Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Deportees

Originally uploaded by verbavolant
Photo by Verbavolent

Just finished a book by one of my favorite authors, Roddy Doyle. If you haven’t heard of him, you may have seen the film based on his first novel, The Commitments. His The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a masterpiece and the sequel, Paula Spencer, ain't bad either.

This new book, The Deportees, is a collection of short stories about the wave of immigration that hit Ireland in the last ten years as the Celtic Tiger suddenly found itself in a bath of unexpected wealth. Doyle wrote the stories for a newspaper run by two Nigerian immigrants, so he set himself the additional challenge of creating them in 800 word chapters.

There are funny stories, and serious ones (and even a ghost story). The title story is a sequel of sorts to The Commitments in which Jimmy Rabbitte the manager starts another band, made up of only immigrants. “No white Irish need apply,” he writes in the ad, with no irony.

“Home to Harlem” is about a young Irish man with an African-American grandfather who gets disgusted with what he sees as his countrymen’s smugness about their culture and decides to prove that the great Celtic writers were influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

And, if he couldn’t do it, he’d cheat; he’d make it up. Yeats had died clutching his copy of THE NEW NEGRO. Beckett never went to the jacks without THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLKS under his arm.
But my favorite story is “57% Irish,” about a young man with a half-baked scheme to measure how Irish a person is by measuring their physical reactions to a famous soccer goal. “He’d written his conclusions monhs ago; he was just rounding off the numbers now, picking his evidence.”

When the government hears about his work they hire him to adapt it for use in deciding which immigrants get citizenship – and they want to cook the results.
Our hero has a personal stake in immigration. His ex-girlfriend, Stalin, is Russian. “Stalin wasn’t his girlfriend’s real name, just her temperament.”

Doyle is often funny and sad at the same time. At one point this story made me laugh at loud. And then I took a look at the phrase in question: “the poor man’s suicide.” And that is not a metaphor, like “opium of the masses,” it refers to a character’s death, but it cracked me up. Amazing writer.

One note. The book is full of what an American character calls “The Irish and their famous profanity.” She is promptly given a verbal slapdown for stereotyping, but be aware that the language is rough.

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