Hamilton's mother was a German who travelled to Ireland in 1949 for a pilgrimage, married an Irishman, and settled in the country. His father was a militant nationalist who insisted that his children should speak only German or Irish, but not English, a prohibition the young Hugo resisted inwardly. "The prohibition against English made me see that language as a challenge. Even as a child I spoke to the walls in English and secretly rehearsed dialogue I heard outside," he wrote later.
As a consequence of this, he grew up with three languages - English, Irish and German - and a sense of never really belonging to any: "There were no other children like me, no ethnic groups that I could attach myself to".
Hamilton became a journalist, and then a writer of short stories and novels. His first three novels were set in Central Europe. Then came Headbanger (1996), a darkly comic crime novel set in Dublin and featuring detective Pat Coyne. A sequel, Sad Bastard, followed in 1998.
Following a year spent in Berlin on a cultural scholarship, he completed his memoir of childhood, The Speckled People (2003), which went on to achieve widespread international acclaim. Telling the story through the eyes of his childhood self, it painfully evoked the struggle to make sense of a bizarre adult world. It "triumphantly avoids the Angela's Ashes style of sentimental nostalgia and victim claims," wrote Hermione Lee in The Guardian . "The cumulative effect is to elevate an act of scrupulous remembering into a work of art," commented James Lasdun in the New York Times. The story is picked up in the 2006 volume, The Sailor in the Wardrobe.
In May 2007, German publisher Luchterhand published Die redselige Insel (The Talkative Island), in which Hamilton retraced the journey Heinrich Böll made in Ireland that was to be the basis of his bestselling book Irisches Tagebuch (Irish Journal) in 1957. Hamilton's most recent novel, Disguise was published on June 6, 2008.
Hugo Hamilton lives in Dublin, Ireland. In 1992 he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Sang impur, the French translation of The Speckled People, won the Prix Femina Etranger in 2004 and Il cane che abbaiava alle onde, the Italian translation of the memoir, won the Premio Giuseppe Berto in 2004.
Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (1996) ISBN 0-571-17693-3
The Speckled People (2003) ISBN 0-00-715663-4
The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006) ISBN 0-00-719217-7 [US Title: The Harbor Boys ISBN 0-06-078467-9]
The Speckled People: Gescheckte Menschen (Germany, 2004); Sang impur (France, 2004); Il cane che abbaiava alle onde (Italy, 2004); El perro que ladraba a las olas (Spain, 2005); Sproetenkoppen (Netherlands, 2006); Gent mestissa (Andorra, 2007); ?????????? (Bulgaria, 2008).
Headbanger: Der letzte Held von Dublin (Germany, 1999); Déjanté (France, 2006); Lo scoppiato (Italy, 2000)
The Sailor in the Wardrobe: Der Matrose im Schrank (Germany, 2006); Le marin de Dublin (France, 2006); De verdwijntruc (Netherlands, 2006); Il marinaio nell'armadio (Italy, 2007)
Sad Bastard: Ein schlechter Verlierer (Germany, 2001)
The Last Shot: Kriegsliebe (Germany, 2002); L'ultimo sparo (Italy, 2006); Het laatste schot (Netherlands, 2004)
Surrogate City: Berlin sous la Baltique (France, 1992)