After reading the obituary for Dolores Price – a noted IRA soldier – journalist Patrick Radden Keefe decided to explore the infamous “Troubles” that had led to death and destruction in Northern Ireland. In doing so, he uncovered the unsolved death of Jean McConville, a mother to ten children, who was abducted and subsequently “disappeared” in 1972. When Jean’s remains were found years later, it begged the question “why was she killed?” and “who was responsible?”
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit I knew next to nothing about the IRA and “The Troubles” that paralyzed Northern Ireland in the latter part of the 20th century. So you can imagine that when I was introduced to this book, I was interested to learn about the conflict. What I appreciated the most about Keefe’s approach is that there seems to be no hint of bias here – the story here is presented as objectively as possible. When you look at a faction that planned and carried out car bombings in both Ireland and England, it isn’t an easy task to make the perpetrators sympathetic, but Keefe managed to do so. I suppose it’s all about perspective when it would have been so much easier to just paint the IRA or the British as total monsters. Although, I will say that the alleged exploitation of the Hunger Strikes by IRA leader Gerry Adams is particularly reprehensible.
It’s the executions that took place on Bloody Sunday or the bombings of Bloody Friday, it’s the “disappearances” of suspected British informants as well as the deadly hunger strikes performed by IRA members imprisoned by The British (the force feeding stories are extremely tough reads). Keefe isn’t absolving the IRA (or the British Army) of their acts, but he wants the reader to understand just how deep this conflict ran. These are all people, after all. We’re all born clean as a sheet and it’s the complicated nature of the human condition that helps make us who we all ultimately become.
Oh, and Jean. Without giving any spoilers, Keefe does name who he believes is responsible for Jean’s murder. It involved some excellent investigative work on his part and it does appear to be very concrete and plausible.
Keefe takes what was (or is) an endlessly complicated and truly messy conflict between Irish Republicans and the British and tries to make sense of it for the reader. He does a truly commendable job. Say Nothing is an accessible and riveting read that had me glued to the pages. To top it all off, landing on President Obama’s “Best Books of the Year” (2019) list is quite an accomplishment (I’m currently reading Obama’s memoir A Promised Land and reading is definitely something he does a lot of). Keefe’s account of The Troubles is worth checking out.