Missing Persons, Or My Grandmother's Secrets

Missing Persons, Or My Grandmother's Secrets


Brought to you by Penguin.

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.

'This is a history shaken by intimacy - a brave and rigorously humane book' Seán Hewitt

© Clair Wills 2024 (P) Penguin Audio 2024


  • 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

About the author

Clair Wills

Clair Wills is a critic and cultural historian. She is the author of Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain, which won the Irish Times International Non-Fiction Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, That Neutral Island: A History of Ireland During the Second World War, which won the PEN Hessell-Tiltman History Prize, Dublin 1916, The Best Are Leaving, and most recently The Family Plot: Three Pieces on Containment. Wills is the regius professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge.
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