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Summary

Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019, shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction 2019, a Time’s number one Best Nonfiction Book of 2019 and New York Times best-seller.

One night in December 1972, Jean McConville, a mother of 10, was abducted from her home in Belfast and never seen alive again. Her disappearance would haunt her orphaned children, the perpetrators of this terrible crime and a whole society in Northern Ireland for decades.

In this powerful, scrupulously reported book, Patrick Radden Keefe offers not just a forensic account of a brutal crime but a vivid portrait of the world in which it happened. The tragedy of an entire country is captured in the spellbinding narrative of a handful of characters, presented in lyrical and unforgettable detail.

A poem by Seamus Heaney inspires the title: 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing'. By defying the culture of silence, Keefe illuminates how a close-knit Irish society fractured; how people chose sides in a conflict and turned to violence; and how, when the shooting stopped, some ex-combatants came to look back in horror at the atrocities they had committed, while others continue to advocate violence even today. 

Say Nothing deftly weaves the stories of Jean McConville and her family with those of Dolours Price, the first woman to join the IRA as a front line soldier, who bombed the Old Bailey when she was barely out of her teens; Gerry Adams, who helped bring an end to the fighting but denied his own IRA past; Brendan Hughes, a fearsome IRA commander who turned on Adams after the peace process and broke the IRA's code of silence; and other indelible figures. By capturing the intrigue, the drama, and the profound human cost of the Troubles, the book presents a searing chronicle of the lengths that people are willing to go to in pursuit of a political ideal and the ways in which societies mend - or don't - in the aftermath of a long and bloody conflict.

©2018 Patrick Radden Keefe (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic reviews

"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)

"Keefe uses the old Irish phrase, 'Whatever you say, say nothing,' to suggest and to say just about everything. His 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. A bracing, empathetic, heartrending work of storytelling." (Colum McCann)

"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)

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Totally Biased

Couldn’t finish this book. Imagine the Manchester Arena bomber being portrayed as a romantic hero then you’ll catch my drift. Anti- British pro IRA propaganda which even asserted blame for Jean McConvillles murder away from the provos
Shocking

32 people found this helpful

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Immense, powerful, exquisite and raw.

I haven't 'connected' to a book in a long time as I have this one. It's beautifully crafted, it pulls no punches, but doesn't glorify, justify or condemn the history. I remember the horrors of the Troubles as a child, hearing it on the news, and this is a perfectly pitched perspective on a few characters involved.
If you read or listen to one non-fiction book this year, make it this.

28 people found this helpful

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Audiobook narrator destroys an extremely well written book

The book is an incredibly detailed and insightful account of the troubles told through the lens of the major players in the republican movement from the late 1960s until the present day.

It deliberately tells the story from just this one perspective but it doesn’t glorify or seek to paint those whose testimonies the book is built on as heroes or martyrs. It’s thoroughly journalistic in its approach and extremely well written. It is built on the testimonies of real people, from first hand accounts. Those who committed murder and torture and violence have laid out the facts of what they did, as well as their innermost thoughts and feelings about it.

I must stress though, that while the book is a full five stars, the audiobook narrator gives the single worst performance I have ever witnessed - ably abetted by a distinct lack of editing.

He mispronounces countless words such as “indict”, “shebeen”, “Finucane”. There are dozens more examples that, being from Northern Ireland, I’d have expected him to manage. He constantly pauses to figure out how to pronounce words and these pauses are not edited out. Sometimes you think he’s reached the end of a sentence and it turns out there’s 2-5 more words that completely change its meaning.

There are parts of the book that sound like he was reading it in his bedroom at night and hoping not to wake anyone. The rest of the book sounds either like he’s reading to a child, or just thoroughly bored.

This needs re-recorded with an experienced professional narrator and edited carefully to preserve the quality and integrity of the original book.

20 people found this helpful

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IRA Biased

Narrator is clearly heavily biased to the Republican side of events giving the impression of swash buckling, happy go lucky freedom fighters, Interesting to learn about the dark history, but i'll stick to a more balanced view in future.

20 people found this helpful

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A very good read

This book was not what I expected. I had read a review and thought I would give it a try. It’s not usually what I would choose, not to mention I didn’t really have any interest in learning about ‘the troubles’ but this book totally captivated me. I cannot recommend enough . It is a true story which enables the listener to gain an insight into real events.

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too much history not enough psychology of maniacs.

Not so much a book about the missing Jean Mcconville but another fantasy to appeal to IRA sympathiser or Irish Americans (likely those who emptied their pockets into the NORAID collection boxes).
What we want is an unambiguous, honest approach to detailing the story of the disappeared. The truth about the utter brutality of a terrorist organisation who kept their communities in utter fear. Whether that be the humiliation of tar & feathering, knee capping, or as in the case of Jean a brutal beating prior to being put to death; moreso than any unionist controlled government.
The troubles are over, theres newspaper archives and released government papers to give a narrative. Let's get into the psychology of mans inhumanity to man (or woman).

13 people found this helpful

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touts know the rules!

enjoyed this story. have to agree with an earlier reviewer that the narrator annoyed me with some of the basic words that he mispronounced like the river foggon (faughan), drinking in a shebben (shebeen), solicitor pat finnegan (finucane) and others, although it was mostly ok
although he only gets a fleeting mention, the worst of the old ruc in the form of drew harris has yet to materialise

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wow.

as a person who isn't Irish or English, I knew about the troubles and the Irish republican cause in general. I knew of some of the main personalities, the hunger strikes, Bobby Sands and bloody Sunday and Good Friday. all was just an over all "knowledge".
this book has taken my understanding of what happened and what's still going on in Ireland to the next level. intriguing, well told, tragic, and fascinating (in the sense that human behaviour is. not the events it tackles).
bonus for me was getting used to hearing the Irish accent. :)

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating history

Superb book. The first one of its kind I've read or listened to and I couldn't stop listening. This is how non-fiction should be written.

6 people found this helpful

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Brilliant telling of the modern Troubles history

A well delivered telling of some personal stories and pivotal moments in Northern Ireland's recent history. With much well-researched detail, but delivered with pace and variety - just excellent

5 people found this helpful

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  • C. Miller
  • 22-10-20

Phenomenal

For anyone with any interest in The Troubles, this book is brilliant. I am honestly so impressed!

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  • Monika Sznajder
  • 15-09-20

An excellent book!

The book itself is everything you might want from a non-fiction text, a gripping story thoroughly researched and written by a master. On top of that the narrator does a magnificent job, the best I have heard so far - he couldn't have done it better if he was one of the people in the book telling you the story in a pub. His accent also helps make it real, I owe him a lot of what this book gave me.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-06-20

A masterpiece!

I loved this book; it is so well written and researched and the narration is excellent. A difficult yet fascinating history is told in a very thoughtful and masterful manner, leaving the listener with so much to contemplate. I could not stop listening and now I cannot stop thinking about the causes, meaning and consequences the troubles had. I am from South Africa and I hope that Patrick Radden Keefe will one day write a book about the south african troubles.