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  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241640951
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 208
  • RRP: $50.00

Missing Persons, Or My Grandmother's Secrets

A history of unmarried motherhood through three generations of an Irish family, and the secrets we conceal

How far would you go for the missing?

When Clair Wills was in her twenties, she discovered she had a cousin she had never met. Born in a Mother and Baby home in 1950s Ireland, Mary grew up in an institution not far from the farm where Clair spent happy childhood summers. Yet she was never told of her existence.

How could a whole family - a whole country - abandon unmarried mothers and their children, erasing them from history?

To discover the missing pieces of her family's story, Clair searched across archives and nations, in a journey that would take her from the 1890s to the 1980s, from West Cork to rural Suffolk and Massachusetts, from absent fathers to the grief of a lost child.

There are some experiences that do not want to be remembered. What began as an effort to piece together the facts became an act of decoding the most unreliable of evidence - stories, secrets, silences. The result is a moving, exquisitely told story of the secrets families keep, and the violence carried out in their name.

  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241640951
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 208
  • RRP: $50.00

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Praise for Missing Persons, Or My Grandmother's Secrets

In its account of one family's history of silence and secrecy, Clair Wills has written a compelling book which demonstrates the uncanny universality of even the most personal stories. Attending to the ways that the past ruptures and grows through the present, this is a history shaken by intimacy - a brave and rigorously humane book.

Seán Hewitt

If the past is a mass of tangled wool, Clair Wills frees a long strand and knits it into clarity, line by line, inviting the reader to see the complexity of the pattern she reveals. Written with elegance and erudition, Missing Persons is an extraordinary, moving achievement.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa

In this powerful memoir, Wills manages to excavate the truth about silence. Her vision as a historian reaches for the central question, why and how Irish people kept such dark secrets. How a nation of storytellers became so good at keeping violence concealed from themselves. How the information was kept, manipulated, disremembered under layers of talk into a vast store of collective forgetting. This is not only the story of Ireland in the past, but who we all are and what we have become.

Hugo Hamilton

Clair Wills retrieves from time’s abyss a speculative history of universal import. This is a penetrating and affecting study, essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the profound contradictions, the secrets and lies that define post-famine Ireland.

Paul Lynch

Clair Wills has written a book of unusual subtlety and power. Part memoir and social history, part familial detective story, it's a work that lays bare the strength and terrible frailty of the bonds that are supposed to bind us together. A superb work of narrative nonfiction.

Francisco Garcia

A deeply absorbing account, related with compassion in elegant prose, of how a family's past becomes embedded in its present.

Danielle McLaughlin

This is a brilliant, poignant, discomforting book but one that has the beauty of honesty and the ultimate restorative kindness that truth-telling offers. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the complex typology and legacy of family secrets.

Katherine O’Donnell

Missing Persons is as close to perfect as a memoir can be; the richness of its subject honed to a poised and discerning brevity, written in unexpectedly lambent prose. It is the sum of the author’s life: both the family history she carries with and within her, but also the four decades of research and analysis that have been her intellectual existence. Only she could have written it, but it will speak to and about the lives of many.

Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

She is deft at unpicking lies, evasions and gaps in the record, grasping that these things have political as well as private meaning… an act of fairly radical reframing.

Olivia Laing, The Guardian

An expertly crafted work, at once vigorous and subtle, which manages its effects and conserves its revelations with all the skill of a master novelist.

John Banville, The Observer

Always compelling and deeply moving… an unforgettable account, in microcosm, of the world of Catholic Ireland in the 20th Century: the incarceration of the so-called sinful and the emigration of others, leaving a fragmented country of secrets, enigmas and buried guilt.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Mail on Sunday

The stories she uncovers are remarkable: touching, tragic and terribly human… Her book, written with care, wit and vulnerability, shows that ordinary tragedies deserve our anger and attention.

Laura Hackett, The Sunday Times

An affecting and enraging book, part memoir, part national history, about Wills’s attempt to uncover the truth about her family and the hundreds of others like it.

Pippa Bailey, New Statesman

Not just a vivid, compelling account of Clair’s family and ancestry, but an intriguing snapshot of Ireland’s social history … rigorously researched .. empathetic.

The Irish Independent