Say Nothing

Review From User :

Harrowing. I've always wanted a book that could describe simply and clearly what happened in Ireland during The Troubles. Not being Irish, I've too often felt the pall of incomprehensibility daunting me. I never found the right book, until now. Say Nothing is indeed that longed-for book. The prose is just perfectly freighted, and the reader is hoovered into the narrative maelstrom from the very first page with the mad scene of Jean McConville being torn from the arms of her huge and loving family-never to return-by masked goons.

The hatred here is like hatred everywhere-irrational. Be it the Nazis and the Jews, the new "discoverers" of America and its indigenous peoples, the Tutsi and the Hutu-the list is abysmally long. And let's not forget the Legacy Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, also known as the lynching museum. I long to visit it. Why What can I possibly do at this remove I guess it's as Victor Klemperer once said, or rather wrote, one must bear witness, even if it's at second or third hand.

There were five hostile entities in Belfast in the early 1970s. There was the IRA which was Catholic Nationalist and which split into two rival camps: (1) the Official IRA, which was Communist, and sought to remove Northern Ireland from the UK and create a workers' republic; and (2) the Provisional IRA, which sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland, and bring about an independent republic, and who were known as the Provos-the largest and most active republican paramilitary group. Other bellicose parties included (3) the loyalist paramilitaries, which were Protestant militia opposed to Catholic Emancipation and supporting the British occupation; (4) the Royal Ulster Constabulary, RUC, which was a Protestant police force; and finally (5) the British Army, the key military force of a (largely Protestant) nation which had recently lost virtually all of its colonial possessions. Other paramilitaries formed later.

After Jean McConville was "snatched," to use the tabloid argot, and her ten parentless children were left to fend for themselves in the execrable Divis flats-their father Arthur had died of cancer some time before-no one from the surrounding community took the orphans under their wing. These traumatized children received no care. Even the local parish priest was unsympathetic. With good reason, it turns out, since Jean had been taken by the papist IRA. This resulted in a culture of silence in Belfast not unlike that in the USSR under Stalin, when even next door neighbors would not speak to one another due to the mutual fear of denunciation.

In the Provisional IRA, the members were all very young. Kids, really. They generally volunteered as children, with many assuming important roles by their teenage years and early twenties. These were the snipers and bombers and hit persons then so feared. Dolours Price was eighteen when she volunteered, having been raised by parents who'd both been IRA members back in the 1950s.

It was Dolours Price's idea to take the bombing campaign to London. "The English public, removed on the other side of the Irish Sea, seemed only dimly aware of the catastrophe engulfing Northern Ireland. It was a case study in strategic insanity: the Irish were blowing up their own people in a misguided attempt to hurt the English, and the English hardly even noticed." (p. 117) I abhor the religious irrationality which drives pietists and which here can be traced back to the 12th century. It is a long and labyrinthine historical view you've got to have to kill in the name of this very ancient idea. One wonders if everyone was a scholar here-if the origins of the conflict were as fully understood and recalled and recited chapter and verse as would seem necessary to justify so much killing

It's now 1973 and the IRA is about to plant four car-bombs in London near government facilities. Dolours Price is given command of the operation. I was living in America when these horrors occurred. I can almost see the headline in the Washington Post. The author is now destroying that distance. The night before the bombings Dolours and her companions go to a West End play by Brian Friel, The Freedom of the City. The next morning London police are scurrying about bright and early to locate the cars; they were tipped off 14 hours in advance by a Provo mole. That day there's a transit strike so London is chockablock with cars. Fortuitously the cops find one vehicle and disarm it. It's alarm-clock timer was set for 3:00 p.m. They infer that they have until then to find the three remaining cars.

However, I don't mean to be too hard on the NRA. So how's this for balance "Loyalist gangs, often operating with the tacit approval or the outright logistical assistance of the British state, killed hundreds of civilians in an endless stream of terror attacks. These victims were British subjects. Yet they had been dehumanized by the conflict to the point that organs of the British state often ended up complicit in such murders, without any sort of public inquiry or internal revolt in the security services." (p. 274)

Say Nothing is nonfiction. It's every bit as good as, say, Killers of the Flower Moon. In some ways, one might argue, its better, which is taking nothing away from David Grann. But to my mind Killers is a little thin at the end. It almost peters out. Say Nothing by contrast has a consistent verbal density and narrative compression throughout.

How did I not know that the Irish Potato Famine has been justly laid at the feet of Britain, who was exporting food from Ireland for its own needs as one million Irish died and another million emigrated Now Dolours and Marian Price, locked up with a sentence of twenty years each in H.M.P. Brixton, begin a hunger strike which echoes that genocide. "If the British had employed hunger as a weapon during the famine, it would now be turned around and used against them. Dolours Price had always felt that prison was where an IRA volunteer's allegiance to the cause was truly tested. Now she told anyone who would listen, she stood more than ready to die." (p. 151) The young women's hunger strike will break your heart. That's the surprise about this book. It knocks you off your moral high horse. Two-hundred and fifty people injured by the bombs-terrible!-but miraculously no one killed. So when the British decide to force feed these young women, you know this is a violation of their civil rights; you know it is wrong; only long after the fact is it condemned and prohibited by the state.

After developing an eating disorder from the 207 days of forced-feeding, Marian is released near death. She has served 8 years. Dolours is released for the same reason after serving 13 years. To have kept her in jail would've been to kill her. She renounces the IRA and its violence. We skip ahead to Bobby Sands's election to Parliament on the 41st day of his hunger strike in 1981; PM Margaret Thatcher's recalcitrance in the face of all good sense; Sands's death, followed by nine more hunger strike deaths that summer, one every week or so; the rise of Gerry Adams-blackly tarred for giving away the store as his onetime fighters see it-and with him Sinn Féin, the Good Friday Agreement etc. One aspect of the peace that the GFA did not provide for is the truth and reconciliation process; thus the last part of the book, The Reckoning. Boston College undertakes this role when it is apparent no one else will. (The city has a large Irish-American population.) It's called Project Belfast. The sheer tonnage of mental derangement and searing regret shouldn't surprise us, not after a war this prolonged and bitter, but it does, it does.

Then Boston College "screws the pooch," to quote former test pilot Chuck Yeager, when the old RUC, trying to take down General Adams, obtains the transcripts via subpoena in 2003 or so. None of Boston College's agreements with the interviewees, it turns out, were ever vetted by in-house counsel, so the pledges to withhold the transcripts until after the interviewee(s)'s death(s) can not be honored. I was reading this and whispering: "oh God, oh my God," which shows you how clichéd I become when dumbfounded. You may wish to brace yourself.

Judge Scott Sampson doesn’t brag about having a perfect life, but the evidence is clear: A prestigious job. A loving marriage. A pair of healthy children. Then a phone call begins every parent’s most chilling nightmare. Scott’s six-year-old twins, Sam and Emma, have been taken. The judge must rule exactly as instructed in a drug case he is about to hear. If he refuses, the consequences for the children will be dire.

For Scott and his wife Alison, the kidnapper’s call is only the beginning of a twisting, gut-churning ordeal of blackmail, deceit, and terror. Through it all, they will stop at nothing to get their children back, no matter the cost to themselves . . . or to each other.

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