Book Review: Texas Book Festival Authors
Reissue of Netherland author Joseph O'Neill's inquiry into his grandfathers' pasts
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Oct. 8, 2010
Blood-Dark Track: A Family Historyby Joseph O'Neill
Vintage Books, 352 pp., $15.95 (paper)
Joseph O'Neill put himself on the literary map a couple of years ago with his wonderfully crafted, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel Netherland. In 2001, however, O'Neill ventured into nonfiction terrain with the publication of this relentlessly inquisitive and often touching reconstruction of his family's history through a primary focus on his two grandfathers.
Now in its first American printing, Blood-Dark Track introduces us to, on the author's paternal side, the ruggedly handsome, hard-working, and well-respected James O'Neill, the product of a farming family in West Cork, Ireland. On his maternal side is Joseph Dakad, a Syrian Christian living in the small Turkish port city of Mersin, a worldly, multilingual entrepreneur and owner of a family-run hotel. While these two gentlemen would seem to have lived largely disparate lives, they each suffered the same significant misfortune of being imprisoned by the British during World War II. O'Neill was interned in the Curragh Camp of Ireland's County Kildare, stemming from his active involvement with the Irish Republican Army, while Dakad endured incarceration in British-occupied Palestine on suspicion of espionage for the Axis powers. These experiences would indelibly mark both of their individual lives and those of their families in dramatic ways. In fact, one of the pivotal points of the story is the author's discovery of an individual with connections to both of their detentions.
In attempting to piece these histories together, the Irish-born, New York City-based O'Neill not only provides us with the rich textures of interfamilial relations but also places both sides of his family within the broader contexts of history, clearly demonstrating how individual lives get caught up in the grand sweep of events beyond their control. It all makes for fascinating sociopolitical depictions of British/Irish relations vis-à-vis the IRA and, conversely, the multiethnic interconnections and intrigue associated with the Levant. As with all families, he finds there are stories that are handed down as familial lore as well as untold secrets to be unearthed as one delves for understanding. In this case the skeletons in the closet range from a decades-old unsolved murder to the denial of an ethnic catastrophe. At the end of the day, O'Neill is forced to come to terms with the implications of his findings and to put them into a perspective that satisfies both his own conscience and the elusive truth.
Joseph O'Neill will appear with John Phillip Santos at the Texas Book Festival panel Where I'm From: Unlocking Family Legacies on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 10:30am in the Texas State Capitol's Capitol Extension, Rm. E2.016.