In the foreword to his debut short-story collection "The Deportees" (Viking, 256 pages, $24.95), Roddy Doyle writes that change has come to Ireland, where Nigerians, Romanians, Poles and others have found a new home.
"It happened, I think, sometime in the mid-'90s. I went to bed in one country and woke up in a different one," writes Doyle, who may be best-known to Americans as the author of the novel "The Commitments," which was made into a 1991 movie.
When two Nigerians began publishing a multicultural newspaper, Doyle was intrigued and began contributing stories in monthly 800-word chapters. Eight appear in "Deportees," and they range from humorous to horrifying.
In the opener, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," Larry, father of four feisty daughters and a smart-mouthed son, must deal with his surprising uneasiness when one daughter brings Ben, an African colleague, home for dinner.
Larry knows he is not racist -- well, he's pretty sure he's not -- but the dinner is fraught with cringe-worthy mis-speaking and misunderstanding.
Another African, this one a 9-year-old, is the hero of "New Boy." Little Joseph has seen his father murdered, and is perceptive far beyond his years. That's important on his first day at an Irish school, where the students aren't exactly singing "Kumbaya" at his arrival. We expect a sad tale of bullying triumphant. But Doyle has other plans. Joseph, it turns out, knows how to fight back, and more impressive, how to bond with erstwhile enemies.
Far, far darker is "The Pram," in which a Polish nanny scares her charges, whom she dislikes, with a creepy fairy tale and then goes on to a shocking contretemps with the girls' wealthy, aggressive mother. The ending is chilling and profoundly disturbing.
The story that best embodies Doyle's affecting mix of hilarity, tenderness and hope is the title tale, "The Deportees."
Here he brings back Jimmy Rabbitte, who years ago had pulled the Commitments together. Jimmy's married now, with a tart-tongued wife, three little ones and a fourth on the way.
He wants to start a new band, made up of musicians from the world over.
It's all very funny, with amusingly odd characters.
Ireland's new face subject of Doyle's 'The Deportees'
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