The Road to Unity and Peace
In today’s world, it cannot be denied that chaos reigns everywhere. Peace has become just a concept, a battle cry but rarely has it been manifested. War, insurgency, armed conflicts, violence have become synonymous and ubiquitous. Its aftermath leaves scars, a trail of blood of the unsuspecting and of the innocent. It is a tragedy that a large parts of the world has to deal with. And for some parts, it is a reality they have to deal with everyday. But despite the bleak times, there are individuals who strive to attain the seemingly unachievable.
Among these select group of men are two fathers, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin, whose stories were related by Colum McCann’s through his latest novel, Apeirogon. Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin couldn’t be anymore different. Each belong to the opposite sides of the spectrum. Elhanan is an Israelite, a scholar, and a Jew. Aramin, meanwhile, belongs to the other side of the border – a Palestine, a former convict, and a Muslim.
Belonging to separate strands, fate made their paths converge in the most unexpected way. Both their daughters have perished because of the realities that is gripping Israel and Palestine. In 1997 Elhanan’s thirteen‑year-old daughter Smadar was one of the casualties of a suicide bombing. A decade later, Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot by an Israeli soldier after leaving a candy store. The two men’s paths crossed through the Parents Circle Family Forum, a charitable organization that helps parents of terrorism victims cope with grief.
“I have told this story many times, but there is always something new to be said. Memories hit you all the time. A book that is opened. A door that is closed; a beeping sound, a window opened. Anything at all. A butterfly.”~ Colum McCann, Apeirogon
As the two fathers would learn, there is no easy way to cope with death, especially with the politics and the hubbub that hound the contemporary realities of Israel and Palestine. There is no amount of comforting can wash away the bitterness. To a normal human being, the initial synapse reaction is revenge, getting even. At one point, that was Rami’s conviction. But then things changed when he became a part of a group of strangers who talk about their grief and sorrow.
The two fathers were united by grief and loss, the seminal themes grappled with in the story. As readers could surmise through numerous experiences and different accounts, grief and loss have different ways of shaping us. Grief and sorrow, the way Elhanan and Aramin encountered it, was akin to a thief in the night that stole the thing that was most precious to them. The experience can be-self altering; they have their way of rousing tendencies within us.
In his own subtle way, McCann was underscoring the ubiquity of grief. Everybody experiences it. It doesn’t respect race, color, religion, educational attainment, social strata, or even financial status. Grief can also be a powerful tool, a device to unite us for a greater cause. When Elhanan first stepped into the Parents Circle Family Forum he described it as: “An organization of the bereaved. Israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, atheist, you name it. Together. In one room. Sharing their sorrow. Not using it, or celebrating it, but sharing it, saying that it is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands.”
More than coping with grief, what prevails in the narrative is the endless pursuit for peace and equality, particularly that of Israel and Palestine. They have a very long and colorful history of violence and bloodshed despite endless talks of peace and unity. Using their grief to propel them for a grander cause, Elhanan and Aramin endeavored to push for peace; no Israeli, no Palestine, one race. One of the most memorable lines in the story read: “But we all call on you to remove your weapons from our dreams. We have had enough, I say enough, enough. Our names have been turned into a curse. The only revenge is making peace. Our families have become one in the unsavory definition of the bereaved. The gun had no choice but the gunman did. We do not talk about peace, we make peace.”
“Once I thought we could never solve our conflict, we would continue hating each other forever, but it is not written anywhere that we have to go on killing each other. The hero makes a friend of his enemy. That’s my duty. Don’t thank me for doing it. That’s all it is, my duty. When they killed my daughter they killed my fear. I can do anything now.”~ Colum McCann, Apeirogon
McCann also did well in relating the story of the two states, but in an innovative manner. He kept his readers engaged by making the story, and its period move around. There was an anecdote about a rope balancing act. Migratory birds and their migration patterns were described in the narrative. The story of how the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered was also mentioned in the narrative. The involvement of other states in the affair of Palestine and Israel was also slightly mentioned. “I am sorry to tell you this, Senator, but you murdered my daughter,” has become a modern battle cry.
Apeirogon, the reader later learns, is a “shape with a countably infinite number of sides.” This is also an allusion to how the story adamantly defies being defined in a forward manner nor being placed in a box. Apeirogon is genre-bending, it has several sides to it. Filled up with snippets of fact, quotations, remarks, insights, musings, and myth, McCann crafted a rich context, albeit in an unorthodox manner, to the story of two fathers. Apeirogon defies the paradigm, a hybrid novel that possesses a fine mixture of fiction, fact, and history.
Dynamic is one of the adjectives that describe the flow of Apeirogon. The narrative weaves to and fro different time periods, McCann cannily weaving rich and intricate details into the tapestry. It relies on the setting, its colorful history, and its people. The background was as vivid and dynamic as the storytelling. McCann, in abundance, poured in various details in the fast-paced narrative whilst highlighting the ruinous nature of war and armed conflict, on how they affect the flow of history and alter the national attitude.
Albeit the fast pace and dynamic storytelling, the narrative was meant to be consumed in bits and pieces, just like the structure was fashioned. The intricate details were to be ingested in small pieces. Sometimes, however, McCann’s abundant details can be the undoing of the story. There were some unnecessary details that weighed down on the story. But this can also be owed to the dynamic writing.
“All I can tell you is that from that moment until today, I’ve devoted my time, my life to going everywhere possible to talk to anyone possible, people who want to listen – even to people who will not listen – to convey this very basic and very simple message, which says: we are not doomed, but we have to smash the forces that have an interest in keeping us silent.”~ Colum McCann, Apeirogon
Apeirogon is a seminal tale that needs to be read and heard. Filled with numerous introspections and insightful passages, McCann interwove various elements and painted a vivid picture of two fathers, two nations, and two groups of people. Their crossroads make casual spectators understand the plight of the regular Israeli and the regular Palestine. War, as time has kept on reminding us, paints an ugly picture. On its trails are blood, corpses, and guttural cries. On the backdrop, there are people like Elhanan and Aramin who champions the attainment of peace through peaceful means. It is a challenging task but their message resonate all over the world. The world is one with them in their endeavors.
Characters (30%) – 29%
Plot (30%) – 26%
Writing (25%) – 23%
Overall Impact (15%) – 15%
When I bought a copy of Colum McCann’s Apeirogon, I barely had any iota on what the book was about. I just knew that it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize; it was my first book from the aforementioned list. I also read some positive responses to the book so I decided why not. At first, I wasn’t all too keen on the structure; it can be wearisome. But when I got to the middle part, my understanding of the text changed and I begun to understand the heart of it. It was a heartbreaking but momentous moment, perhaps a eureka moment. The stories of Elhanan and Aramin deserve to be told and be heard.
Author: Colum McCann
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: 2020
Number of Pages: 457
Genre: Political Fiction
In this daring, symphonic novel, the National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of the Let the World Spin tells an epic story rooted in the real-life relationship between two men united by loss.
Colum McCann’s most ambitions work to date, Apeirogon – named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides – is a tour de force concerning friendship, love, loss, and belonging.
Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.
Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.
McCann crafts Apeirogon out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material. He crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time.
About the Author
Colum McCann was born on February 28, 1965 in Dublin, Ireland.
He graduated with a degree in journalism from the former College of Commerce in Rathmines (now the Dublin Institute of Technology). Post-graduation, he became a reporter for The Irish Press Group, and by the age of 21, he had his own column and byline in the Evening Press. In 1986, he moved to the United States.
His first work, Fishing the Sloe-Black River, a short story collection, was published in 1994. A year later, he published his first novel, Songdogs. His other works include This Side of Brightness (1998), Dancer (2003), and Zoli (2006). His novel, Let the Great World Spin (2009) won the 2009 National Book Award. The book was also adjudged by Amazon.Com as the 2010 Book of the Year and won the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award, one of the most lucrative literary prizes in the world. His latest novel, Apeirogon (2020), was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCann has also published essays, short stories and an anthology.
McCann has also brought home several accolades for his works and his writing. He won the 1994 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for Fishing the Sloe-Black River and the 2004 Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel Award for Dancer. He is also recognized in other part of the world. In 2009, he was honored by the French government as Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government, and was the overall winner of the Grinzane Award in Italy. Honorary degrees were awarded to him by the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2012 and the Queens University, Belfast in 2013.
He is currently residing in New York with his wife and their three children. He is currently a faculty member of Hunter College’s MFA Creative Writing program.
Great review, as always, Carl! Hope to read this before the year ends.
Hope you’re doing well.
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Stunningly written review. You’ve definitely intrigued me enough to want to check out Elhanan and Aramin’s story. The themes tackled in this story and how they are explored, especially through these characters, has me curious. Thanks for sharing! 😀
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Thank you for those kind words. 🙂 I hope you get to enjoy the book as I did.
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