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Blood-Dark Track: A Family History

by Joseph O'Neill

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1091246,151 (3.75)39
At the heart of this history of two families are the stories of two flawed and charismatic men. It is a narrative of murder, paranoia, espionage and fear, with one of the most notorious political killings in pre-war Ireland playing a key role in its characters' lives. ..Joseph O'Neill's grandfathers - one Irish, one Turkish - were both imprisoned during the Second World War. The Irish grandfather, a handsome rogue from a family of small farmers, was an active member of the IRA, and was interned with hundreds of his comrades by de Valera's government. O'Neill's other grandfather, a debonair hotelier from the tiny and threatened Turkish Christian minority, was imprisoned by the British in Palestine, where he was travelling to buy lemons, on suspicion of being an Axis spy. ..Joseph O'Neill set out to investigate these imprisonments of Joseph Dakad and Jim O'Neill, which were veiled by family silences, and found himself having to come to terms with memories of violence, with a legacy of fierce commitment and political blindness; with the enchanting power of nationalism and the fear and complicity of the bystander. He was changed by what he found, and he has written a remarkable book about the ties and limits of kinship. With great tact, he sets the stories of individuals against the history of the last century's most inhuman events. Blood-DarkTrack is, above all, vivid, colourful and moving, as full of interesting characters as a good novel.… (more)
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"At some point in my childhood, perhaps when I was aged ten, or eleven, I became aware that during the Second World War my Turkish grandfather -- my mother's father, Joseph Dakad -- had been imprisoned by the British in Palestine, a place exotically absent from any atlas. A shiver of an explanation accompanied this information: the detention had something to do with spying for the Germans. At around the same age, I also learned that my Irish grandfather, James O'Neill, had been jailed by the authorities in Ireland in the course of the same war. Nobody explained precisely why, or where, or for how long, and I attributed his incarceration to the circumstances of a bygone Ireland and a bygone IRA. These matters went largely unmentioned, and certainly undiscussed, by my parents in the two decades that followed. Indeed, the subject of my late grandfathers was barely raised at all . . . "

So begins this fascinating and well written family history/memoir by Joseph O'Neill, in which O'Neill goes in search of his grandfathers' stories. He writes about that search, and about the stories he uncovers, in clear prose and compelling detail. What he uncovers is quite interesting. He lays out his discoveries about the lives' of his two grandfathers, of course, but along the way also delves into the cultures and concerns that shaped them. The story of O'Neill's Turkish grandfather provides the more exotic tale, as the author fleshes out for us the environment faced by a successful businessman in a small Turkish Mediterranean port town living within the cultural context of being Lebanese born rather than a Turkish native, Christian rather than Moslem, a speaking Arabic & French as his native language rather than Turkish. O'Neill also describes nicely the atmosphere in the city during World War Two, a port city in a neutral country teaming with diplomats, businessmen and other unsavory people from countries on both sides of the conflict. A hotbed of espionage, in other words. Was Joseph Dakad truly a player in this game, or simply a naive man betrayed by prejudice and jealousy? Across the world in Ireland, we find out about Jim O'Neill's IRA activities and the reasons for his imprisonment. Along the way we get an in-depth look at the effects that IRA life had on the families of the participants, along with an on-the-ground look at the history of the IRA through the middle part of the 20th century. Along the way, O'Neill also puts together full-blooded portrayals of the lives and personalities of both grandfathers, and of both sides of his uniquely constructed family.

An aspect of the book I particularly appreciated was O'Neill's decision to give the "family history" aspect of his narrative general precedence over the "memoir" aspect. Although he describes much of his research, and the conversations & interviews entailed therein, in the first person, and adds in his own childhood memories of certain events on occasion, these things are overall presented in service of the overall story. O'Neill also lets us know when discoveries he makes are jarring, either to his conceptions of his own family's history or to his understanding of history in general, but these observations are offered appropriately and relatively sparingly. It is not until the end of the book, when he, has fully laid out the stories and, in my opinion, has earned the right, does O'Neill delve more fully into what all of this research and revelation has meant to him. Particularly well done, for me anyway, is O'Neill reflections on his own feelings about the decades of violence perpetrated by the IRA, and whether such violence can ever be justified by the cause it serves and/or ultimately by history.

All in all, I give this book very high marks. ( )
1 vote rocketjk | Oct 28, 2012 |
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At the heart of this history of two families are the stories of two flawed and charismatic men. It is a narrative of murder, paranoia, espionage and fear, with one of the most notorious political killings in pre-war Ireland playing a key role in its characters' lives. ..Joseph O'Neill's grandfathers - one Irish, one Turkish - were both imprisoned during the Second World War. The Irish grandfather, a handsome rogue from a family of small farmers, was an active member of the IRA, and was interned with hundreds of his comrades by de Valera's government. O'Neill's other grandfather, a debonair hotelier from the tiny and threatened Turkish Christian minority, was imprisoned by the British in Palestine, where he was travelling to buy lemons, on suspicion of being an Axis spy. ..Joseph O'Neill set out to investigate these imprisonments of Joseph Dakad and Jim O'Neill, which were veiled by family silences, and found himself having to come to terms with memories of violence, with a legacy of fierce commitment and political blindness; with the enchanting power of nationalism and the fear and complicity of the bystander. He was changed by what he found, and he has written a remarkable book about the ties and limits of kinship. With great tact, he sets the stories of individuals against the history of the last century's most inhuman events. Blood-DarkTrack is, above all, vivid, colourful and moving, as full of interesting characters as a good novel.

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