A Family History
From the bestselling and PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of Netherland, a fascinating, personal, and beautifully crafted family history.
Joseph O'Neill's grandfathers--one Turkish, one Irish--were both imprisoned for suspected subversion during the Second World War. The Irish grandfather, a handsome rogue from a family of small farmers, was an active member of the IRA. O'Neill's other grandfather, a debonair hotelier from the tiny and threatened Turkish Christian minority, was interned by the British in Palestine on suspicion of being an Axis spy.
With intellect, compassion, and grace, O'Neill sets the stories of these individuals against the history of the last century's most inhuman events.
The son of a Turkish mother and an Irish father, lawyer and novelist O'Neill was born in Ireland, raised in the Hague, spent summers in his mother's hometown on the Mediterranean and studied in Britain. When he was 10 or 11, in the mid-1970s, he learned that both of his late grandfathers were imprisoned during WWII. Twenty years later, he took it upon himself to learn why. The quest to determine whether his IRA-soldier grandfather was a murderer and his Turkish grandfather, a hotelier, was an Axis spy took him from County Cork to the coast of Turkey, and deep into the "dream-bright horrors" of history. O'Neill's Irish grandfather, jailed for five years for IRA activities, shared an internment camp with Nazi and Allied POWs held there "in accordance with Ireland's neutrality policy." At the same time, his Turkish grandfather suffered psychological abuse and extreme paranoia in various British and Free French military prisons filled with Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian " 'suspects and known pro-Axis sympathizers.' " During his research, O'Neill collected facts about everything from the poison used to eliminate the fungus that destroyed the Irish potato crop in the late 1840s to ethnic divisions among Armenians, Muslims and non-Muslim Turks in pre-WWII Turkey. Anyone interested in the Middle East, Ireland or WWII will find this account fascinating. Readers looking for tension, family drama and pathos, however, may be frustrated with the undifferentiated details and narrative detours that sometimes encumber this story of a grandson trying to connect with the grandfathers he never knew. Photos, 2 maps.