""Meticulously reported, exquisitely written, and grippingly told, Say Nothing is a work of revelation." --David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress--with so many kids, McConville always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes. Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists--or volunteers, depending on which side one was on--such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace and denied his I.R.A. past, betraying his hardcore comrades--Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish"--"A narrative about a notorious killing that took place in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and its devastating repercussions to this day"--
Using the framework of these two women's lives, Patrick Radden Keefe explores the history of Northern Ireland during the years known as The Troubles, a thirty year span that began in the late 1960s and ended with the Good Friday Agreements of 1998. The Troubles are a complex and maddening part of a long conflict, but by structuring it around a single event, and two women, Keefe manages to control the focus of the book. McConville was killed by the Provisional IRA, known as the Provos, and while usually the bodies of anyone murdered by them were left to be found as a warning to others, McConville's was not. The reasoning for that is unclear as is the reason for her murder. The attempt to unravel what happened to her involves learning about what daily life was like for the citizens of Belfast, what drew young people into the IRA and how the Provisional IRA functioned during those years and how it was that they came to decide on peace.
This is a superlatively good book. By keeping the focus on the two women, Keefe was able to give a solid history of the IRA during the years of The Troubles in a manageable and compelling way. Delours Price is a fascinating woman who was in the middle of the things for a long time. And the impact of and ambiguity around Jean McConville's disappearance, not the least what it did to her children, makes her story impossible to set aside.
In December 1972, a widowed mother of ten children, Jean McConville was abducted and murdered by the Irish Republican Army. According to the IRA, McConville was an informer for the British Army or a "tout" and was "disappeared" for her offenses. Her children were separated and suffered abuse in orphanages. As adults they continued to pursue justice for their mother.
Intertwined with the McConville story are the stories of two members of the IRA. Dolours Price, with her sister Marian, became a prominent IRA volunteer, partly because they were young, attractive women, who were imprisoned for their role in a bombing and participated in a lengthy hunger strike. Brendan Hughes was an IRA commander and military strategist who organized the Bloody Friday bombings of July 21, 1972, the IRA's biggest bombing attack in Belfast. Later, Hughes lead the first of two major hunger strikes by Republican prisoners in Long Kesh prison.
Another key figure in the book is Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political party associated with the IRA. Adams is famed for his contributions to the peace process by willing to be flexible with the goals of Republican ideology. But this book reveals that he achieved his political aims by consistently denying any involvement in the IRA in the 1970s. Price and Hughes, both of whom claim they were ordered to commit atrocities by Adams, find a deep betrayal in how Adams washes his hands of guilt for the crimes they still struggle with.
A major factor in this history is The Belfast Project, an oral history project conducted in the early 2000s by Boston College. Former members of Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries (including Price and Hughes) participated in the project under the belief that the recordings would be kept secret until after their deaths. When the existence of the tapes became known, a legal battle ensued as UK authorities tried to use them to prosecute cold cases, including the murder of Jean McConville.
Keefe is an American writer with a journalistic writing style who offers empathy (but not without judgment) for the many figures in the history. The narrator, Matthew Blaney, lends an authentic Northern Ireland voice to the narrative.
– VIET THANH NGUYEN
This book did not have me hooked from the start.
I’ve always been unaware of “the conflict in the North of Ireland”, or, as the book points out, “Northern Ireland”; the difference between the two terms can be—and often is—politically vast, as is everything, for example to pronounce the letter “h” as “aitch” or “haitch”.
My family is partly from Yugoslavia. When that nation broke into smaller ones, and NATO tried to shell Serbia from the face of the planet, suddenly everybody I even remotely knew, whose surname contained “ic”, turned political. Mainly via their parents. And vinegar words turned into vitriol, which turned into hatred of a people, of a nation, of more nations. And all were against NATO/USA.
Radden Keefe is, I suppose, denounced by a lot of people just for writing about what’s happened.
I believe he is moralistic in the book. And I think he’s right in choosing sides, morally speaking. This could be because I agree with a lot of his decisions, even though he’s not steadfastly saying something’s right or wrong; he’s researched the hell out of this book and come to his own terms on a lot of things.
This book is, by the way, anything other than a Wikipedia search result. Radden Keefe has spoken with many persons and uncovered truths himself. More importantly, this book is not only extremely well written and respectful—as far as that is possible, considering that some stances are held—but stylistically beautiful. The rhythms this book contains is staggeringly wondrous and radiant: it’s like truly discovering what is beautiful in jazz. The timings, the space of the book, despite the thousands of subjectively dormant facts that have been uncovered in these pages, are, simply put, a reminder of what documentary writing can be at its best.
This book delves into the Troubles from different perspectives, naturally from different political ones, but also from the eyes of everyday people who lived in the Troubles.
The story of Jean McConville and her family horrified me on several different levels. From the book:
Nights were especially eerie in Divis. People would turn out all their lights, so the whole vast edifice was swathed in darkness. To the McConville children, one night in particular would forever stand out. Jean had recently returned from the hospital, and there was a protracted gun battle outside the door. Then the shooting stopped and they heard a voice. ‘Help me!’ It was a man’s voice. Not local. ‘Please, God, I don’t want to die.’ It was a soldier. A British soldier. ‘Help me!’ he cried.
As her children watched, Jean McConville rose from the floor, where they had been cowering, and moved to the door. Peeking outside, she saw the soldier. He was wounded, lying in the gallery out in front. The children remember her re-entering the flat and retrieving a pillow, which she brought to the soldier. Then she comforted him, murmuring a prayer and cradling his head, before eventually creeping back into the flat.
Archie – who, with Robert in prison, was the oldest child there – admonished his mother for intervening. ‘You’re only asking for trouble,’ he said. ‘That was somebody’s son,’ she replied. The McConvilles never saw the soldier again, and to this day the children cannot say what became of him.
But when they left the flat the next morning, they found fresh graffiti daubed across their door: BRIT LOVER.
I feel that the author never tries to say that this book is an ultimate truth of sorts; the title gives that away. Radden Keefe is a great storyteller and an adept journalist.
I’ll never understand the Troubles as somebody who’s lived at that time and in Northern Ireland will. A book will never provide me with even a day’s worth of anything remotely akin to that.
What this book does provide, is written transcript of the lives and deaths of innocent people, the search for justice, and the search for truth. In the middle of this book, the search for truth prevails over all the deaths, those committed by the British, the IRA, Gerry Adams‘s many different lives, the clandestine testimonies by Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, the graffitied murals of Belfast, past the funerals, the Armalites, the graves, and the searches for graves, decades past.
The past might never come to rest, but when do we?
We learn that silence buries truth.
While Keefe's book would seem to be a true crime story, it's really more the story of politics within the IRA, the resistance movement and the British efforts to quell it. In fact, we hear little about Jean again until near the end of the book. The focus shifts to the leaders and agents of the IRA--Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, Bobby Sands, and two sisters, Dolours and Marian Price, among others. The Price sisters were convicted of setting a bomb that exploded in front of Old Bailey in London, injuring more than 200 people, but after an extended hunger strike threatened their lives, Marian was released and Dolours granted her request to be sent to a prison in Northern Ireland. She was also released soon after due to critical health issues. Dolours had been close to Gerry Adams, but once he won a seat in the Irish parliament and helped to engineer a peace treaty, she became outraged at what she saw as his personal opportunism and backing down from the goals of a united, independent Ireland; she felt that the peace treaty meant all of the deaths and sacrifices had been for nothing. Worse still, Adams publicly denied, over and over again, any connection to the IRA. Leaning heavily on Dolours's various interviews, lectures, and published writing, Keefe not only gives us a view of the initial solidarity and ultimate infighting in the IRA but teases out what might have happened to Jean McConville and fifteen others of the disappeared.
If you're looking for an exciting true crime story, this probably isn't it; you'll get too bogged down in the politics and footnotes. But if you are interested in Irish resistance movement of the 1970s and beyond, Say Nothing is a fascinating read.
Patrick Radden Keefe's book focuses on just one bloody incident in The Troubles: the abduction and murder of Jean McConville. a widow with ten children who was accused of being an informant to the British military. Keefe looks at what drove the violence: decades of discrimination against Catholics in employment, housing and schooling in the north, the desire for a unified Ireland, and teh almost consistent flat-footed nature of the occupying British military forces. Neighborhoods were segregated and marked by fences of concertina wire and people mostly kept to their own kind and were suspicious of anyone now known to them. Residents on both sides quickly learned that there was nothing worse that being an informer and people learned to keep their mouths shut.
We meet two sisters, Dolours and Marilyn Price, who came from an IRA family and played significant roles in London IRA bombings, and probably in Jean McConville's murder. They were eventually caught, arrested and sentenced to a prison in England where they went on a hunger strike that does permanent damage to their health. We also meet Gerry Adams the leader of the Provisional IRA in the north as well as other more secondary players, all dedicated to uniting Ireland through force.
At some point, Adams decides that more can be accomplished through negotiation than violence and becomes the "revered" politician he portrays today. However, in making himself respectable, he essentially threw many of his old comrades under the bus - a point that sat well with no one.
The McConville children were eventually scattered into the Irish fostercare system - many of them enduring physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their caretakers. Even today, they frequently see the old neighbors who entered their home and took their mother away. when asked why they don't now, at last, go to the police and press charges, they talk about reprisals and say that it is just better to say nothing.
All that is my long-winded way of saying I loved this book. I understand the situation in ways I didn't before, not just because I read the facts, but because I felt the impact.
The piece of history presented here is complex, and yet the author does a fabulous job, not so much of simplifying events, but of presenting them in a way that's easy to follow and keeps us engaged.
Patrick Radden Keefe is a gifted writer. I have no doubt that the research alone was exhausting, much less the process of putting it all together in an engaging narrative, and yet I never felt the weight of it. This is an exceptionally well written book that I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the topic.
*I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*
In "Say Nothing: a True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland", Patrick Radden Keefe explores the subject of disappearances of victims of the conflict from multiple points of view. He tells a searing account of the Troubles in which he concentrates on a few individuals, some ot them victims, others perpetrators, and others who could be considered to be both. Representing the victims is the McConville family of Belfast. One night in December 1972, masked gunmen burst into their flat in the Divis housing complex and dragged away Jean McConville, mother of ten, while her terrified children tried to cling to her legs. They never saw her again. Eventually, the word came out that she had been executed by the "Provos", the Provisional IRA, for allegedly using a radio provided by the British Army to report on Catholic resistance activities in her neighborhood to the Protestant enemy. This was not likely. The true cause of Jean McConville's death was probably that she was reported to the Provos by her spiteful neighbors for the crime of having taken pity on a wounded British soldier during a gunfight in Divis Flats. She had heard the soldier pleading for help in the hallway and had gone out to comfort him, an act of mercy for which she was branded a traitor by the neighbors who scrawled "BRIT LOVER" across her door. Even after the cease-fire that ended the Troubles, the IRA generally refused to disclose the location of those victims, like Jean McConville, who had been abducted and taken to an unknown location, shot, and buried in an unmarked grave. Only a quarter century later would her remains be found on a lonely beach in the Irish Republic and identified by her surviving children by the presence of the blue "nappy pin" which she always wore attached to her clothing.
Keefe also looks at the Troubles through the eyes of the combatants. He follows the life of Dolours Price, an idealistic young woman who starts as a civil rights activist for Catholic rights in Northern Ireland, attempting to follow the non-violent example of Dr. King in America, but who gets severely beaten by Protestant thugs during a peaceful march on the outskirts of Derry. She then enlists in the IRA, along with her sister Marian, and they become dedicated soldiers in the Republican cause, or terrorists, from the Loyalist and British point of view. She spends much of her youth in prison and demonstrates her devotion to the cause with an hunger strike that endangers her life and damages her health.
While soldiers like Dolours Price were willing to risk their lives for the cause and to carry out the brutal orders of IRA commanders without mercy, she and others came to resent politicians like Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein party, who never admitted he had been a member of the IRA, although everyone knows he was. Adams helped negotiate the uneasy peace that ended the Troubles, but as the title of Keefe's excellent book shows, "Say Nothing" means that the truth of the hatred and violence in Northern Ireland remains mostly untold.
The book is meticulously researched. So much of The Troubles have been shrouded in secrecy - the titular "say nothing" is an IRA survival tactic, to the point that a lot of people never even told their closest family members that they were involved in the IRA - so the amount of detail Keefe has been able to uncover and piece together is impressive.
Keefe also does a good job of helping the reader keep track of all of the people involved. He paints vivid but realistic portraits of everyone, and provides the reader with just enough context when he hasn't mentioned a person in a while that it's easy to remember who is who and why they are important.
The Troubles are a very morally and emotionally charged topic. Keefe clearly understands the motivations of the people involved, and portrays them sympathetically without justifying or condemning their actions. There is no easy good/bad/right/wrong here, and Keefe is sensitive to that fact. Even with as complex a character as Gerry Adams, who could easily be portrayed as either a saint or a psychopath, Keefe does not pass judgement.
The book also focuses a lot of attention on an oral history project undertaken by Boston College. The college had the best of intentions: they wanted to get the people who had said nothing for decades to spill their beans, with the promise that their stories would be kept a secret until after their deaths. However, they clearly didn't think through the ramifications very well, and as soon as the British government learned of the existence of these oral histories they subpoenaed them and the college was utterly unprepared to deal with it. There are some tough lessons for historians here, which add another layer of difficult moral questions.
All of this makes for a fascinating, compelling, compassionate, and heartbreaking read.
Well-researched and written, Say Nothing explores the futility, sorrow and generation-destroying terror of the IRA and the often unprincipled British efforts to thwart them.
but Keefe manages to come up with something new. i had no idea that Rea
was married to an IRA girl, nor that Thatcher was such a b-----, nor that
BC held all of the transcripts of the Troubles. The southern Irish got a bad deal - England still ruled in the North, the constitution of the Republic now
allows divorce and will not hold out for a united Ireland. The Protestants got
everything they wanted. My father was born in Belfast, he was a catholic,and tells this story. He had joined the British army to fight in WW1 at 14. One night, he went into the linen store owned by his parents in uniform (the Connnaught Rangers ,all catholic then). A prod spotted him and the next night the store was firebombed.
The book itself is well-written and filled with interesting information. My main issues lies with the way it is marketed, or more accurately, what I perceived the book to be about. It is not a true crime book where we follow around detectives or amateur sleuths. More than anything, it is a modern history book about the Troubles, their legacy, and a few key players during this time. The McConvilles as a whole have a rather small part, despite what the description and the introduction would have you believe. Every time a new chapter started that introduced a new character and pushed the actual solving of the crime farther off, I found myself wanting to skim since I knew there was no way I was going to remember yet another name.
2.5 stars rounded up since it was more of a perception issue than an issue with the book itself.
Well written book, tremendous effort went into putting this story together in great detail and ultimately told by the people who lived through it, living through it still, only using Keefe to be their microphone.
The Protestant/Catholic divide is seen in light of the support or resistance to British rule. There's a lot of history here and a broad look at what happens when people refuse to cooperate and compromise. Gerry Adams, definitely an IRA member, who refuses to acknowledge his involvement becomes the political leader of Sinn Fein. The struggle within the IRA between different factions, the spying, the violence, the blind loyalties are all a part of this story.
The story opens and ends with the kidnapping and murder of a widowed mother of ten children in Belfast. Was she an informer? Who killed her? The rule of "say nothing" remains hard fast. Also interesting was a project called the Boston Project in which Boston College held the oral histories of many of the people involved in so much of the violence. Totally fascinating book - easy to read and follow.
His work is rooted in republican west Belfast, and a small sub-set of characters – both victim and perpetrator, sometimes both – through which he tells the story of the 1969-1998 strife. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and the cadence is variable. Some periods, such as the early 70s, are covered in great detail and then, with the turn of a page, a decade has passed. It is therefore important for readers otherwise casually acquainted with the Troubles to know that while Say Nothing is ambitious in scope, it leaves out much more than it includes. Loyalist paramilitarism, for example, or an acknowledgement on just how deeply unpopular the PIRA’s campaign of slaughter and economic destruction really was among both Catholic and Protestants.
Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes and the Boston College archives are two of the threads running through the book. Those familiar with Ed Maloney’s A Secret History of the IRA and Voices from the Grave will find much familiar in both style and content.
While not much new in the content, at least for those dwindling number seeped in Troubles history and culture, this is an action packed and compelling read. (The one notable exception on new content being the late allegation that Marian Price delivered the deadly shot to Jean McConville). Radden Keefe’s adaptability to the topic suggests his future projects are worth following.
It’s more of a history of the era told through the people surrounding the murder of a mother of 10 including her children, members of the IRA, and the British police and politicians. It’s not a true crime book so go in knowing that. It’s detailed and well researched.