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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living between languages...
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...
Published on 14 Dec 2004 by Friederike Knabe

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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. I never achieved an emotional connection with the boy or his family. Unusual for me.Historically interesting but the complex social political and personal factors are too many and crowded.
Published 7 months ago by Max


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living between languages..., 14 Dec 2004
By 
Friederike Knabe "Books are funny little port... (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
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.
The experiences of life under Nazi rule as part of an anti-Nazi family, continue to haunt his mother. Her painful memories are conveyed to the son in small doses, like selected scenes from a black and white movie in which she had a part. Nonetheless, she is homesick for her native country and all things German. Books, souvenirs and toys arrive regularly resulting in outbursts of happy laughter. Johannes records his mother's mood swings expressed through either laughter or primarily mental withdrawal and silence.

His father feels more Irish than anybody around them. He insists on preserving Irish culture and on "freeing" the Irish people from British influences. His children become "his weapon" against the enemy. He forbids the family to speak English. The children tend to "live" in German as their mother has difficulties speaking Irish. The Irish language has to be protected even if it means losing business. This can mean that cheques are not accepted from people who cannot spell Ó hUrmoltaigh - Hamilton in Irish. The language is your home, "your country is your language", he insists - it identifies who you are. The pressure on the children to speak German and Irish at home sets them apart from people in Dublin at the time. There, English was the preferred language. The children suffer from this enforced isolation. The neighbourhood bullies, responding to their otherness and German identity call them "Nazi", "Hitler" or "Eichmann". They attack them whenever the opportunity arises. While Johannes repeats to himself and to his mother "I am not a Nazi", he does not defend himself against the assaults. One of the rules of the house is to adopt a form of pacifist resistance, the "silent negative " and not to become part of the "fist people". As Johannes grows up, he understandably rebels increasingly against these strictures. In the end, he discovers his own way out of all the identify confusion, his anger and pain.
The Speckled People is a memoir like no other. Any comparison with other Irish memoirs would seem inappropriate to me. While Hamilton chronicles his childhood and growing up, themes and issues beyond the personal play a fundamental role. In particular his exploration of the complexities of "language" as "home" and "country" gives this book added richness and depth. [Friederike Knabe]
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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 review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
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
By 
B. Battu "daughterofmemory" (Paris, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Speckled People (Paperback)
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 - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Speckled People (Hardcover)
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
This review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, irresistible & brilliant!, 19 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book enormously!

It captures a child's view of life, comical and whimsical, and full of fears - false and real. At the same time, this is a child acutely aware of the real world tensions arising from an Irish nationalist father and a mother who lived through Nazi rule in Germany. The harsh ideals of one, the pacifism of the other, and the hostility of the outside world, are a heady mix for a sensitive and enquiring child.

What emerges is a memorable story - heartbreaking but not sentimental; enriched by its realism, relieved by its humour, sparked with intelligence. The powerlessness of a boy caught between mighty forces: close to madness, close to wisdom... going to "throw stones at the big bully waves."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The memoir is not a sentimental Irish story of hope crushed by poverty driven by the drink., 21 Aug 2008
This review is from: The Speckled People (Paperback)
Hamilton is a journalist, and a writer of short stories and novels. His first three novels were set in Central Europe. Then came Headbanger (1996), a darkly comic crime novel set in Dublin and featuring detective Pat Coyne. A sequel, Sad Bastard, followed in 1998. The Speckled People came out in 2003 to critical acclaim It is an intensely personal memoir about very a political and public issue; what does language mean for national identity in democracies. His was a childhood of "lederhosen and Aran sweaters, smelling of rough wool and new leather, Irish on top and German below" so uniquely lived through two separate struggles represented by his parents. It is also about homesickness; for a dream Ireland, a lost Germany and a homeland of one's own.

Hugo's father wanted an Irish speaking self-sufficient Catholic Ireland. English if spoken by the children resulted in punishments including beating with sticks. He adapted an Irish name that no one could spell and pronounce and refused to answer even his work letters if they failed to write using his English name. Yet he also made toys, read stories and took his family on holiday to West Ireland (much to the amusement of the locals who were tired of the Dublin Intellectuals telling them they were the future when all they wanted was a decent inside toilets and jobs. His nationalism was driven by the shame of a father who had served and died in the British Navy leaving a service pension that funded his university education. He was always on the look out for the next big business deal to make Ireland economically free. But from crosses, toy wagons and tragic Honey they are failures, his only success is the size of his family as it grows year by year. They are the secret weapon to challenge the legacy of Empire.

His mother was a German Catholic, whose father was a conservative opponent of Hitler and whose family were passive resisters throughout the war although one sister was more active in being part of a network of safe houses hiding Jews. She herself as being "people of the head rather then the fist" so eventually rebels against her husband and destroys the canes but otherwise goes along with her husbands dreams and teaches her children German so they becomes fluent in three languages. She also has secrets that unravel as the biography unfolds.

The memoir is not a sentimental Irish story of hope crushed by poverty driven by the drink. The children have a comfortable and warm upbringing drawing on the richness of three culture's music and literature. But being German meant that the children were bullied and taunted as Nazis and they were at a lost to say where they belonged. What drives the story is the voice of the narrator that uses simple sentences and childlike observations, gradually turning to what he knows and understands, as he grows older and so creating a quiet humorous yet honest account of two flawed humans struggling to make a better life for their children in the very different 50s and 60's. An sequel called The Sailor in the Wardrobe was published in 2006.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, 15 Nov 2013
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I can appreciate the reviews that highlight the poetic, memoir qualities of the writing but the style is not for me. I never achieved an emotional connection with the boy or his family. Unusual for me.Historically interesting but the complex social political and personal factors are too many and crowded.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton, 15 Jun 2014
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An extraordinary book, touching, funny, sad and surprising. A brilliantly observed account of being a child and seeing situations through a child's eyes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Story of a dysfunctional Irish family, told very wittily from a child's perspective, 18 Mar 2014
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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 got through it and tried to understand what happened. A lovely lovely book and one that I have read , re-read and will read again
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The Speckled People
The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton (Paperback - 6 Oct 2003)
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