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Why an IRA man reads Tolstoy

A deftly-rendered history refuses to simplify a messy and tragic period

By Finn McRedmond   November 2020
An IRA mural in west Belfast Paul Faith/PA

An IRA mural in west Belfast Paul Faith/PA

Concluding the opening chapter of Anatomy of a Killing, Ian Cobain recalls a conversation between a BBC reporter and a prisoner in the IRA wing of Long Kesh prison on the outskirts of Lisburn, Northern Ireland. The reporter notices that the inmate—serving life for murder—is reading Tolstoy. When pressed, the young man claims IRA men are as normal as anyone else. “When the reporter commented that normal people did not go around killing other people,…

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