Colum McCann is one of the most prominent writers, intellectuals, educators and philanthropists of our time. He has published multiple novels and short story collections, garnering numerous awards including the 2009 National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin.
Apeirogon, McCann’s latest novel, is a powerful, timely force of a book. The title derives from Attic Greek verbiage, and is both a geometric and philosophical term for the concept of an infinitely-sided polygon. The driving narrative is based around the true story of two grieving fathers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian. Both men have lost daughters, one killed by an Israeli soldier, one by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The two fathers forge an unlikely but unbreakable brotherhood, eventually traveling the world together to share their stories and experiences.
The novel is a compilation of both literal and figurative snapshots presented in 1,001 short, aphoristic fragments. Some are only a sentence long, others cover a few pages, while others still are poignant, relevant black and white photographs and imagery. Some fragments are repeated in order to emphasize and highlight McCann’s philosophical Nous (intellect). The numerical choice of 1,001 is a direct homage to A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, and McCann alludes to the vast mythological work throughout Apeirogon. Collectively, these shorter pieces of text and imagery create a literary slideshow of sorts, providing a history of the two fathers; who they were before they lost their daughters, how they overcame their loss to become what they are today.
Peppered throughout the main narrative are historical facts and mythological tales, These are necessary, illuminating threads from a regional tapestry that is bloody but astoundingly beautiful, immensely complicated and convoluted. The further I read through Apeirogon, the less it felt like reading a book. Instead, it was as if I was participating in a collection of memories and histories from a different perspective of human understanding and emotion. It was simply transcendent, an experience that needed to be felt, that couldn’t be wholly depicted with words on a page.
And this, I humbly submit, is McCann’s full intention.
Collective consciousness to overcome conflict, to promote understanding and peace. McCann uses this multitude of separate daily lives, histories and mythologies, and creates the literary visual of an Apeirogon to better understand humanity. Everyone is connected, humanity is a vast web of connected, shared existence; an infinitely-sided, yet countable entity. The capacity to understand the grief of another is only impeded by our own constructs. Perhaps–and maybe McCann would agree with this–a visualization of connectivity will help us take that step towards the removal of the arbitrary divisions we impose on ourselves.
Review by Joel
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