history and German history and turn the twisted logic of what he is told into truth. It is a journey that ends in liberation, but not before he uncovers the long-buried secrets that lie at the bottom of his parents wardrobe.

In one of the finest books to have emerged from Ireland in many years, the acclaimed novelist Hugo Hamilton has finally written his own story – a deeply moving memoir about a whole family's homesickness for a country they can call their own.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (6 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007148119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007148110
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 64,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Why is it that Irish childhoods are somehow more interesting than any other? The Speckled People is yet another tale of rough and tumble childhood in Ireland in the 1950s. Instead of the hard-drinking, lovable father and weak abandoned mother of Frank McCourt's boyhood we're given the odd mix of an Irish nationalist father married to a German immigrant with a Nazi past. The premise seems to be rich and wide, but the whole book turns out to be rather intimate and personal. This is less a comment on Ireland and Germany after the war and more Hugo Hamilton's youthful journey of self discovery.

Hamilton writes in a style that can best be called "Irish immediate". Everything happens in the first person with a sudden awareness and blunt description. This style is charming at first, but wearing with time. Nevertheless, the narrator's exploration of his secret past, his comic boyhood adventures and conflicts captivate the reader, and one is carried away by the story. The interplay between the fierce Irish nationalism and the German identity of the narrator's mother is interesting, but they are only the outward sign of an inward discovery as the narrator strives to understand himself. As in any cross-cultural clash, the conflict ends in a fresh synthesis. So Hugo discovers his own identity and realises that he does not have to be either German or Irish, but a unique blend of both. --Dwight Longenecker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'A wonderful book … thoughtful and compelling, smart and original, beautifully written … Hamilton has done an awful lot more with his strange and oddly beautiful childhood than just write it down.'
Nick Hornby, Sunday Times

'This story about a battle over language and defeat 'in the language wars' is also a victory for eloquent writing, crafty and cunning in its apparent simplicity.'
Hermione Lee, Guardian

'Early as it is to risk a judgment, it is hard to believe that this year will produce many books as memorable or moving as this.'
Roy Foster, The Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living between languages... 14 Dec 2004
I found The Speckled People after encountering a fascinating article by Hugo Hamilton in a UK newspaper on the "Loneliness of Being German". Similar to the article, the book immediately struck a chord with me. Those living within and without their own language will find a special connection to this book. Language as the identification of "home" and "country" and "language wars" are explored here in a rather exceptional way - through the voice and outlook of a growing child. Like a patchwork quilt the vignette chapters of the book come together for the reader to form an exquisitely drawn portrait. His family is pictured against the backdrop of their Irish reality of poverty and want in the fifties and sixties. Complexities are accentuated by his dual identity as a child of an Irish nationalist father and a German mother who left Germany after the war.
While The Speckled People is an intimately personal chronicle of his youth, Hamilton's story has significance far beyond the autobiography genre. There are advantages and challenges in using the language of a child. On the one hand, experiences can be conveyed in a direct and innocent way. Johannes (Hugo) has not yet learned to query all he observes: "When you're small you know nothing". He is a sensitive and perceptive child who intuits that there are more untold dramas in the family. "You can inherit a secret without even knowing what it is." On the other hand, it may be difficult to maintain the language as the boy's capacity to analyze and reflect becomes more pronounced with age. Hamilton succeeds admirably in keeping his style consistent even where he integrates numerous events from the wider world as they become relevant to the young boy. As you settle into his style, the narrative becomes deeply absorbing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting character studies 26 Nov 2004
By A Customer
This book was recommended to me, and although I'm not a great fan of memoirs, I enjoyed it immensely. Its real value for me is the character study of the author's father who proves to be frustrating, and flawed character. His mother's story is equally important and is told in a more understated style. I loved the subtle observation of family dynamics. What impressed me most was the way in which, despite the fact that this is an unflattering portrait of his father, I couldn't help but feel a touch of admiration for someone who believed in his principles so deeply and stuck to them at such cost to himself and his family.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really good book 24 Dec 2007
Hamilton's "speckled people" is a really profound, moving and well-written book. An Irish speaker myself who also has fluent English (of course) fluent French and Italian and who lived in three different countries in the past, needless to say I was fascinated by Hamilton's reflection on homesickeness and multiculturalism/multilingual education. That book is well written and I think the writer comes across as being a good person too, which is always a nice thing about some authors and some books. I certainly feel I would like meeting Hamilton in person. What I found truly inspiring in the novel is Hamilton's style, particularly the way in which he describes the sticky uneasinness of childhood, not in an over dramatised way but in a vivid way that would ring very true to those who feel they had a not altogether bad, but somewhat strange childhood experience. I would recommend this book to any bi-national, linguist or indeed anyone who loves a deep book written in an elegant way.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We Knew About Losing 14 Aug 2003
By taking a rest HALL OF FAME
On The American cover of this book is one of the most charming photographs of a young child reading. The picture has much greater relevance, as it is not simply a wonderful photograph chosen for the cover of a book, rather a picture of a young Hugo Hamilton. The author characterizes his early years in post war Europe as the child of an Irish mother and a German father by stating, “We knew about losing, we were Irish and German”.
This autobiography is not like many I have read by before, especially those set in Ireland. This is not a fairy tale that is ruled by wicked characters from Dickens or a childhood that is unfamiliar with happiness. The most bizarre character that struck me was his father, an ultra nationalist obsessed with Gaelic. For this man absolutely everything secured its destruction by whether or not Gaelic was the written or spoken word. This was a man who would imperil his family financially not because there was a lack of work rather those he worked for did not address his mail in Gaelic. His children were made near recluses, as he would not allow them to interact with any children that did not come from a home that shared his strict and bizarre views of language. When his strange fixation on language was added to the prejudice the children experienced as a result of lingering German prejudice, there was plenty for this man to write about. As happens in many instances his Mother was a critical influence and she is interesting to read of as well.
This is a beautifully written work but is not one that will constantly raise your spirits. I found it to be melancholy, but a very worthwhile use of your reading time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 30 July 2008
These memoirs (memoirs of a childhood in 1950s Dublin) brought me close to an Irish dad and a very warm and awesome German mom: close to their dreams, hopes, lives, family and situations. I felt that the protagonist was Hamilton's mom rather than Hamilton himself. I learnt about different people, countries, cultures, diversity, unity and shaping of events on the world stage. I re-learnt and revisited how Germany and Ireland shaped their own countries, European history and the world that I live in today in an extremely interesting and personal way. This book helped me get to know one another; develop my sense of belonging together as Europeans.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
An extraordinary book, touching, funny, sad and surprising. A brilliantly observed account of being a child and seeing situations through a child's eyes.
Published 1 month ago by Leila Pullen
5.0 out of 5 stars Story of a dysfunctional Irish family, told very wittily from a...
Hugo Hamilton writes movingly about his upbringing torn between a Gaelgoir father and a german mother and while there was plenty of cruelty in his childhood he writes about how he... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Eugene O'Connor
2.0 out of 5 stars difficult
I struggled with this and was surprised I managed to finish it., I would find this difficult to reccommend, as It did nothing other than come across as a rather bland memoir with a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by kerry bessell
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
I like the way this book was written. I felt as if I was in there with the author and his family. It felt like a very honest account of what it's like being a 'halfy-halfy' and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Biddy
1.0 out of 5 stars what was this??
I hated the way the book was written in short sentences. The story could have told so beautifully as the Father seemed like a really interesting character who shaped all of their... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ms Jo Flood
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
I can appreciate the reviews that highlight the poetic, memoir qualities of the writing but the style is not for me. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Max
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
The speckled People is the best book I've read for ages. It is beautifully written and an original story about mixed races
Published 8 months ago by Molly Nichols
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read.
This is such an insightful look at growing up in Ireland with parents of different races. It is beautifully written and is both tragic and mesmerising. A wonderful author. Read more
Published 8 months ago by M. Stanley
4.0 out of 5 stars the speckled peiople
We are all mixed but Hamilton captures what it is like coming into a society and being a little different. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mary Boissel
5.0 out of 5 stars `When you're small you can inherit a secret without knowing what it...
In `The Speckled People', Hugo Hamilton writes, from a child's perspective, of his Irish childhood. He writes of growing up in a home where the languages spoken were the Irish of... Read more
Published on 20 Nov 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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