Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

Random House, 2020

I got an advance copy of Apeirogon at a booksellers conference and was thrilled; I absolutely adore Colum Mccann’s writing. I read Let the Great World Spin in my junior year of college, and I view it as a turning point in my life as a reader. It marked the time at which I dove into reading adult literary fiction, and it opened up an entirely new world of books for me. With that said, I am reviewing Apeirogon with a degree of caution. It has received some negative attention because it is a book about the Israeli occupation of Palestine written by a white man with no connection to the conflict or with any Palestinian or Israeli heritage. My immediate reaction was to be okay with it because McCann was writing a narrative surrounding the real life experiences of two men—one Israeli and one Palestinian—both of whom support the book and whose speeches are quoted at length within it. However, it is not up to me to decide whether or not Colum McCann is the right voice for this story. I am leaving this overwhelmingly positive review up for now but will continue to follow any negative reactions to the book from Palestinian or Muslim readers. 

Upon finishing this novel, I mentally categorized it as one of the best things I’d ever read. It is, on the surface, daunting. It’s long and tackles a complicated and serious subject. But even more than that, it’s difficult to understand what type of book it is until you really dive into it. It has elements of both fiction and non-fiction. It’s written in chapters, but not in the usual sense. A chapter may be one sentence or three words. It may be a few pages. The chapters jump in time and place. How McCann (and I imagine his exceptionally skilled editor) managed to arrange all the pieces in an order that works is mind boggling to me, but it was done flawlessly. And while it’s definitely literary—Borges is mentioned more than a few times; ancient art, religion, and philosophy and their modern counterparts are all tied in to the plot; and it would strongly appeal to a scholarly reader—a scholarly knowledge isn’t required to enjoy Apeirogon. I found that all of the references to art, literature, religion, etc. allowed me to connect to the story and simultaneously feel inspired to educate myself about the ideas that were unfamiliar to me. And, because the novel exists around two real men, it stays grounded; it doesn’t get lost in it’s literary-ness. Beware the lack of women. Apeirogon is about the trauma of two fathers, and while you are introduced to the important people in their lives, McCann’s focus does not extend beyond the fathers’ experiences. 

You don’t need to go into Apeirogon with any knowledge of Bassam Aramin or Rami Elhanan—I certainly didn’t—but if you’re hesitant to check out this book, look into their stories. Search their names and hundreds of articles and interviews will show up. Their mission should be heard by everyone.

Links: Goodreads | Colum McCann | Combatants for Peace | Buy it on Bookshop .org

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