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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and…
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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2019)

by Patrick Radden Keefe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2991957,814 (4.46)38
""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"--… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I kept forgetting this was nonfiction. Instructive, heartbreaking, complicated, chilling, gripping, and all about the gray areas. It is all put together by a guy who knows how to tell the hell out of a story. I can't imagine anyone would not be drawn in and challenged by this book. ( )
  Narshkite | Sep 19, 2019 |
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. This book captures the intrigue, the drama and the profound human cost of the Troubles. It is a searing chronicle of the lengths that people are willing to go to in order to pursue a political ideal, and the ways in which societies mend – or don’t – in the aftermath of a long and bloody conflict. Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish. I found this book most interesting and I learned a lot about the conflict that I never knew. Highly recommended. ( )
  EadieB | Aug 31, 2019 |
“I became intrigued by the idea that an archive of the personal reminiscences of ex-combatants might be so explosive: what was it about these accounts that was so threatening in the present day? In the intertwining lives of Jean McConville [a 38-year-old mother of 10, who was “disappeared” in 1972 by the IRA], Dolours Price [a key IRA “volunteer” involved in the 1973 London car-bomb attacks], Brendan Hughes [a prominent IRA tactician], and Gerry Adams [the enigmatic leader of Sinn Fein, who has repeatedly denied he was ever even a member of the IRA], I saw an opportunity to tell a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals—and a whole society—make sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect.”
—Patrick Radden Keefe

My maternal grandparents were from Belfast. Thankfully, they left the Northern-Irish city well before The Troubles. Growing up, I heard stories from my grandmother about her difficult, working-class childhood and youth in that conflicted, divided place, and I became familiar with the names of some of the main streets in Catholic and Protestant sections of the city. My grandmother died many years ago now, but I often wish I could talk to her. My interest in her early, formative experiences has only increased with time.

Keefe’s mosaic of a book grew out of a magazine article, “Where the Bodies Are Buried”, an extended piece he wrote for The New Yorker in 2015. Both the article and the book explore the 1972 abduction and execution of a Northern-Irish mother. Born a Catholic, Jean McConville married a Protestant 12 years her senior. He died a miserable death from lung cancer just as the political situation was heating up. Jean was left ground down by grief, poverty, and child-bearing. Some in the Provisional IRA claimed she was a British informant. The Provos—so the story goes—interrogated McConville sometime in the late fall of 1972, making it clear she was to cease and desist from providing intelligence to the enemy. IRA intimidation apparently did not dissuade her. McConville was one of 16 people who was “disappeared’ by the IRA during The Troubles. What makes her story compelling is that she was the only woman to have been abducted and murdered. She left ten kids behind. The McConville family was effectively destroyed the day masked IRA foot soldiers, neighbours of the family, dragged her from her home in the squalid Divis Flats, a housing complex in West Belfast. Most of the McConville children subsequently ended up in care. All of them would be haunted by their loss; all would struggle in life, some with addictions and trouble with the law.

Keefe’s book provides considerable context about the IRA operations and some of the key figures associated with Jean McConville’s disappearance. However, Say Nothing contains more than the story of Jean and her children. It also presents the narratives of four other key figures: Dolours and Marian Price (two sisters whose IRA involvement began with their idealistic participation in the 1969 civil rights march from Belfast to Derry—an initially peaceful demonstration that ended with a violent ambush by Protestant loyalists); Brendan Hughes (a daring and wily young IRA leader on the enemy’s most-wanted list); and the elusive (possibly sociopathic) strategist Gerry Adams (the head of the political wing of the IRA, who indisputably issued the orders).

Keefe’s wide-ranging and informative book also includes sections on major incidents during The Troubles; the differences and tensions between the Official IRA (the “Stickies”) and the newer, militant Provisional IRA (the “Provos”); the manner in which the British collected intelligence about republican operations; the secret units on both the loyalist and republican sides; the imprisonment and hunger strikes of young IRA volunteers; and the response of many in the paramilitary to the ceasefire and Good Friday Agreement, which officially ended the armed conflict. The author acknowledges in his afterward that he did not attempt to address the terrorism perpetrated by the loyalist side.

A significant portion of Keefe’s book concerns “The Belfast Project”, a possibly ill-conceived and undeniably poorly planned oral history research undertaking associated with Boston College. This project received none of the legal oversight it so obviously required. IRA and loyalist volunteers had consented in writing to being interviewed and recorded by former insiders. It was believed they’d be more likely to open up to interviewers intimately acquainted with the conflict. Many of those who’d agreed to take part were haunted by their experiences, the violence they’d perpetrated, and the secrets they’d kept. Some were eager to unburden themselves. The recordings and written transcripts, as well as documents related to interviewees’ consent, were stored in a secret archive at the Massachusetts university. The material was to be made available to scholars after the participants’ deaths. However, because the Boston College personnel responsible for the files had not exercised due diligence—i.e., they’d failed to seek legal counsel—the documents and recordings were able to be accessed by the British government before the ex-paramilitary members had died. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that while all hell may not have broken loose, quite a lot of it did.

The Troubles, Keefe makes clear, have cast a long shadow over the North. Neighbourhoods and schools continue to be segregated along religious lines. “Peace wall” barricades continue to stand between Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast, and the paramilitaries are still intact. Many former IRA members have struggled with substance abuse, unemployment, and mental health issues, including PTSD and depression.

Say Nothing is a rich, informative, and fascinating work. The only thing that bothered me was the way the book was organized. I sometimes wished that I could be led through the stories in a more orderly (chronological) fashion. Even so, I still learned a lot. I’m curious how this book is being received on the other side of the Atlantic. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Jul 24, 2019 |
In January 1972 Jean McConville’s husband died of cancer. In December of that year the I.R.A. came to her home in the Divis Flats complex of Belfast and kidnapped her in front of her ten children. In wasn’t until 1999 that the I.R.A. acknowledged that they murdered her. They suspected her of being an informant. Her body wasn’t found until 2003.

That’s only part of the book, but the rest of it is scarcely lighter. It focuses on that case and implicates Gerry Adams and the Price sisters. It functions as a survey of the entire shitty “Troubles.”

The title is taken from a line in a Seamus Heaney poem: “And whatever you say, you say nothing.”

I rate this book: good. ( )
  k6gst | Jul 6, 2019 |
What a fantastic book. I knew something of the Troubles but only in a vague way of certain events that happened. Keefe starts with the single event of the abduction of one woman and then tells the story of many of the people, famous and not famous, involved in many parts of the Troubles. He did a wonderful job of not actively taking sides but letting me see the people through their own words and actions. He does come down hard on Gerry Adams but I can understand his perspective and make my own decisions. Incredibly well-wriiten and very compelling.
  amyem58 | Jun 24, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick Radden Keefeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Archetti, StefanoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blaney, MatthewNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carella, MariaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munday, OliverCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.

-- Viet Thanh Nguyen
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TO LUCIAN AND FELIX
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JULY 2013

The John J. Burns Library occupies a grand neo-Gothic building on the leafy campus of Boston College.  (Prologue)
Jean McConville was thirty-eight when she disappeared, and she had spent nearly half of her life either pregnant or recovering from childbirth.
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#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"-- Provided by publisher.
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