Book Review: Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Apeirogon – Colum McCann (Harper Collins, 2020)

Apeirogon: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides.

Colum McCann, Apeirogon

I’ve never read a novel quite like this. A blend of fact and fiction. A combination of history and present day. A tapestry of facts and story, divided into 1001 sections, varying in size, dipping in and out of a story. There are themes of water, of birds, of architecture. McCann goes back and forth and there is very little linear story to this book. While at times it was confusing to figure out the timeline of the events, it also didn’t really matter because that isn’t really what the book is about. Instead it’s about showing the endless number of sides and questions and opinions and views of a situation as possible. In this case, it’s the very complicated situation of Israel and Palestine.

At the centre of the story are two men, Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli. They have each lost a daughter; Bassam’s daughter Abir killed from a rubber bullet shot by an Israeli soldier, Rami’s daughter Smadar killed in a suicide bombing by Palestinian terrorists. Abir was born the year that Smadar was killed. Rami is a successful Israeli graphic designer. Bassam spent seven years in prison before he married and had a family. The two men meet in the Parents’ Circle, a place for parents who have lost a child. Together they begin to travel around Israel, Palestine, and the world to tell their stories, to speak about ending the Occupation. They receive both hate and support from many sides. They are very different and yet inextricably linked.

While this is obviously a very complicated political and historical situation that McCann has delved into, I felt like he did an excellent job of portraying multiple sides. As someone who isn’t too informed about Israel and Palestine beyond the basics, the book does an excellent job of giving historica, religious, and military context without being overwhelming. I honestly don’t know what’s true and what’s invented here but all of it was fascinating. (Bassam and Rami are real people though.) The way McCann continues to circle back to his various themes – whether that’s ortolans or candy bracelets – creates a rhythm to the book that makes it a pleasure to read.

It isn’t a gripping tale and there isn’t a lot of action overall. A few sections, like Bassam passing through a checkpoint on his way home to Jericho, have great tension but most of the book isn’t like that. Yet it’s quite readable and very compelling and, I think, very important.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Apeirogon by Colum McCann”

  1. This book review reminds me of the times when I was reading experimental lit in grad school and one of them would just hit all the right notes and create something beautiful, unique, and complicated. If you interested in more titles like this one, check out Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník.

    1. Yes, it has that feel (but like a lot more successful than student stuff I’ve read!) It kept reminding me of a poetry assignment I once had where we had to use a similar form though in a much smaller scale.

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