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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

The most fascinating parts for me were the late-in-life reflections from those who had been involved in the IRA's brutal and unrelenting violence.

Patrick Radden Keefe, a journalist with an Irish name but without a dog in the fight, fantastically shapes the endless trails and tales from the Irish Troubles into a narrative, and he lays out the web of motivations and passionate beliefs behind the conflicts so that an outsider can begin to comprehend what occurred and why.

Toward the end of the book, says, in an accurate reflection of his book:

“...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.”

The most fascinating parts of this book for me were the late-in-life reflections and in some cases regrets from those who had been involved in brutal and unrelenting violence. Many began as steadfast and unrelenting IRA paramilitary members but ended up emotionally and sometimes physically broken after time in prison, hunger strikes, and feeling haunted by the deaths they were responsible for.

It was incredible to read how former IRA top man Gerry Adams managed to create his own fact-defying narrative, practically erasing his history of violence and masterminding, essentially by sheer will. The disturbing facts were ignored (by everyone besides the disgruntled but powerless former IRA members who had once surrounded him and who had done his often murderous bidding) and his violent associations of the past shed so successfully that he could become a respected and effective politician.

What did you think?

For me, this was nonfiction that was so compelling it read like fiction. It was the human interest story behind the politics of the many events I remember from the news when I was young, and I thought it was fascinating.


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