I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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There and Then

Inventory: A River, A City, A Family, by Darran Anderson, Chatto and Windus, 358 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-1784741501 In his memoir, Darran Anderson surveys a city whose name remains a shibboleth in our contemporary, supposedly “post-conflict” moment. He details the complicated nature of establishing one’s position in relation to the Maiden City, Stroke City, Doire, Derry, Londonderry, or as some would have it, Derry-Londonderry. The city’s image is a split signifier; for it is divided by the River Foyle which runs through its centre, separating and uniting the communities of the Cityside (on the west bank, traditionally Catholic) and the Waterside (on the east bank, traditionally Protestant). Anderson was born in 1980 in Troubles-torn Derry, a site demarcated by strict sectarian geography, a ubiquitous surveillance regime, and a fraught history of violence. Growing up in a contested space, one’s sense of location is simultaneously overdetermined and unsettled. This paradox is heightened by Derry’s liminality as a city near the borderlands between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is an ordinary place that is firmly grounded in everyday working class life; but it is also an area traversed by the agents of conquest, conflict, commerce, and above all, History. Anderson is especially interested in those who fall through the city’s cracks, noting how “entire lives end up as marginalia”. Inventory: A River, A City, A Family traces the social cartography of Derry and examines how this intersects with its physical topography and material history. Anderson writes creative nonfiction exploring urban space for a number of art and architecture publications. He also published an inventive, immersive short story about a disorienting cityscape entitled “The Eclipse” in the anthology Being Various: New Irish Stories (Faber and Faber, 2019), edited by fellow Northern writer Lucy Caldwell. Notably, Anderson only mentions Derry once in his previous book, Imaginary Cities (2015), a fascinating, sprawling compendium which was named Book of the Year by The Guardian and the Financial Times. He briefly references Free Derry, remarking that the no-go zone encompassing the Bogside and Creggan neighbourhoods “kept the occupying [British] army out for two years” and ruminating that “freespace” can sometimes emerge “from bullet-holes”. The epigraph to his debut book cites Italo Calvino, who asserts, “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” This statement clearly applies to the Derry, or “Derrys”…

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