Joseph O’Neill and Me : A Common Ground

Who would have thought that Joseph O’Neill and I share common ground? When some years ago, I read his best seller book “Netherland” which I found superb – every sentence was a quote – I visualised him as an Irish  golden boy, Cambridge graduate,  high flyer lawyer in New York and the cherry on top, global bestselleristas.

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When I met him at the presentation of his new book “the Dog”  my first thought was “here we are, my cousin Kostas from Greece has changed identity”. His black hair, an Irish characteristic as well but in combination with his average height  and his gestures  were more from my own part of the world than that of Anglo Saxons.

With the combination of what he said to the audience and the small talk I had with him I realised our similarities are more than what I was expecting. His mother is from the Black Sea region (Turkey), the same with my mother’s family and both of us we had moved around the globe so much – sometimes  perhaps we had overlapped somewhere between Athens, London, Bath, Dresden, Dublin, New York, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Astana…  that we feel totally displaced and we enjoy it thoroughly! His last book “the Dog” is about Dubai the land of expats- the quintessential displaced people.

And in his own words – the interview he gave at Paris Review: “I’ve moved around so much and lived in so many different places that I don’t really belong to a particular place, and so I have little option but to seek out dramatic situations that I might have a chance of understanding. Hence Dubai: Dubai is an expat center…Before Netherland, I didn’t know how to approach that sense of chronic displacement. It took me a while to realize it was a huge story, the sense of not belonging, as you put it—of pretty much never being in a position to say, These people and I are the same. You could write a thousand novels about it and it wouldn’t get old, because it’s such an essential part of what it is to be human—that idea of where, if anywhere, you fit in, in the so-called scheme of things. And how does the world work? A lot of novels might inform you about how a character gets on with his Auntie, but they won’t necessarily tell you where the characters stand in relation to the world. I’m interested in putting characters in places where the world order is changing, and changing in a particular way. The word globalization grunts into view, here, along with post-nationalism, another brute.”

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O’Neill as all the writers have an issue with publishing their books and sometimes it’s just perfect luck. He says about his book “Netherland” : “Then my luck changed. It could change again. That’s the way it is. My job is to keep writing.”

And our job is  to keep reading- isn’t it?