NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A quite extraordinary novel. Colum McCann has found the form and voice to tell the most complex of stories, with an unexpected friendship between two men at its powerfully beating heart.”—Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire
FINALIST FOR THE DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD • LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • WINNER OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Independent • The New York Public Library • Library Journal
From the National Book Award–winning and bestselling author of Let the Great World Spin comes an epic novel rooted in the unlikely real-life friendship between two fathers.
Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on to the schools their children attend to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.
But their lives, however circumscribed, are upended one after the other: first, Rami’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Smadar, becomes the victim of suicide bombers; a decade later, Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter, Abir, is killed by a rubber bullet. Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another. And yet, when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace—and with their one small act, start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict.
This extraordinary novel is the fruit of a seed planted when the novelist Colum McCann met the real Bassam and Rami on a trip with the non-profit organization Narrative 4. McCann was moved by their willingness to share their stories with the world, by their hope that if they could see themselves in one another, perhaps others could too.
With their blessing, and unprecedented access to their families, lives, and personal recollections, McCann began to craft Apeirogon, which uses their real-life stories to begin another—one that crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. The result is an ambitious novel, crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.
National Book Award winner McCann (Let the Great World Spin) bases this masterful novel on the lives of two real men working together toward Middle Eastern peace. Rami Elhanan, 67 on the single day of 2016 on which the main narrative takes place, is a graphic designer and Israeli military veteran. In September 1997, his 13-year-old daughter, Smadar, was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. His need for revenge fades when he joins the Parents' Circle, whose members, of many nationalities and religions, have all lost a child in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Nineteen years younger than Elhanan, Palestinian Bassam Aramin is jailed in 1985, at 17, for resisting the Israeli occupiers in Hebron, where he's raised. During his imprisonment, writings by Gandhi, among others, and friendship with one of the Israeli guards convince him of the power of nonviolence. Released after seven years, he helps found Combatants for Peace, which brings Palestinian and Israeli fighters among them Elhanan's son, who introduces the two men together for dialogue. The fatal 2005 shooting of Bassam's 10-year-old daughter, Abir, by an Israeli border guard doesn't shake his belief that Israelis and Palestinians share "an equity of pain"; he and Elhanan begin meeting daily, using their daughters' stories to become international advocates for peace. The book's title is a reference to a polygon with a countable but infinite number of sides, and McCann evokes the experience of its protagonists and their region through 1,001 brief numbered segments that incorporate sequences in the men's own voices and interconnect topics including bullet manufacturing, Jorge Luis Borges, and birds. Balancing its dazzling intellectual breadth with moments of searing intimacy, this is a transformative vision of a historic conflict and a triumph of the novelist's art.)
A Most Unique and Important Story
Since reading Let The Great World Spin, I’ve been a fan of Colum McCann’s writing. I have appreciated his books as much for their style as for their content. Few authors are capable of crafting a story as well as McCann does but in Apeirogon, he reaches new heights.
The tragedy and senselessness of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is crystalized in the stories of two men, one Israeli, one Palestinian who have both lost children to the violence of these two cultures.
As I was reading Apeirogon the Uvalde school mass shooting happened. McCann’s book is a grim reminder that, as Americans, we also need to find a way out of the cycles of hate and violence we find ourselves in. The courage of Rami & Bassam to speak our against the violence of their two countries should serve as a guide to everyone to seek common ground in the quest for peace and security if not for ourselves then for our children.