A passionate chronicle of the 1981 IRA prison hunger-strike of Bobby Sands and his fellows, by the South African correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Despite the overdramatization (the author equates the hunger strike to Shakespearian tragedy, while Peter Maas, in his introduction, calls the prisoners' letters that form the backbone of the book "nothing less than the Irish equivalent of The Diary of Anne Frank"), this is a worthy narrative that gets past the headlines of those tense months in the spring and summer of 1981. The coup here is that Beresford got access to the body of correspondence known as "comms"—letters written by the strikers on any available scrap of paper, rolled into small cylinders and smuggled out of the Maze Prison by visitors in various bodily orifices. Beresford quotes heavily from these "comms," generating awe for the moral fervor exhibited by the young men willing to die in the face of such little hope. The author goes on to detail how Bobby Sands (who was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament while on his hunger strike) captured the imagination of the media. Indeed, many feared that his impending death might foment civil war. In retrospect, the peaceful aftereffects of the strike (which ended in ten deaths) were surprising: most of the demands of the prisoners (which centered on their not having to wear the garb of other common criminals) were granted. But the star of this book are the comms, which range from witty (Sands, requesting a book: "That's really all I want, last requests as they say. Some ask for cigarettes, others for blindfolds, yer man asks for poetry") to concerned (" [Sands] is in good form and is not as yet experiencing any weakness, dizziness, tiredness, pains and nothing at all") to strategic ("Young Bosco . . .needs gentle but finn sensible treatment as he is highly erratic"). Though subsequent developments have somewhat diminished the utility of the sacrifices, Beresford, in his overenthusiasm, confers a sort of secular canonization on these wasted martyrs. He might have done well to temper his unimpeachable research with moderation, which in the pursuit of justice would have been no vice.
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