I hit a reading rut in April. I think it was partly because I was trying to read (a really good) non-fiction book and I’m just slower at reading non-fiction (it took me 6 weeks to read Barack Obama’s tome of a book). But I also just wasn’t in any kind of mood to read, it was kind of a flashback to early lockdown days when all you wanted to do was watch TV.
So I only read two books in April: The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. One I read in a weekend and one took me all month. They were both very good but very different.
The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck
This book is fantastic. It made me realize that I know absolutely nothing about what the Nordic countries (except Denmark) were up to during WWII and that I had no clue that Finland wasn’t considered part of Scandinavia. I also had a laugh that even when I’m not reading about racism and white supremacy; I’m reading about racism and white supremacy. The book is set in Sweden and follows Laura Dahlgren as she tries to find out who killed her best friend from college that she has kind of fallen out of touch with, in that way that you wall out of touch with friends from school but still consider them to be a friend. This is happening with Sweden’s balancing act as a neutral country supplying coal to the Axis forces and the Allied forces demanding that they cut Germany off and the work in eugenics that they were secretly doing.
Because of the work that I do this book made me propose to my manager that we include Sweden and Norway in our literature review as the Saami people of Lapland experience very similar racism and maybe genocide as Indigenous people in Canada. It’s such a small plot point but the applicability did make me laugh.
It was the twist at the end that makes me think this is such a good book. I almost always call the end of TV shows, movies, books etc. but this twist I a) had no guesses and b) would have never guessed. Ever.
If it isn’t obvious this is the book I finished in a weekend.
Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
My parents are from Northern Ireland, nearly all my family is still there, and they grew up there not far from Belfast, but never going there, never even considering going there because of the Troubles. It was the backdrop to their youth. But they also didn’t grow up in Belfast and their families definitely tried to shelter them from it as much as they could. And we’re Protestant, which is the dominant, privileged “side” in this fight (it was never declared a war, the British never wanted to give it that kind of legitimacy/credit). My parents also almost never talk about it. Except to discuss little things like how stupid the bias is or that some old relative is concerned that someone’s fiancée has a “Catholic” last name, said with a very large eye roll. And my dad says stuff like “It’s a wee bit Catholic looking” and apparently a Catholic would say that “It’s a wee bit Protestant looking”. This book was also on one of Barack Obama’s lists last year to carry through a theme. This book is superb. It is extremely well written and engaging. But it’s heavy, maybe more so being familiar with the place names and the streets and recognizing surnames and such but it’s a heavy topic. Any non-fiction book involving bombings, hunger strikes, murders, and people being “disappeared” will be heavy. It also only discusses the Catholic paramilitary groups. The Protestants definitely conducted just as much violence as the Catholics, if not more, given that the whole thing got started by England popping over to stay for 500 years and starving the Irish for about a century and then when they did split into Northern Ireland and the Republic restricting what jobs and other rights Catholics could have because they are (kind of rightly) seen as a threat to the British presence in Northern Ireland. And the only reason there are so many Protestants in Ulster is because the native Ulster folk were so stubborn and essentially refused to be colonized so England sent the next most un-conquerable group of people they had encountered, the Scots over to settle Ulster. Which is how it ended up Unionist and Protestant. But that’s not what this book is about.
This book is kind of framed around the disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, who was disappeared during the Troubles. It then goes in to the cast of characters and kind of chronologically tells the story of the members of the main Catholic paramilitary groups as they grew and then as some of them started to enter politics and began to deny their participation in the paramilitary groups (it is still illegal to admit to being in the IRA and the IRA does still exist to this day, in fact recently there have been some flare ups of violence). I don’t know if this book has the biggest audience, but it was really interesting to me and I did really enjoy reading it. It’s also not as long as it looks as there are pictures and about 100 pages of references and citations! Overall I think he did a really great job writing it and I would recommend it to any member of the Northern Irish diaspora whose parents never talked about the Troubles even though they grew up amidst them. I would really like to read a book similar to this about the Protestant role, and the role of the British government and particularly Margaret Thatcher, I feel like they knew a lot more about the role that the British military and the police were doing then they let on to this day.
Also, this story has a hell of a twist about how one of the British informers was. I thought The Historians had a twist but when it’s real life?!?!? Holy heckin’ bob did it blow my mind.
Anyways, that’s it, that’s all I read. I don’t really have any books I’m particularly excited to read at the moment and I would like nothing more than to pop into a bookstore and drop $100 but that won’t be happening at any time soon because I really don’t think we’re coming out of lockdown on May 20th and I think the nearest bookstore is like 3 hours away. So if you’re not in lockdown and can go into the shops would you please pop into a bookstore and just really vibe with it for me. Touch everything, spend an hour or more, smell it. I’d appreciate it.