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Joseph O'Neill
Joseph O'Neill at the Year of the Constant Reader event in the Central Library

One of the most fascinating and challenging new writers of the Diaspora is Cork-born JOSEPH O’NEILL, who was the visiting writer on Monday evening, 9 March 2009.  O’Neill attracted a huge audience, ca 140 people, to the Central Library.

O’Neill is the author of the now famous Netherland (Fourth Estate, 2008), and his previous books are novels The Breezes (1996) and This Is The Life (1991), as well as the complex Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (Granta, 2001). O’NEILL is a new kind of Irishman, multi-layered, complicated, global.  O’NEILL’S themes are not just the dear little shamrock, but the ‘mutable, multiform eggplant,’ ‘the crepelike saffron dosa’ and the SoHo ‘much-maligned meal-in-a-flatbread’ of his marvellous New York Magazine columns.

Joseph O’Neill proved a very apt choice for the theme of the month – ‘Reading the Diaspora’.  The fact that he was born in Cork, grew up in a variety of places – South Africa, Mozambique, Syria, Türkiye, Iran before the family settled down in Den Haag/The Hague - and after some years in Cambridge and London, is a New Yorker for the past decade, is only part of his story.  As the audience discovered his mother’s side of the family is even more interesting.
Mersin, the city on Turkey’s south coast where Joe’s mother comes from, had, in addition to Turkish and Kurdish Muslims, Jews, and Greek Orthodox citizens, 6 varieties of Catholics.  The Dakak family ended up there as a result of their own diaspora.  His audience, and his readers, would agree that if Joe O’Neill had never written a word, his life and family background would be fascinating in itself. 
Netherland tells the story of a man, his wife, and young son in the period after 9/11, and the man’s dealings with an associate called Chuck Ramkissoon.  His previous book, Blood dark track, is a family history sparked by the fact that both his grandfathers were interned during WWII, his Turkish grandfather, Joseph Dakak, by the British in Palestine, and his Irish grandfather, Jim O’Neill, by Dev in the Curragh, and it too is a wonderful read, taking us from Enniskeane, Casteltownshend and the banks of both the Bandon and Lee, to Turkey and Palestine.