No, not Eugene, although that would be quite a trick. Last Friday, the Beverly Hills Literary Escape hosted an intimate coffee with Joseph O’Neill. He was in town to discuss his recently re-released memoir, Blood-Dark Track. The book was initially published a month after 9/11 (i.e., before Netherland) in such a way that “it wasn’t in any bookstore.” O’Neill said it was safe to say that the only people who read it then were his family.
The book is the tale of O’Neill’s two grandfathers. His Irish grandfather was an extreme activist, heavily involved in the IRA. In contrast, O’Neill described his Turkish grandfather as an extreme bystander, someone who felt he could continue on with business ignoring the implications of the brewing world war. Both views landed them in jail during WWII. The Irish grandfather was imprisoned for his IRA involvement. The Turkish grandfather travelled to Palestine to pick up a crop of citrus fruit to sell in Turkey and was arrested as a spy for the Axis countries. O’Neill used both characters to ‘bore a hole through history.’ He recommended people discover their ancestors to learn more about their family and the bits of history that cling to them.
O’Neill admitted that as a result of the book tour, he was thinking about connections between Netherland and Blood-Dark Track. The writing of Blood-Dark Track organized a lot of his political thoughts that otherwise would have spilled out in Netherland. Without Blood-Dark Track, Netherland would have been a different book. While Netherland is a post-9/11 book, he feels Blood-Dark Track is also. It shows how his family dealt with a dramatic event, WWII, and the confusion caused by evaluating what they believed in and were willing to fight for. He sees a connection in the books concerning how we view ‘the other’ or whether we see them at all. His Turkish grandfather was alive during the Armenian genocide, yet his family said they ‘didn’t see it.’ O’Neill argues that they created a life that resulted in ‘not seeing.’ O’Neill consciously used cricket as a metaphor for the American vision, how far are we willing to see others who engage in activities were are completely unfamiliar with. How we create lives so that we don’t interact with ‘others,’ and what the result can be of our unseeing.
O’Neill doesn’t think he could write Netherland now because he has lost his outsider view. He described the advantage of being an ‘insider’ is the access to information, but the upside to being an outsider is that the person doesn’t have blinders on. O’Neill’s lived here a few years and what stood out to him in the past is now just part of the scenery. Although, he said he is still surprised Continue reading