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Review: Say Nothing

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

3/5 stars

A sentence near the end of the book served as a pretty great summary of its objective: "to tell a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals - and a whole society - makes sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect."

This book starts with the mystery of a "disappeared" woman, Jean McConville, single mother of ten, who was taken from her home during the height of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Using this as a jumping off point, Radden Keefe details events and people that were seminal to the conflict - a sweeping portrait of Northern Ireland (and Dublin, and London) from the late 1960s to the peace accord in 1998, and beyond. The narrative jumps around from victim to perpetrator, backstreets and beaches to English prisons, violent acts to political posturing. At times I found the jumps a bit confusing, but it's possible that was partly due to the fact that I was listening to some of the book on Audible (back & forth between reading & listening, depending on what I had time for), and the reader has a thick Irish accent. I definitely found myself losing sight of the story line because I was too busy enjoying the brogue! (After a while I got used to it and was able to pay closer attention.)

Besides a passing knowledge of Bloody Sunday, I really didn't know anything about the key events or players... So, IRA members Dolours & Marian Price, Brendan Hughes, and Gerry Adams were all new names to me. I was particularly interested to watch the progression of these individuals and others - through militant activism, to, in their older age, varying degrees of guilt/conscience/reckoning and avoidance/denial. Many former IRA members spoke on tape in their later years - interviews which were captured and saved at Boston College. These oral histories were meant to be sealed until their subjects' deaths, but politics and poor planning meant they ended up being controversial and, in some cases, exposed.

The book ends with fascinating speculation about the implications of Brexit. Northern Ireland will no longer be a part of the EU, while the Republic of Ireland will be, creating a border potentially as guarded and contentious as it was during the Troubles.

(Thank you to Karen Fanning for loaning me - and my mom - the book!)

(Photo above: Had to include a photo of the book AND headphones. Listening to this was part of the experience!)


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Jan 26, 2020

@thebrinksheist Wow! I've never read anything else about that time but it was very informative, for sure.


Jan 24, 2020

Far and away one of my favorite nonfiction books in recent years. This gave me better insight into The Troubles than did the many books I read for research.

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