Book of the week
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Some murder cases haunt a community for generations, said Stephen Phillips in the Los Angeles Times. Jean McConville of Belfast was a 38-year-old widowed mother of 10 when she was abducted by her neighbors in 1972. Her remains were finally found 31 years later. In Say Nothing, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe uses McConville’s killing to probe the history and fraught legacy of the Troubles, the slow-burning war over Northern Ireland that left at least 3,500 people dead. Because Keefe focuses on the efforts of idealistic Irish nationalists who were fighting to end British rule, the book “reads at times like an action movie.” But always, in this telling, “there’s something inhuman about the idealism.” The Irish Republican Army had decided—perhaps wrongly—that McConville was an informer. Did she have to be executed?
Another woman emerges as the book’s most memorable figure, said The Economist. Dolours Price was 20 when she joined the IRA in 1971, and over the next two years she robbed banks while dressed as a nun, and planted bombs—including as part of a London operation that landed her in prison. A true believer in the cause, she was a Belfast folk hero even before staging a hunger strike that won her a transfer to a Northern Irish jail, and decades after being freed, she admitted that she had driven McConville to her execution. She even said she had fired one of the bullets, intentionally missing. Though Price died in 2013, before Keefe could speak with her, he has gotten inside her head as well as those of some of her allies. He has shown how people we might normally admire “came to condone or perpetrate the unspeakable.”
Which brings us to Gerry Adams, said David Graham in The Atlantic. Keefe compiles compelling evidence that the Irish political leader who in 1998 negotiated a peace settlement in Northern Ireland had, years earlier, ordered the McConville murder and many actions like it. Price and other IRA members felt profoundly betrayed when Adams denied ever having been in the IRA and then brokered a deal that fell far short of the group’s goals. His old allies’ feelings are understandable, yet “Say Nothing succeeds because it presents an extensive ledger against Adams without reducing him to flat caricature.” He emerges as both a morally bankrupt hypocrite and a figure wise enough to conclude that violence would never win the day—another of history’s peacemakers who have secured truces “not in spite of but because of their deep flaws.” ■