Peeling Oranges

"Peeling Oranges" cover

Peeling Oranges tells the story of how Derek Foley, while sifting through his late father’s diaries and his mother’s correspondence with an IRA man, discovers that Patrick Foley, a diplomat in Franco’s Spain, was not really his father. Derek’s mother, who is ailing, is unwilling to discuss the past, forcing her son on a quest that will plunge him into the early history of Irish diplomacy, taking him to Spain and later to Northern Ireland, until he discovers who his real father was — with tragic consequences. Peeling Oranges is a novel full of personal and political intrigue, fraught with ideology, as it intersects the histories of two emergent nations — Ireland and Spain. It is also a beautiful and lyrically written love story of childhood sweethearts — the apolitical Derek and the passionate nationalist, Sinéad Ní Shúilleabháin.

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Some reviews of Peeling Oranges:

“A book to lose oneself in. I highly recommend it.”
Gabriel Byrne

Book Review – “Peeling Oranges” by James Lawless
November 17, 2014
Review by Malka in Contemporary Books.

‘Poets sing their sadness,’ my mother said. ‘Their misery evaporates into air. But where does the sadness of non-poets go?’ – Derek, “Peeling Oranges”

One of my favorite ways to pick up a new book is by browsing the aisles of a library or bookstore, because sometimes I will find a book by an author that I have never heard of or read about elsewhere. These books have a tendency to surprise me and go on to become some of my favorite reads because they are hidden gems, discovered purely by chance and not dictated by any bestseller list. Peeling Oranges By James Lawless. Similarly, when I browse online websites like Cheap eBooks, I get excited because I always feel that I am getting one step closer to discovering a new hidden gem. The most recent one I discovered is James Lawless’s “Peeling Oranges,” and it has to be one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year. Well rounded characters, a flawed hero, a thrilling plot and a tender love story rests at its center.

The main character, Derek is on a quest to discover the identity of his birth father and the journey turns into a rite of passage into adulthood; his narrative is vivid and nostalgic, his journey is an odyssey that readers will find themselves heavily invested into. With his mother, Martha, deepening into dementia, Derek utilizes her fading memories and his adoptive father’s diaries to uncover the truth about himself. He asks the questions that almost all of us ask at one point in our lives, who am I and where did I come from? These questions are the burning fuel to his quest. History is an important aspect to Derek, he is drawn to it because of the lack of knowledge of his own history.

“[History] lets you off the hook. You could project your personal fears into the national psyche. You could blame other races for your own shortcomings. And nobody need ever know.”

Patrick is Derek’s adoptive father and he speaks to the audience through the passages of his diary. Unlike other books in which the diary form of narrative is used, Patrick’s diary is summarized and a few key passages highlighted by Derek. This helps to accelerate the story forward, but also gives the reader a glimpse into how Derek is processing the story he is trying to unfold. It is through Patrick’s diary that the reader learns of what Derek’s mother was like before a traumatic event took away her sanity, and we are introduced to another key character Gearóid. Gearóid is a fearless guerrilla fighter for the IRA, and Martha’s childhood friend. “Childhood bonds cannot be broken, not even by adult institutions, not even by marriage.” Patrick notes in his journal. The parallels between the past and present are interesting, especially when Sinéad enters Derek’s life later on into the story. Like Gearóid, Sinéad is a headstrong guerrilla fighter, and another reminder to Derek that those who do not know their history, are doomed to repeat it.

Derek and Patrick’s narrative relays the intertwined history of the IRA’s involvement in Spain’s Civil War in a rich and poetic way. Despite my own lack of knowledge on Ireland’s history, the author weaves story and historical facts together without the book reading like textbook. Stories like this are important because it illuminates the human experience in different parts of the world. Though dense, “Peeling Oranges” is a labor of love to get through, and in the vast sea of fiction it is a true hidden gem.

A thrilling ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


By Wendy Robertson of Writing Life Twice Tasted
4 November, 2014

The central character Derek, around whom Peeling Oranges is built, is reading yellowing letters from his mother, a heroine of revolutionary Ireland, to the man Derek thinks is his father, then in post-Civil War in Madrid:
‘…an initially neat hand succumbing to a spidery scrawl. A gush of words, impatient for ink, flying in many directions, trying to find something to stab. Written in Irish, Accent marks land randomly, surprising letters not used to stress.’

We in England might think we share a history with Ireland. But in reading this absorbing novel I understand again what I always suspected: it is not the same history. As I read on, it dawned on me that we have more in common with the French, our fellow world Imperialists. Only the different languages divide us,

Yet we think we share a language with the Irish. In fact we donated this English language to the Irish by force and they cleverly imported into it elements of their own and –as we know from the eminent writers in English emerging from that tradition – transformed it into a thing of music and beauty.

The theme of language is a strong undercurrent in this novel – almost a character in itself. English is the tongue of the oppressors and yet is universally if unwillingly used. Derek is scolded by Sinead for not speaking to her in Irish. Irish words and names (and Spanish words and names …) are scattered through the novel like a teasing code for the reader.
I was interested to learn that the Irish language was used as a diplomatic code to thwart the English who, during World War Two, had broken the Enigma Code but in four hundred years had never bothered to learn Irish and had even punished children for speaking it. This was especially important during and after the Spanish Civil war when Ireland officially recognised the Franco regime. believing that this gave Ireland a separate identity and and international recognition. This also made way for the declaration of Irish neutrality in the Second World War.
Patrick, an Irish Diplomat at the court of General Franco in Madrid, is the clearest and most unambiguous character in this novel. We hear his voice through his letters and diaries, and get to know him through a visit the young Derek makes to Madrid and Barcelona.

In Peeling Oranges we move in time from the 30s to the 60s when the revolutionary war had moved to the North of Ireland and the IRA and its heroes and heroines are still bedded in a narrative that goes back four hundred years. This is symbolised in the persisting theme of oranges in this novel – eating, peeling them at home, picking them in Spain – the theme eventually echoed in the bitter taste of the Orange marches in Belfast.

So far, so much information and insight. This might too much to take in, if it were not for the fascinating narrative at its centre, where Derek, the lonely, neglected son of a Revolutionary heroine, and in love with such a girl of his own generation, struggles within a confusing mix of identity, history, psychology and nationhood to discover just who he is as an individual.

Derek is confused. His mother, once beautiful, is now old, becoming senile. She continues her life- long habit of being cold, cruel and rejecting towards him. Then he begins to read his father Patrick’s diaries and papers. So Derek begins to create an image of an unhappy man, madly in love with Derek’s mother, the Irish revolutionary heroine. Then there is the IRA hero lurking in the shadows of his life. And then there is the girl Sinaed – clever, committed and brave, determined to match her heroism to that of Derek’s mother.
But Derek is tentative, not made of such heroic stuff. He struggles in the matrix of his parents’ history, hating the English, honouring the Irish and trying to become his own self. In the process he is driven unwillingly to kill and to witness the maiming of one close to him.

This novel is a fluid mass of symbolism, ideas, opinions and historical insights held together with literary efficiency by Derek’s tentative journey through his parents’ pasts into his own present. Effectively an orphan of the Revolution, he moves on just into the post-revolutionary phase of an Ireland not secured by rusty chains to the skirts of England, but emerging into the a-historical materialist world as an independent nation in the European Community.
On the cover: ‘A book to lose oneself in. Highly recommended.’ Gabriel Byrne
I certainly lost myself in it. It is a great read.
Highly recommended. w.

Peeling Oranges by James Lawless

Goodreads review by John Dizon, 24 October, 2014
When I picked up a copy of Peeling Oranges by James Lawless, I was expecting a blood bucket of a revenge tragedy that IRA-UDA gang wars tend to produce. Upon reading the blurb that mentioned the Irish-Spanish connection, I figured the author would pull it in a notch the way most novelists do when shifting scenes from the streets of Northern Ireland to the rolling Spanish plains. Well, he did, but not as much as you’d expect. Our protagonist, Patrick Foley, is on a search for truth that crosses paths with hardcore Irish idealists caught in the web of intrigue surrounding Franco’s takeover of Spain during WWII. He finds himself on a collision course with irresistible forces of fate that will redefine his life beyond his expectations as well as those of Lawless’ audience.

The narrative is as much about the female protagonist, Sinead Ni Shuilleabhain (hope you’re not reading this aloud) as it is the major antagonist, Gearoid MacSuibhne. Sinead is from a family of Irish patriots who suffered indignities under the scourge of the British Army, and carries her grudge as a chip on her shoulder. It serves as a psychological scar that Lawless portrays as a physical one that mars the beauty of a beautiful woman. She is a seething character bent on payback, acting as a fitting counterpart to the serpentine Gearoid. Maybe the name gives him away but his beguiling demeanor works masterfully in making Patrick think he holds the keys to the former Spanish kingdom. It turns into a devil’s triangle set against the international scene as both the Irish and the Spanish are seen by the pre-WWII Nazi Empire as pawns in their campaign for world domination. Patrick seeks answers, trying to find out who killed his father and why his enemies in Spain wanted him dead. Gearoid helps him unravel a dangerous mystery, though Sinead suspects the answers may cost more than Patrick is able to pay.

Sound intriguing? You can bet a keg on Guinness on it. Buy a copy of Peeling Oranges by James Lawless and settle back for an Irish classic you’ll long remember.

Goodreads review by John Dizon, 24th October 2014

Buy the book or ebook by clicking here

“This is a well written novel which manages not just to tell its own story but also to weave together different strands of Spanish and Irish politics.”
Books Ireland

“Lawless has a way with language.”
Daily Mail

“This is a wonderful, involving story of high-quality prose fiction.”
Hot Press magazine

Reviews from Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars Trying to find your roots.,January 3, 2013

Peeling Oranges is a mystery, about a man who is trying to figure out where he comes from.

The book follows Derek Foley, whose life is turned to shambles when his diplomat father dies and he learns that he is not really his son. The discovery is made when Derek is left to go through his Patrick Foleys possessions. Although Derek keeps trying to acquire information from his mother that could lead him to finding the identity of his father, she refuses to help him. The story takes place in Spain and Northern Ireland, and Lawless really did impressive work touching on these historical aspects in his story. There is much more travel involved as well!

I really enjoyed this book. I can understand how a man would feel so drawn to need to know where he comes from, and who he really is. This book is a page turner! I love a good mystery and Lawless delivered!

5.0 out of 5 stars A mystery from the past,December 30, 2012

Can you forget your past? Well, one may try, but it can haunt you until your very end. Events we think long forgotten never actually disappear but lie buried deep down till one day they can resurface. This classic masterpiece takes us on a journey through a woman’s life, backwards. She is the mother of the leading character of the story, Mr. Derek Foley. The events that take place reveal some dark secrets; secrets which are best kept well hidden from the present.

Derek Foley’s organized life style collapses when he discovers that his beloved diplomat father, Patrick Foley, is not actually his real father. This discovery leaves an empty space in his life and heart, a space he feels must be filled. So he begins a search for his real father. His mother refuses to provide straight forward answers to his questions about his father, preferring to keep the truth about him hidden.

And so the quest to uncover the truth about his father begins, and this is where this story really begins. Derek Foley faces all sorts of difficulties while trying to uncover the hidden past, but he is unrelenting in his pursuit for the truth about the past, where ever it may take him. And so he finds himself travelling to many a location to find out more.

The events in this novel are excellently interconnected with historic events that took place in Spain and Northern Ireland. It this, it is a great period novel.

But I say this is so much more that just another historic novel; it contains great intrigue and mystery, keeping you involved throughout. The story grips you and never lets the reader want to put down the book till the mystery is finally resolved.

The novel also contains two underlying themes. One is a passionate love story between Derek and his childhood sweetheart. And the other is a mystery that is full of intrigue between the good and the bad leading to a dramatic end.
I enjoyed the way the author effortlessly interlinks these two stories together successfully.

Anyone who loves a good read should adore this novel.

5.0 out of 5 stars Peeling Oranges,December 22, 2012

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Peeling Oranges tells the story of how Derek Foley, while sifting through his late father’s diaries and his mother’s correspondence with an IRA man, discovers that Patrick Foley, a diplomat in Franco’s Spain, was not really his father. Derek’s mother who is ailing is unwilling to discuss the past, forcing her son on a search for paternity through a web of Spanish and Irish history, providing the text with a strong narrative drive and focus. The author’s extensive knowledge of Irish and Spanish history is evident as he creates fascinating parallels between Irish and Spanish upheaval, submerging the reader into a very real past in the company of highly credible, complex and interesting characters. The ruminations for instance of the Bible-quoting career diplomat Patrick Foley on impotence and early experiments with artificial insemination, and his Thursday visits to his young female `friend’ in the barrio chino of Barcelona, provide a fascinating study of a complex man. His wife Martha, on the other hand, divides her time between Madrid and the tenements of Dublin, where she helps the nationalist cause and does social work. Her garrulous accounts to Patrick of old Liberties’ characters, with their mixture of sadness and humour, jump off the page in their authenticity. This former loquaciousness of his mother puzzles Derek as she is always reticent towards him. She tries to deny her nationalist involvement to him. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the clipped and spare non-connecting dialogue between herself and her son, as she is determined to keep the secret of her past from him.

This personal history is interwoven almost seamlessly with the histories of the two emergent states of Spain and Ireland, in prose that is lyrical at times, reminding one of an Ondaatje novel.

The manner, in which Derek is torn by his own apolitical, universal views and his growing fondness for the passionate nationalist Sinéad with whom he grew up, is delicately handled. Also, the tension is palpable as he is drawn into the conflict in the North, and the anger that drives him, having been lied to, is convincingly portrayed. The journey north provides a nerve-tingling, final resolution of Derek’s quest for paternity.

5.0 out of 5 stars Full value once again from James Lawless,January 7, 2013

If you love books that provide more than a simple story line then have a read of this excellent piece of work by James Lawless. I had read three other novels by this guy and he never disappoints, he really does have a gift in coming up with solid ideas and story lines, mixed in with exceptional writing skills that keep the reader engaged.

The theme, I guess, is perhaps quite common, as a young man (Derek) discovers the person he believed to be his father actually was not and his mother’s stubbornness to give him answers in relation to the identity or whereabouts of his real father leaves him looking for alternatives to find out the truth.

The revelation comes about following his “step-father’s” death and some of the personal possessions reveal an unexpected discovery. It is not unreasonable therefore that Derek wants to know who is father so his search begins. The novel spans across Spain and Northern Ireland and dives in to historical and political aspects of the two countries.

As mysteries go, it is as good as they get, with lots of questions introduced early in the story and a plot and sub-plots that generate more questions as the story progresses. Step by step you are drawn further in to mystery and the eventual outcome and it looks like it was written quite effortlessly but is of a very high quality, which is probably true given the experience of the author. Keep them coming James; you are providing full value to everything you write.

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Masterly; a novel I loved from start to finish,

January 8, 2013

From the early pages when James Lawless is describing the early years of Derek Foley and his evolving relationship with his mother, and the reading of his father’s dairies, and the big discovery that follows, I was enamored with this novel.

The story and the characters are so interesting that it is almost Dickensian, involving you in the story and getting you to become really fascinated in each of the characters, and what happens next.

I could go more into the plot, but I think the joy of this novel is in the discovery. The less you know about the book, the more you will probably enjoy it.

You won’t be disappointed in this one.

I consider this as one of my favorite books in a long time. James Lawless, you have found yourself a new fan. I’m out to read your next novel. Great stuff.

5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging. An extremely well written novel,January 10, 2013
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An extremely well written novel revealing a world I never knew anything about…. until this book.

I was not surprised to see that the book has won a number of awards (Scintilla award and others), such is the style and originality of this story.

The period covered by James Lawless is quite fascinating covering Ireland before the IRA, and the time of Spain under the dictatorship of Franco. I knew nothing about the relationship that existed between the two countries at that time. Yes, famous novelists such as George Orwell left to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but this book really opens up this period in history in a way I never knew before.

The book also has many other interesting parts to it. It shows what life in Ireland was like at the time (very poor in parts) and has some very interesting characters in it. The book starts well with the main character discovering he is not who he thinks he is, with the true identity of his real father being a mystery. From there, it just gets better. Truly engaging book. Highly recommended.


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