What seems like a generation ago, Roddy Doyle gave the world The Commitments, a book that became a film and lingered on as a concept, universal in scope - an ambitious and creative but rather naive and occasionally doltish young man and his pals decide to become rock stars with their garage band. That young man, Jimmy Rabbitte, has resurfaced in one of the stories in this hilarious, sometimes poignant book.
The Deportees has a definite theme: Ireland has become rich, a land of immigrants, where once it was poor, a land people left for greener (if possible) pastures. So now, to define Irish, one must be prepared to describe a true cultural and racial hodge-podge. In each of these stories, Doyle introduces us to a foreigner encountering Ireland or an Irish person encountering a foreigner. The encounters are, generally speaking, funny. But some are deeply poignant, as the tale of nine-year-old African Joseph on his first day at school. His manner of dealing with teasing and aggression from other boys brings up his own flashbacks of the slaughter of his father, who had been the village schoolteacher. We see that Joseph, whose English is limited, is a very intelligent lad who will survive because he is prepared to fight fire with fire. In the end, he and the two boys with whom he was in conflict form their own little gang which the teacher soon dubs "the three Musketeers." Joseph has triumphed, after only a few hours in his new home.
Jimmy Rabbitte, former empresario of The Commitments, is grown up, with three "grand" children and another on the way. His wife, Aoife, is not pleased with his sudden decision to start a new band. She loves Jimmy, but she knows how wound up he gets in his mad schemes. The notion for the band begins when Jimmy is run over by a couple of new Irish people, foreigners, and has a flash about the potential for eclectic music in modern Ireland. He gathers a rag-tag group of Africans, Americans, and Eastern Europeans,
plus a couple of old mates from The Commitments, and tells them they're going to sing Woody Guthrie. For some strange reason, it works like a charm. The new immigrants can identify with Guthrie's celebration of the common man, and their transliteration of the lyrics - "these two-euro shoes don't fit my feet" - is just a scream. The band takes its name (and the book takes its) from the classic Guthrie song,
The book begins with a simple working sod named Larry who loves his brood of daughters and one son and goes along with all their craziness because they spoil him to death. Until one day, when the girls bring home a black man. "Guess Who's Coming to the Dinner" is the amusing tale of a dyed-in-the-Green Irishman trying to cope with his conflicting feelings about having a black man for a potential son-in-law.
Another thought-provoking but very funny story describes three teens who decide to do a "work project" for school by pretending to be shoplifters. It's a slam at racial profiling, they believe, because when the white boy and his Nigerian not-girlfriend walk around shops, they're constantly shadowed by security guards, but their third accomplice, in a borrowed wheelchair, actually steals stuff, and no one bothers him since he doesn't look like a thief. The story ends in the local Garda station, and the hint that the not-girlfriend has become the girlfriend after seeing her white companion stand up to the cops.
All totally satisfying, and just what we'd expect from the brilliant Mr Doyle.