Jean McConville, mother of 10, disappeared in December of 1972 after being abducted from a run-down Belfast flat. Her children never saw her again. The story of what happened to her is the focal point of this panoramic look at the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland popularly known as The Troubles. Patrick Radden Keefe ranges from the McConville case in his reporting, but her disappearance is a prism offering a view on the whole confusing era. It’s tempting from across the ocean to view The Troubles as a part of history, but Keefe’s account makes clear just how much the strife and trauma are still very much a part of the present.
Part of the wonder of Keefe’s book is how he manages to maintain control of the narrative even as the events he is chronicling spin out of control, and the parts that the main players play shift so entirely depending on your perspective. Are the members of the Provisional IRA soldiers or terrorists? Are the British soldiers perpetuating violence just as bad or worse?
The book takes long looks at several key figures of the era. Gerry Adams is an IRA commander who has the foresight to transition into a political leader and a key figure in the peace process, but that movement is complicated by his utter refusal to acknowledge his part in the violence. The guerilla leader Brendan Hughes, a passionate admirer of Che Guevara, was once Adams’s closest friend but comes to loathe him for his abandonment of his past. Is this an admirable adherence to principle or is it a deluded commitment to murder? Dolours Price and her sister Marian achieved notoriety for being young, pretty women high up in the IRA’s power structure and for conducting a prison hunger strike that impacted their health for the rest of their lives. Were they just committed idealists, or maniacs?
Overall there is a pervasive dread to Say Nothing. So much violence, so many people killed, and for so little. It frankly took me a very long time to read it during this moment of such distress. But it is a very good book and I won’t hold the fact that the world is falling apart against it. If you think you can stand it, Say Nothing is an incredible true story and someday I’ll be glad I took the time to read it.