In the last year of the 20th century the celebrated foreign correspondent Fergal Keane set out for the BBC on a journey through Britain. After years covering the world's conflict zones, Keane - the child of Irish parents living temporarily in London - turned his attention to the country in which he was born but where, until recently, he had never lived. From Glasgow to Leeds, London, Cornwall, Wales and to the very fringes of United Kingdom in Country Tyrone, he discovered a surprising and little-known world of poverty, exclusion and alienation. At times angry and always passionate, this is Fergal Keane at his very best. It is a work of compelling story-telling, as the author hears the small voices lost in the bigger picture: listen to Fiona, the young heroin addict who sells her body and steals to support her habit; meet the Protestants and Catholics living side by side on this country's westernmost border; hear the tragic story of a farming family in South Wales blighted by suicide. And consider that in August 1999 a Scottish shipyard where 1,200 men work was sold for two million pounds - the price of a large house in Islington, spiritual home of New Labour. Though this is an unflinching and sometimes shocking book, it is also curiously uplifting, as Keane reports on the courage and lack of self-pity of those he encountered. Applying the compassion and insight for which his foreign reporting is widely admired, Fergal Keane has written a compelling account of the nation today as well as a provocative challenge to those who promised a new Britain for the new millennium.
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Fergal Keane's incisive television reporting, rightly ranking him as a distinguished foreign correspondent, hones his trademark short, sharp sentences that have penetrated the surface of events and circumstance around the world upon Britain in this, his latest venture, based upon a BBC series. He is a wonderful observer, offering not an overview but an underview of the state of the nation. Writing with a controlled passion, he treads the byways rather than highways, giving voice to marginalised men and women whose stoicism somehow sustains them as they stand stranded on the sidelines of the meritocracy march. Whether it is Glasgow shipyard workers fighting to save their jobs, farming communities in North Wales and Devon struggling to survive, or the dispossessed and degraded on a Leeds estate downtrodden by social depravation, Keane brings his integrity and warm humanity to the telling of unsung heroics and courage against the unfriendly forces of economics and environment. When his objectivity is allowed to slip by recalling his own childhood experiences around Dublin--he has chapters on Catholics and Protestants in a town in Ulster subverting entrenched sectarianism-it is not out of a personal sentimentality but a felt need to comprehend (for himself and therefore his readers) the pain and pride he encounters on his journey. Keane is no idealist, he carries no ideological baggage, but the incurable optimist in him believes that more should and could be done. -- Michael HatfieldFrom the Publisher:
"Valuable and frightening social documents... He is a careful listener, a brave interloper, a clear communicator." - Financial Times
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