‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann: Book Review
Apeirogon is a 480-page novel penned by renowned writer Colum McCann. It has been longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and that is the reason I decided to pick this book to read. I always follow the Booker Prizes and Apeirogon is the second book I’m reading from the longlist. Apeirogon is an unusual title that means a polygon, where you can see different sides of a similar situation. The novel is based on actual figures who have been victims and survivors of the unrest in Palestine and Israel, especially regarding the ‘occupation’. I guess everyone is aware of the delicate situation of the occupation and how both Palestinians and Israelis are becoming victims of violence and terror attacks. The two fathers, Bassam, a Palestinian, and Rami, an Israeli, are prominent figures in this novel titled Apeirogon. They both have been affected severely by the unrest in their area.
Both fathers have lost their school-going daughters to the violence, which constitutes whatever is happening in that part of the world. Rami the Israeli lost his daughter Smadar in the year 1997 when she lost her life in a bomb attack planned by a Palestinian suicide bomber. On the other hand, Bassam lost his daughter Abir in the year 2007 because a young Israeli soldier accidentally shot a rubber bullet at Abir, which hit her in the skull. As you can see, both girls died ten years apart. Both fathers should have been opposing each other by the natural order of things, but this is not what happens.
Colum McCann is an excellent writer, and his novel is a tour de force of hybrid fiction. Apeirogon weaves together elements of speculation, memory, fact, and imagination. It is a unique way of presenting a novel and has been masterfully done by McCann. You will see many sides and angles to situations from a historical perspective, a cultural perspective, a linguistic perspective, an ethics perspective, and the personal viewpoints of Bassam and Rami. Colum McCann has written this book with a purpose that will unfold as you read this beautiful and very heart-wrenching book. Please get your copy of this book today on your Kindle or in hardback form; it’s a gem.
There is a purpose to this book, but I’m not disclosing it here. However, I’ll say that it is possible that many people, especially youngsters, will be unaware of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and will find it initially difficult to process what problems Bassam and Rami face on an everyday basis. For such readers, I would advise you to look up Google or any other political science reference site and get a grip on what is happening in that part of the world. For those of us who know the situation, this book is a breath of fresh air to read and experience. Reading this book is an experience worth cherishing. Bassam and Rami’s messages are essential for our world today, a world that is out to build walls but not bridges. Well, Apeirogon is here at the least to make some cracks in the wall. Please educate yourself and read this book; it is a stunner! Don’t forget to tune your mind, spirit, and heart to Bassam and Rami when they give a speech regarding the experiences they shared when their daughters died. If you have a soul, you will undoubtedly feel more than just choked in the throat. This is because what they speak about is what we are not getting to hear anymore these days, in this post-truth polarized era where the lie is being shouted out in the streets while the truth is becoming extinct. Do yourself a favor; don’t give into people who lie, and do read Colum McCann’s book.
The prose narrative is beautiful; some of the facts are fun reads and some disturbing. Reality is brought to the limelight here in Apeirogon; you can see this story from many angles. I especially loved the parts where McCann describes how Rami and Bassam were visualizing the ‘future’ of the life of that Israeli soldier who shot Abir. It touched me to read that Rami felt more anger towards the soldier than Bassam. But the fact is that when people die, mourners come and comfort you for a while. They then go away to lead their own lives, and you are left with that ache, that tear in your heart, forever. Will this novel make you cry in many places? My answer to that is a firm, yes! Will you be able to control your emotions while reading this book? Well, that depends on whether you’ve seen or are seeing worse cases than this. I’m a reclusive, introverted writer and reader and teacher. I have not seen much of the outside world, but I’ve read a lot. Also, my country is not having a quiet time, especially after the pandemic has hit us. So, I’ve read and experienced difficult times in reality, as well as in books. My country is undergoing a crisis. And I’ve seen worse, so I was able to control my tears.
Did Abir and Smadar deserve to live? I don’t like that question. I feel wretched that some readers may even try and search for this in the novel. You’ll be surprised with what you find because you will find school report cards telling you something – and that something is that everyone is unique, and deserves to live. This is regardless of nationality, race, religion, caste, or economic class. We are all in this together, or no one is, that’s it! Stop asking whether people ‘deserve’ or ‘don’t deserve’ to live; that’s not for you to decide. And the problem is, if you feel you can decide on this, then there is something wrong with you and your humanity. Read Apeirogon and get your humanity back, please!
Most of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis topics are covered here through the individual stories of Bassam and Rami. The book is very suspenseful, even though we know that both Smadar and Abir are dead. That is the power of McCann’s narrative, which is hard-hitting and cuts you like a knife blade when you least expect it; he sure has a unique gift. I am glad he is part of the 2020 Booker Prize Longlist, and now I am keen to read more of his works. The judges of the 2020 Booker Prize have chosen books that focus on humanity and social issues, and each book is a joy to read. I’m not going to forget Apeirogon in a hurry. I can’t; the story is too vivid, and it seemed like it all happened in front of my eyes, and I witnessed it all. This is undoubtedly one of the best forms of hybrid literature that I have read in a long while. For non-literature students, a hybrid or cross-genre is a genre in fiction that blends themes and elements from two or more different genres. Unlike the (literary and political) conservatism of most genre fiction, cross-genre writing offers opportunities for opening debates and stimulating discussions. For the past year or so, I have not read good hybrid fiction, but now with Apeirogon, I’ve struck gold. Those of you who like me are writers should learn from McCann how to tackle the hybrid or cross-genre novel.
No more spoilers on my part. Please get your hands on Apeirogon and read it. I wish Colum McCann the very best for the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist. I’ve got a hectic schedule of teaching on my platter, so I’m a mess back here, but I’m still making time for reading. Last week I read Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward. That book, too, is excellent and has been longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize; you can check out my review. Both, in my opinion, have an equal chance of making it to the shortlist. I am currently reading another longlisted book and hope to review it soon here on my blog.
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