Are the Troubles in Northern Ireland finally over? Almost 21 years have passed since the Good Friday Agreement formally ended the conflict. Self-rule has replaced supervision from afar, and a return to the terrifying days of car bombs and masked gunmen is unthinkable. Yet the border separating the Republic of Ireland from the North has become a key sticking point in the continuing Brexit fiasco, and segregation persists between Catholics and Protestants. The factions continue to wave their flags and tend their murals with a dangerous pride. Like other societies recovering from internecine violence, Northern Ireland brims with shattered lives, and forgiveness seems generations away.
An exceptional new book, “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland,” by Patrick Radden Keefe, explores this brittle landscape to devastating effect. Mr. Keefe is a talented writer for the New Yorker and an unaffiliated Irish-American. He grew up in Boston in the 1980s and never quite knew what to make of the contribution jars “for the lads” that he saw in pubs. “Say Nothing” renders his ambivalence into fierce reporting. Whereas previous histories of the Troubles by Ed Moloney and Brendan O’Brien could take on numbingly encyclopedic qualities, Mr. Keefe presents the conflict through narrative. He tracks the fatefully intersecting lives of three former leaders of the Irish Republican Army—Gerry Adams, Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes—and one of the paramilitary group’s victims, a widowed mother of 10 named Jean McConville, who disappeared in 1972.