The Dirty Dust Cré na Cille Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Alan Titley

The Margellos World Republic of Letters
Publication date:
24 Mar 2015
Yale University Press
328 pages: 197 x 127 x 29mm

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Now available in paperback, the original English-language translation of Ó Cadhain’s raucous masterpiece

Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s irresistible and infamous novel The Dirty Dust is consistently ranked as the most important prose work in modern Irish, yet no translation for English-language readers has ever before been published. Alan Titley’s vigorous new translation, full of the brio and guts of Ó Cadhain’s original, at last brings the pleasures of this great satiric novel to the far wider audience it deserves.
In The Dirty Dust all characters lie dead in their graves. This, however, does not impair their banter or their appetite for news of aboveground happenings from the recently arrived. Told entirely in dialogue, Ó Cadhain’s daring novel listens in on the gossip, rumors, backbiting, complaining, and obsessing of the local community. In the afterlife, it seems, the same old life goes on beneath the sod. Only nothing can be done about it—apart from talk. In this merciless yet comical portrayal of a closely bound community, Ó Cadhain remains keenly attuned to the absurdity of human behavior, the lilt of Irish gab, and the nasty, deceptive magic of human connection.

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Read more about The Dirty Dust on the YaleBooks blog

Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–1970) is considered one of the most significant writers in the Irish language. Alan Titley, a novelist, story writer, playwright, and scholar, writes a weekly column for The Irish Times on current and cultural matters.

“[An] earthy, poetic, and darkly comic masterpiece . . . with its exhilaratingly free-wheeling celebration of all that is worst in human nature.”—Adam Lively, Sunday Times 

‘Among the best books to come out of Ireland in the 20th century… it bristles with black comedy’—Max Liu, the Independent.

“A classic Irish novel, the translation of The Dirty Dust was long overdue. Alan Titley's vigorous translation fits the dialogue-intense work well . . . The Dirty Dust does a great deal within the limits of its inspired premise.”—M.A.Orthofer, Complete Review

“A novel of almost unbelievable invention, humor, pathos, eloquence, and fury . . . dazzlingly funny and creative . . . [an] amazing book.”—David Mehegan, Arts Fuse

“The gaggle of characters who step into and out of The Dirty Dust's driving conversation have nowhere to go, as they've already been tucked into caskets in the local graveyard. But death hasn't deprived them of their voices . . . The Dirty Dust imagines an afterlife still filled thick with words—and one well worth prying open.”—Colin Dwyer, NPR

“[The Dirty Dust] is a cacophony of voices that reveal a place and its people. Its world is sad and beautiful, and the talk is endlessly entertaining.”—Jan Gardner, Boston Globe

“For a novel that takes place six feet under ground, Ó Cadhain’s The Dirty Dust is quite the lively affair . . . Alan Titley’s translation resuscitates it wonderfully for an entirely new population of modern day readers to ponder over and enjoy.”—Aaron Westerman, Typographical Era (blog)

‘Like many Modernist texts and art works The Dirty Dust, mixing energy and exhaustion, makes up its own rules, and it depends on the reader, and indeed the translator, to decipher them as we go along. Titley deserves our gratitude for making this novel available in English for the first time...’—Colm Toibin, Irish Times.

‘The high energy of the Irish masterpiece is translated to another kind of energy...Titley is one of the few — in the world — who possesses the necessary combination of linguistic and literary skills required for the task, and he has made a difficult work readable and accessible in more ways than one.’—Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Financial Times.

“Never mind that all of the characters are dead, The Dirty Dust is full of life.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

‘…O’Cadhain’s greatest accomplishment, it seems to me, was to achieve a perfect synthesis of style and subject. It’s a lesson still being absorbed that small Irish towns are utterly unsuited to the conventions of literary realism, and in opting instead for this anarchic symphony – the book is a kind of wind machine blowing out gales of yammer and yap – he evolved a narrative structure capable of snagging the native genius of such places.'—Kevin Barry, the Guardian.

“Irreverent and raucously funny . . . Titley’s translation is sensitive and vibrant . . . courageous and timely . . . By exhuming Ó Cadhain’s zany chorus of cadavers, Titley has opened this masterpiece to the wider audience it so richly deserves. May it not rest in peace.”—Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin, The Millions

“[A] rollicking romp . . . Shocking, uproarious, and heartrendingly tender by turns.”—Cindy Hoedel, Kansas City Star (selected as a favorite book of 2015)

“A ceaseless and often hilarious torrent of chatter and bickering . . . By allowing his characters to speak only after they have died, Ó Cadhain removes his characters’ need to dissimulate, laying bare aspects of humanity we might wish to forget.”—Eric Jett, Full Stop

NPR has included the title in its year-end “Book Concierge,” an online “Guide to 2015’s Great Reads.” It is one of the staff picks, thanks to Colin Dwyer, who praises this “foul-mouthed gabfest between corpses in a small-town graveyard” for “its playful turns of phrase—and remarkably inventive profanity” that give the book “a lot of bawdy life.”

The Dirty Dust is a feat of translation: vigorous and fun, each line rendered with idiomatic aplomb . . . Titley, like Ó Cadhain, is an accomplished wordplayer.”—William Brennan, New Yorker