Ireland with egg on its face
In a collection of short stories, Roddy Doyle captures the cultural collision between new immigrants and old habits.
(Page 2 of 2)
In "Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner," Larry Linnane is forced to re-evaluate his attitudes when his daughter brings home a Nigerian accountant. "He tortured himself for things to say, nice things that would prove he wasn't a bigot," Doyle writes wryly.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In the title story, Jimmy Rabbitte, whom readers may recognize as the manager of the eponymous "best Irish band never recorded" from "The Commitments," decides that life has become a bit flat. He rounds up a veritable United Nations of refugee musicians to create a new, multicultural band influenced by Woody Guthrie, which he dubs The Deportees.
Two of the stronger stories are from the perspective of recent immigrants. "New Boy" movingly describes 9-year-old Joseph's first day of school in Ireland, where he must figure out why the teacher keeps asking God to give her strength when there's "nothing very heavy in the classroom." More important, Joseph, who saw his schoolteacher father shot by bullying soldiers at his village school in Africa, must figure out how to handle the young bullies in his new school.
Even more powerful, "I Understand" gets inside the head of a man who's been in Ireland illegally for just three months, working two menial jobs. He's targeted by thugs who try to intimidate him into smuggling drugs for them. But Tom, like Joseph in "New Boy," saw his father die and is tired of running. He, too, figures out a way to reclaim his life.
"The Pram" is a horror story about a Polish nanny's revenge on her foul-mouthed female boss that evokes Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw." "Home to Harlem" concerns a young Irishman determined to find the key to his mixed identity in the Harlem of his African-American grandfather and its literature.
Whether they're immigrants or native Irish, down-and-out or thriving, Doyle shows respect for his characters. He lends them his ear, captures their voices, and endows them with the first thing the hard world so often strips away: dignity. It's a worthy accomplishment.
[Editor's note: The original version misspelled the writer's name.]