Apeirogon by Colum McCann
What’s it about?
Apeirogon: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. In this book Colum McCann writes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it's infinite number of sides. Much on the novel is based on the lives of real people. Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan travel the world speaking about their personal experiences and their belief that no occupation is sustainable. Rami lost his 13-year-old daughter to suicide bombers. Ten years later Bassam loses his ten-year-old daughter when a young Israeli soldier mistakenly hits her in the head with a rubber bullet. The ambulance with Bassam and his daughter are held at a checkpoint for hours on the way to the hospital. " 'I still sit in that ambulance every day' Bassam tells us. 'I keep waiting for it to move. Every day she gets killed again and every day I sit in the ambulance, willing it to move, please move, please please please, just go, why are you staying here, let's go.' " The two men meet and recognize the need to use their grief to make people understand how the occupation is affecting both sides in this conflict.
What did it make me think about?
Life in any occupied zone. "You see the occupation exists in every aspect of your life, and exhaustion and a bitterness that nobody outside it really understands. It deprives you of tomorrow. It stops you from going to the market, tot he hospital, to the beach, to the sea. You can't walk, you can't drive, you cannot pick an olive from your own tree which is on the other side of the barbed wire. You can't even look up at the sky. They have their planes up there. They own the air above and the ground below. You need a permit to sow your own land. Your door is kicked in, your house is taken over, they put their feet in your chairs. Your seven-year-old is picked up and interrogated. You can't imaging it. Seven-years-old. Be a father for a minute and think of your seven-year-old being picked up in front of your eyes. Blindfolded. Zip ties put on his wrists."
Should I read it?
This is an exceptional book. Written in 1001 short chapters (perhaps a nod to the 1001 Arabian Nights) it highlights the many sides to a story that is complicated and fraught with tension. Neither side is listening to the other- maybe because to listen would make you see the humanity in the other viewpoint. I would love to hear Bassam and Rami speak in person. I can not imagine anyone reading this book and not admiring both of these men. They are a testament that something good can come from terrible tragedy. Colum McCann is a gifted writer and this is a masterpiece of a book. Be prepared to take it slowly. This is NOT a page turner. This is a book that will change your viewpoint and make you think.
"His was a responsibility not to diminish. He wanted to talk about the use of the past in the justification of the present. About the helix of history, one moment bound to the next. About where the past intersects with the future."
"Some people have an interest in keeping silence. Others have an interest in sowing hatred based on fear. Fear makes money, and it makes laws, and it takes land, and it builds settlements, and fear likes to keep everyone silent."
" 'Once I thought we could never solve our conflict', Bassam tells us; '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.... When they killed my daughter they killed my fear. I can do anything now."
If you liked this try-
Milkman by Anna Burns
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
9 1/2 stars
some favorites of the last decade
best of winter 2020
best of summer/fall 2019
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best of winter/spring 2017-18
best of spring/summer 2017
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on my nightstand
edge of your seat
― Charles William Eliot
3 to 4- I found some aspect of this book redeeming but would not recommend it.
5 to 6- I really enjoyed something about this book (characters, plot, meaning etc.) but it was uneven. Some aspects were stronger than others.
7 to 8- It was a good book. I liked lots of aspects of this book. I would recommend it.
9 to 10- I was sorry to turn the last page. I highly recommend this book!