mamm— Dear dirty Dublin
Hell hent on discovering why America has nine Duhlins and if they hottle the same charm as the original. Joseph O‘Connor got his lrish eyes well and truly opened. He speaks to Ann Donald.
‘()h to he in America. la. la. la. la. Americal‘ .-\h yes. the land of the hraye. the gun-hearing. Mickey Mouse. Route oh and -l-l million .'\lllc‘l'lc‘(llls who lay claim to (Wish ancestry. In his entertaining travelogue Sum"! /.l/H’I‘l_\'.‘ 'I'mvr'lv In /r/'\//.-ln1(wnu. Joseph ()'('onnor set out to roam the country that had hcen a source of passion and teenage wonder since a childhood holiday in ('onncmara inlroduced him to that alien hrced of tartan checked and llawaiian patterned .-\mcrican tourist.
All the adult O'Connor needed was an itinerary to L—‘ivc some order to his wanderlust. .-\nd hel‘ore )ou cottld say ‘llave a nice day y‘all.’ O‘Connor discovered. courtesy of limjvr'Iupur'tliu [tritium/m xii/us. that America laid proud claim to nine l)uhlins in nine different states. Bingo? There was the route
laid otit in hlack and w hite for the man; from l)uhlin. j
New Hampshire to l)uhlin. ('alil'ornia. plus an ohligatory diversion to pay homage to The King in Memphis it was rumoured lily is had lrish hlood. However. that certain magical veneer he'd imagined coated Yankee land prior to the trip. took a hit of a scraping. ‘I did think that it was going to he the hest gig in the world.‘ he says. ‘liut l w asn't prepared tor the pure teditnn and horedom that comes from travelling on your ow n o\ er such great distances'
liven the Huhlins he discovered often turned out to he mcrc dusty crossroads inhahitcd hy 'l)uhliners' w ho couldn‘t give a damn if they had a (luinncss capital twin or not. ‘I naively expected to pitch tip and lime a civ ic reception led hy the local mayor thrown for me.‘ laughs ()'(‘onnor. ‘You soon realise that Americans are quite insular in that they aren‘t
‘I thought that I had died and gone to . some terrible Hibernian Hell.’
really interested in anything outside their own state. never mind another country.‘
()‘('onnor conveys the downsides with a relentless acerhic humour that runs rings round the infamous tongue of liill liry son. liach chapter is hacked up with a ton of research. anecdotes and snippets of songs that conspire to inform the reader ol'the and incvitahle population links helween the Irish isle and the often pseudo Irish
historical. musical. cultural
inlets of .-\tncrica.
Joseph O’Connor: ‘There is something attractive about that green beer meMa'lW-' There were some redeeming aspects to ()‘Connor’s not least a little oasis of tack he chanced ttpon in Ohio. ‘I thought that I had died and gone to some terrihlc llihernian llell.’ writes the gohsmacked man on encountering The Dublin l’la/a. crammed with shops selling harps. Aran sweaters. inllatahle shamrocks and recordings of rehcl songs lamenting colleens in the home country. "l‘here is something attractive ahout that green heer mentality.‘ says ()‘(,‘onnor. "l'he word patriotism has hecome an ugly word in these times and we're uptight ahout it. hut with Americans there‘s a certaitt childishness and shallmvness in celehrating that aspect of patriotism.‘ ()‘(‘onnor has no plans to take tip his puhlisher's ol‘l'er of a return trip to America with the rctnit of exploring those cities with litn'opean counterparts. ‘.\'e\ er again.‘ he replies without hesitation. ‘l'm Usually a ﬁction writer and ill get myself into a problem I iust imagine mysell‘out of it. hut with travel writing you have to have some lidelity.‘ Swch Liberty: Trove/s In lr/s/r Amer/m by ./U\‘¢‘/)/l ()'( ‘mmnr is published by I’n'm/nr (II [15.99.
Emm- Burying the past ?
Ben Okri has come a long way since the violence and emotional upheaval of his childhood, in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. But although he is an internationally acclaimed author 3 — the 1991 Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Hoadwas just one of several high-profile awards -— he has never been able to languish in this linear description of success. 3 His novel The landscapes Within was Okri’s attempt as a young writer to i’ record the torrent of reactions and
Ben Okri: exorcising ghosts l
emotions he experienced during that time, but he sensed that he had only scratched the surface. ‘I felt the important thing then was to pour everything into that novel - the pain, the memories, the lives of people - and yet the ghosts remained and l have been unable to relinquish them,’ he says.
His attempt to come to terms with his harrowing experiences is the subtext of his new novel Dangerous love. The story follows a young painter, Omovo, struggling to keep his fragile emotions together, his creative drive intact and his love for a married woman secret. Like Christopher Hope in his work, Okri sets up tension in the book by juxtaposing impossible circumstances with burning desire. With the benefit of time, he feels more able now to describe the complexities and
pressures involved. ‘I feel that my craft has caught up with these ideas, has taught me the skill of selection,’ he says. ‘The discipline needed in short story writing has also helped shape my development as a writer.’ Okri’s style is deceptively simple.
There is a passion fused into the psyche of his characters as they alternate between languid and impetuous responses, all of them displaying a sense of survival in the most difficult of times. Through them, Okri has been able to exorcise the phantoms of his torrid childhood: ‘The ghosts of that time and of the early novel have been laid to rest, but there is a quiet benefit to be drawn from the experiences, a sense of treedom to write what I want.’ Tool Devldson) Dangerous love b y Ben am Is published by Phoenix House at £16.99.
The List l9 Apr-2 May I996 87