By Don George

January 2008

Book of the Month:
The Deportees, by Roddy Doyle

If you're a one-time English Lit major like me, you don't have to own a passport to feel like you've been to Dublin: You've walked the streets with William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge and especially James Joyce as guide. Of course, that early 20th-century setting is a different world from the Dublin of today, and one wonders what those Irish icons would make of the latte-chugging, cell phone-gabbing, multi-hued capital of the booming "Celtic Tiger."

This transformed 21st-century Dublin is the locus—and in many ways the focus—of Roddy Doyle's brilliant new collection of stories, The Deportees.Doyle's writing is so conjuring and compelling that I finished the entire book in one sitting, unable to put it down. Each of the eight tales unfolds from the same plot: A traditional born-in-Ireland protagonist encounters a denizen of the new Ireland, born in NigeriaPolandRomaniaRussia, or the States, and complications careen ineluctably along. Doyle's staccato rat-a-tat-tat dialogues and descriptions impart the edgy energy of contemporary Dublin, and he portrays his characters—native and immigrant alike—with a taut empathy that evokes the drudgeries and terrors of their worlds. In its energetic eloquence, The Deportees is squarely in the tradition of Joyce and Yeats; in its subject, it breaks new ground with a multi-layered collage of a culture—and a city—in transition.

For a truly time-bridging odyssey, do as I've just done and pour yourself a pint of Guinness, light the peat-fire in your thermostat, read The Deportees,and then crack open your yellowing college copy of Joyce's Dubliners. What a magical musical history tour! The characters and themes of Dublin past leap to life in Joyce's pages—religion, class, politics—while their current iterations—race, job, cultural upbringing—erupt out of Doyle's tales. It's an illuminating immersion in the old, new, and enduring Dublin—and makes me want to get out that passport and stroll those storied streets.

Short List: On my Bookshelf

Travels in the East, Japan-based scholar Donald Richie's newest collection of incisive and insightful travel essays from all over Asia and the Pacific, from Mongolia to Borneo.

The Jewel Trader of Pegu, a historic novel by Jeffrey Hantover about a Jewish widower's romance with a young woman in the Burmese kingdom of Pegu

Havana Deco, a photo book ideal for lovers of Havana's art deco gems.

Riding Toward Everywhere, William T. Vollmann's memoir of riding freight trains across the American West.

New Book Roundup

The Many Faces of Islam
In Tahmima Anam's impressive debut novel, A Golden Age, a widow struggles to keep her family safe in Dhaka during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Penguin Classics this month reissues for the first time in paperback in the U.S. Wilfred Thesiger's The Marsh Arabs, a legendary account of his 1950s travels in Iraq's little-known southern Marshlands, with a new introduction by New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson.

One Last Thing: Ireland: We Can't Get Enough of It

Trip Lit's Book of the Month author Roddy Doyle doesn't appear in the new anthology Ireland: A Traveler's Literary Companion, but excerpts from other master storytellers do, including Edna O'Brien, John McGahern, and Brian Friel. The book, edited by James McElroy, is divided into four sections after the traditional Four Provinces of Ireland: Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster. Settle down with a cuppa and let the Emerald Isle unscroll before you from the pages of this soul-warming winter read.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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