Today is St. Patrick's day. As a tip of my hat to the Irish, I started reading 'The Deportees', a collection of short stories from the Booker prize winning Irish author Roddy Doyle.
The book is set in modern Ireland, post the 'economic miracle' that brought jobs, and unprecedented prosperity to the country in the 1990s. In some ways, the economic boom is the necessary backdrop without which the stories wouldn't make sense. Here is how Doyle talks about it in his prologue: 'In 1986, I wrote The Commitments. In that book, the main character, a young man called Jimmy Rabbitte, delivers a line that became quite famous - The Irish are the niggers of Europe. Twenty years on, there are thousands of Africans living in Ireland and, if I was writing that book today, I wouldn't use that line. It wouldn't actually occur to me, because Ireland has become one of the wealthiest countries in Europe and the line would make no sense.'
That, of course, was then. The Deportees was published in 2007. Since then, the miracle has gone sour. As I am reading the lines quoted above, CNN is interviewing Ireland's prime minister Brian Cowen who is in Washington today. The ticker says: 'Miracle' economy collapsing.
Ireland's one time 'Celtic Tiger' economy is in deep recession today. The property bubble has burst, unemployment is at 10.4% (more than double the level last year), the two largest banks are teetering on the edge and could be nationalized at any time, and the government does not have the money to provide any meaningful stimulus.
Set in the Tiger days, The Deportees feels vaguely other-worldly now. How quickly stories change! Happy Paddy's day.