In a literary age awash with father-fixation, Joseph O'Neill goes back a generation to recall the lives of not just one but both his grandfathers. This is not mere indulgence: their experiences connect beyond their mutual grandson, and bear comparison with each other. On the one side was Joseph Dakad, a Christian Turk living in the port of Mersin, running a hotel and an import-export business. Jim O'Neill was a Corkman with a fiercely republican heart, who supplemented his graft with salmon poaching. Both grew up among conflict and prejudice, and both suffered at the hands of the British in the Second World War: Joseph was imprisoned as a spy in British-controlled Palestine after a misconceived business trip to import lemons, while Jim was interned in the Curragh as an IRA terrorist. However, the circumstantial meat, or fruit in Joseph's case, of their lives in these famously hospitable, yet divided, countries had remained shrouded by a veil of silence for decades.
While the impressively researched detail owes much to his legal training, O'Neill reconstructs his grandfathers' lives with the literary flair of the talented novelist he also is (The Breezes, and This is the Life), yet without ever losing sight of contemporary contexts such as the Good Friday Agreement, and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East. As an outsider with an "in", the conclusions he draws are subtle, profound, and in places bravely troubling, such as when considering the assassination of Protestants by Catholic extremists in the Irish Republic, and the Turkish massacre of the Armenians, of which each man respectively probably had knowledge. In identifying the unavoidable political stitch in the personal weave, though, he seeks to free both men from their exile in silence, if only, as he conjectures with admirable self-scrutiny, to perhaps "lock them up in words as a punishment for the hurt silence which they'd bequeathed my parents". The sense, however, in this splendid account, is of liberation; both of their stories, and from a silence that speaks louder than words could ever imprison. --David Vincent
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'He uncovers fascinating parallels between the two men, illuminating the ways in which individual lives mesh with history' Sunday Times 'This is a beautifully written and complicated book, in which difficult perceptions are expressed with forensic honesty' Sunday Telegraph 'His thoroughness and energy are phenomenal' London Review of Books 'Blood-Dark Track moves adroitly between Ireland and the Middle East, and interlaces O'Neill's own quest to discover what his grandfathers were up to with fascinating and unfamiliar insights into the history of their times...the result is riveting' Sunday Express 'Surprisingly, considering this charged material, Joseph O'Neill manages to construct an elaborate, patient, almost detached memoir. This is a stealthy, evidential enterprise...a big cat of a book. It creeps up on you, then pounces. And once it has you in its grip, watch out, because it doesn't let go in a hurry' Evening Standard