Unspeakable: The Things We Cannot Say by Harriet Shawcross
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Featured on The Thread: In 'Unspeakable,' a journalist gives silence an investigative treatment
As a teenager, Harriet Shawcross stopped speaking for almost a year, retreating into herself and communicating only when absolutely necessary. As an adult, she became fascinated by the limits of language and in Unspeakable she asks what makes us silent.
From the inexpressible trauma of trench warfare and the aftermath of natural disaster to the taboo of coming out, Shawcross explores how and why words fail us. From the mountains of Nepal to New York’s theatre district she travels the world meeting people who constantly wrestle with language. She studies the work of George Oppen, a poet who couldn’t write a line for twenty-five years, interviews Eve Ensler whose play The Vagina Monologues gave voice to the truths of female sexuality, and meets the founders of The Samaritans who have been listening silently to those in need since the 1950s.
A beguiling mix of memoir, history, literary criticism and investigative journalism, Unspeakable is a moving and unprecedented study of the power of silence.