This is an account of the murder and "disappearing" of Jean McConville, a widow with 10 children in sectarian Belfast in 1972, and the growth and development of IRA's Provos wing, Sinn Fein, and the evolution of today's uneasy peace. Keefe calls it "narrative nonfiction." It is the story of a deliberately broken community. Being partisan, how quickly can nativism turn into nationalism and then radicalization? And what is the result? This is a study in morals, ethics, and loyalties. Terror and justification of violence quickly becomes the norm and has horrendous results on both the victims and the perpetrators. This book is a profound and truly important work that is timely and relevant in many varied ways. Say Nothing will reverberate today and tomorrow, and will ask the reader to pay attention. It is about collective memory, action, guilt, and communal and personal P.T.S.D. Most of all, it is a clear eyed, unromantic record of a horror that was perpetrated for decades and where reconciliation and truths are still in abeyance. I read this brilliant book in a week and turned around and started it again!
The disappearance of a mother-of-ten in 1972 from her Belfast tower block is the unexpected starting point for Keefe's marvelous history of the Troubles, the sectarian violence that raged between the IRA and the Loyalists in the last third of the 20th century. During that time, disappearances, bombings and assassinations rocked Belfast as walls went up between communities that identified as Catholic and Protestant. Keefe grabs the reader by the throat as he sketches in the personalities of IRA leader Gerry Adams, foot soldiers like the glamorous Dolours Price, the British intelligence officer known as "the Butcher of Belfast," and hunger striker Bobby Sands. He also recreates a time when safety depended on how much one was willing to deny their own identity and to “say nothing.” It's the finale of the book which is truly jaw-dropping, though. Scores are settled, peace is brokered, and an ambitious oral history conducted by Boston College brings secrets (and bodies) to light. Keefe has one hell of a story to tell and he navigates each twist and turn with the smarts of a Belfast cab-driver. Easily a book of the year.
Jean McConville was "disappeared" from her modest apartment in Belfast in December of 1972. Recently widowed, she left ten children to fend for themselves at a time when what was euphemistically called the "Troubles" turned Northern Ireland into a virtual war zone. Keefe has written a meticulously researched history of the bloody conflict between England, a country that seems particularly slow to recognize when it has worn out its welcome, and ferociously dedicated members of the IRA, who are determined to drive the British out. Cruelty, brutality, and murder was prevalent on both sides, leaving scars across the tortured land that still fester today. This is a brilliant book about a very dark interlude in human history when, literally, the only way to survive was to say nothing.
The Troubles brought to vivid, troubling light in all their violence, moral ambiguity, political compromises, blind allegiances, prejudice, and tragedy. That Northern Ireland is comparatively peaceful today is both because of, and in spite of, the Troubles. — Mike Hare
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER •From the author of Empire of Pain—a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions
"Masked intruders dragged Jean McConville, a 38-year-old widow and mother of 10, from her Belfast home in 1972. In this meticulously reported book—as finely paced as a novel—Keefe uses McConville's murder as a prism to tell the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Interviewing people on both sides of the conflict, he transforms the tragic damage and waste of the era into a searing, utterly gripping saga." —New York Times Book Review
Jean McConville's 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, she had 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 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 but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past--Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.
Look for Patrick Radden Keefe's latest bestseller, Empire of Pain
About the Author
PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE is a staff writer at The New Yorker, an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The Snakehead and Chatter. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Slate, New York, and The New York Review of Books, among others and he is a frequent commentator on NPR, the BBC, and MSNBC. Patrick received the 2014 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, for his story "A Loaded Gun," was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 2015 and 2016, and is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
National Book Critics Circle Award Winner •A New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year • A Washington Post Top Ten Book Of The Year Long • Listed for the National Book Award • TIME Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of the Year • Best Book of the Decade by EW and LitHub •Winner of the Orwell Prize
A Best Book of the Year: The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Chicago Tribune, GQ, Slate, NPR, Variety, Slate, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Dallas Morning News, Buzzfeed, Kirkus Reviews, and BookPage
"If it seems as if I'm reviewing a novel, it is because Say Nothing has lots of the qualities of good fiction, to the extent that I'm worried I'll give too much away, and I'll also forget that Jean McConville was a real person, as were--are--her children. And her abductors and killers. Keefe is a terrific storyteller... He brings his characters to real life. The book is cleverly structured. We follow people--victim, perpetrator, back to victim--leave them, forget about them, rejoin them decades later. It can be read as a detective story. . .What Keefe captures best, though, is the tragedy, the damage and waste, and the idea of moral injury. . .Say Nothing is an excellent account of the Troubles. —RODDY DOYLE, The New York Times Book Review
"An exceptional new book. . .explores this brittle landscape [of Northern Ireland] to devastating effect. . .fierce reporting. . .The story of McConville's disappearance, its crushing effects on her children, the discovery of her remains in 2003, and the efforts of authorities to hold someone accountable for her murder occupy the bulk of Say Nothing. Along the way, Mr. Keefe navigates the flashpoints, figures and iconography of the Troubles: anti-Catholic discrimination, atrocities by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and occupation by the British Army, grisly IRA bombings in Belfast and London, the internment of Irish soldiers and the hunger strikes of Bobby Sands and others, the Falls Road and the Shankill Road, unionist paramilitaries, the "real" IRA and the “provisionals," counter-intelligence, the Armalite rile and the balaclava. It is a dizzying panorama, yet Mr. Keefe presents it with clarity." —MICHAEL O'DONNELL,The Wall Street Journal
"Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book Say Nothing investigates the mystery of a missing mother and reveals a still-raw violent past. . .The book often reads like a novel, but as anyone familiar with his work for The New Yorker can attest, Keefe is an obsessive reporter and researcher, a master of narrative nonfiction. . .An incredible story." —Rolling Stone
"As the narrator of a whodunit. . .[Keefe] excels, exposing the past, layer by layer, like the slow peel of a rotten onion, as he works to answer a question that the British government, the Northern Irish police and the McConville family has been seeking the answer to for nearly 50 years... Keefe draws the characters in this drama finely and colorfully. . .Say Nothing is a reminder of Northern Ireland's ongoing trauma. And with Brexit looming, it's a timely warning that it doesn't take much to open old wounds in Ireland, and make them fresh once more." —PADDY HIRSH, NPR
"Meticulously reported, exquisitely written, and grippingly told, Say Nothing is a work of revelation. Keefe not only peels back, layer by layer, the truth behind one of the most important and mysterious crimes of a terrible conflict; he also excavates the history of the Troubles, and illuminates its repercussions to this day." —DAVID GRANN, #1New York Timesbestselling author ofKillers of the Flower Moon
"Patrick Radden Keefe's gripping account of the Troubles is equal parts true-crime, history, and tragedy. Keefe's incisive reporting reveals the hidden costs of the Troubles, illuminating both the terrible toll of the conflict, and how it continues to reverberate today. A must read." —GILLIAN FLYNN, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
“Patrick Radden Keefe uses the old Irish phrase, ‘Whatever you say, say nothing,’ to suggest and to say just about everything. Keefe's great accomplishment is to capture the tragedy of the Troubles on a human scale. By tracing the intersecting lives of a handful of unforgettable characters, he has created a deeply honest and intimate portrait of a society still haunted by its own violent past. Say Nothing is a bracing, empathetic, heartrending work of storytelling.” —COLUM McCANN, New York Times bestselling author of Transatlantic and Let the Great World Spin, Winner of the National Book Award
"Patrick Radden Keefe has the rare ability to convey an intimate story that powerfully illuminates a much larger one. Combining the skills of an investigative journalist with the storytelling power of a suspense novelist, Keefe brilliantly represents the menace and intrigue that devastated Belfast during The Troubles, and shows the course of ordinary lives headed toward inevitable and awful collision. By turns gripping and profoundly revelatory, Say Nothing shines a brighter light on Northern Ireland's tragic past than any history book." —SCOTT ANDERSON,New York Times bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia
“A shattering, intimate study of how young men and women consumed by radical political violence are transformed by the history they make, and struggle to come to terms with the blood they have shed, Say Nothing is a powerful reckoning. Keefe has written an essential book.” —PHILIP GOUREVITCH, author of National Book Critics Circle Award winner We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and The Ballad of Abu Ghraib
“Smart, searching, and utterly absorbing, Say Nothing sweeps us into the heart of one of the modern world’s bitterest conflicts and, with unusual compassion, walks us back out again along the road to reconciliation. This is more than a powerful, superbly reported work of journalism. It is contemporary history at its finest.” —MAYA JASANOFF, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Liberty’s Exiles and The Dawn Watch
“Say Nothing is a piercing inquiry into the nature of political violence and its aftermath, by one of the best reporters in the United States. In this beautifully written book, Patrick Radden Keefe delves into the heart of the IRA, chronicling the worst years of the Troubles and the ghosts that continue to haunt Belfast even now that the fighting is over. Faulkner had it right: 'The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'” —PETER BERGEN, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad "[Keefe] incorporates a real-life whodunit into a moving, accessible account of the violence that has afflicted Northern Ireland... Tinged with immense sadness, this work never loses sight of the humanity of even those who committed horrible acts in support of what they believed in." —Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
"A searing reflection on the Troubles and their aftermath... Masterly." —The Economist