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Apeirogon
Cover of Apeirogon
Apeirogon
A Novel
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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

    LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • 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.
  • 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

    LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • 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.
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    Excerpts-
    • From the book 2016

      1

      The hills of Jerusalem are a bath of fog. Rami moves by memory through a straight stretch, and calculates the camber of an upcoming turn.

      Sixty-seven years old, he bends low on the motorbike, his jacket padded, his helmet clipped tight. It is a Japanese bike, 750 cc. An agile machine for a man his age.

      Rami pushes the bike hard, even in bad weather.

      He takes a sharp right at the gardens where the fog lifts to reveal dark. Corpus separatum. He downshifts and whips past a military tower. The sodium lights appear fuzzy in the morning. A small flock of birds momentarily darkens the orange.

      At the bottom of the hill the road dips into another curve, obscured in fog. He taps down to second, lets out the clutch, catches the corner smoothly and moves back up to third. Road Number One stands above the ruins of Qalunya: all history piled here.

      He throttles at the end of the ramp, takes the inner lane, passing signs for The Old City, for Giv'at Ram. The highway is a scattershot of morning headlights.

      He leans left and salmons his way out into the faster lane, toward the tunnels, the Separation Barrier, the town of Beit Jala. Two answers for one swerve: Gilo on one side, Bethlehem on the other.

      Geography here is everything.

      2

      THIS ROAD LEADS TO AREA "A"
      UNDER THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
      THE ENTRANCE FOR ISRAELI
      CITIZENS IS FORBIDDEN
      DANGEROUS TO YOUR LIVES
      AND IS AGAINST THE ISRAELI LAW

      3

      Five hundred million birds arc the sky over the hills of Beit Jala every year. They move by ancient ancestry: hoopoes, thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, cuckoos, starlings, shrikes, ruffs, northern wheatears, plovers, sunbirds, swifts, sparrows, nightjars, owls, gulls, hawks, eagles, kites, cranes, buzzards, sandpipers, pelicans, flamingos, storks, pied bushchats, griffon vultures, European rollers, Arabian babblers, bee-eaters, turtledoves, whitethroats, yellow wagtails, blackcaps, red-throated pipits, little bitterns.

      It is the world's second busiest migratory superhighway: at least four hundred different species of birds torrent through, riding different levels in the sky. Long vees of honking intent. Sole travelers skimming low over the grass.

      Every year a new landscape appears underneath: Israeli settlements, Palestinian apartment blocks, rooftop gardens, barracks, barriers, bypass roads.

      Some of the birds migrate at night to avoid predators, flying in their sidereal patterns, elliptic with speed, devouring their own muscles and intestines in flight. Others travel during the day to take advantage of the thermals rising from below, the warm wind lifting their wings so they can coast.

      At times whole flocks block out the sun and daub shadows across Beit Jala: the fields, the steep terraces, the olive groves on the outskirts of town.

      Lie down in the vineyard in the Cremisan monastery at any time of day and you can see the birds overhead, travelling in their talkative lanes.

      They land on trees, telegraph poles, electricity cables, water towers, even the rim of the Wall, where they are a sometime target for the young stone throwers.

      4

      The ancient sling was made of a cradle of cowskin, the size of an eye-patch, pierced with small holes and held together with leather thongs. The slings were designed by shepherds to help scare away predatory animals from their roving flocks.

      The pouch was held in the shepherd's left hand, the cords in his right. Considerable practice was needed to operate it with accuracy. After placing a stone in the pad, the slingman pulled the thongs taut. He swung it wide above his head several times...
    About the Author-
    • Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels TransAtlantic, Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as three critically acclaimed story collections and the nonfiction book Letters to a Young Writer. His fiction has been published in over forty languages. He has received many international honors, including the National Book Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Pushcart Prize, and an Oscar nomination for his short film Everything in This Country Must. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Irish association of artists Aosdána, and he has also received a Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres award from the French government. In addition, he has won awards in Italy, Germany, and China. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing program. He lives with his family in New York City, where he is the cofounder of the global nonprofit story exchange organization Narrative 4.
    Reviews-
    • Library Journal

      September 1, 2019

      In this latest from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times best-selling McCann, the lives of Palestinian Bassam Aramin and Israeli Rami Elhanan do not initially touch. But then Bassam's daughter Abir is killed by a rubber bullet even as Rami's daughter Smadar falls victim to a suicide bombing. After learning of each other's grief, the two fathers reach across borders to work for peace. In geometry, an apeirogon is an imaginary polygon with a countably infinite number of sides, but literature has a way of showing us what's possible.

      Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Kirkus

      November 15, 2019
      An ambitious novel about an Israeli, a Palestinian, and the grief they share in common. Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin both lose their daughters when the girls are still young. Rami's Smadar dies in an explosion caused by suicide bombers; Bassam's Abir is killed by a rubber bullet. Rami is Israeli, Bassam Palestinian. They both become advocates for peace in the Middle East. McCann's (Thirteen Ways of Looking, 2015, etc.) latest novel is a soaring, ambitious triumph: It tells the stories of Rami and Bassam, both based on real people, and their daughters and their land and much else, besides. The novel is splintered into short, numbered segments that count up to 500 before crawling back down to 1. The effect is kaleidoscopic. McCann wheels outward in a widening circuit, not unlike the birds that form a central metaphor that recurs throughout the book. Some segments describe Israeli-Palestinian politics; others are composed of photographs; still others are made up entirely of quotes from figures as disparate as Picasso and Mahmoud Darwish. The result is a sprawling masterpiece but not a perfect one. Rarely does McCann incorporate the voices of women. Smadar and Abir are necessarily rendered silent by their deaths, but McCann doesn't make much space, either, for Rami's and Bassam's wives to inhabit. Nor does he assemble women writers, artists, and intellectuals with anything approaching the frequency with which he defers to figures like Darwish and Borges. Still, his writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply nuanced and sensitive to the afflictions of both sides. As a whole, the book is a remarkable achievement. Imperfect but ultimately triumphant, McCann's latest novel might be his finest yet.

      COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Publisher's Weekly

      Starred review from December 2, 2019
      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. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency.

    • Booklist

      Starred review from December 1, 2019
      An apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides, embodying the complexity McCann seeks to express in this tragic and transporting "hybrid novel." In his National Book Award-winner, Let the Great World Spin (2009), two women from opposite ends of the social spectrum lost sons in the Vietnam War. Here McCann portrays two fathers, one Palestinian, the other Israeli, each mourning a young daughter who died in the region's persistent, senseless bloodshed. Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are real people, and the stories of how Abir Aramin and Smadar Elhanan were killed, and of how Bassam and Rami became peace activists and border-defying friends, are true. McCann meshes the actual and the imagined in concise, numbered passages totaling 1,001 in homage to the Arabian Nights. Each is exquisite and haunting, many are harrowing, and together they form an entrancing and unnerving associative collage of fact, memory, observation, and invention. He discovers startling connections while pondering weaponry and poetry, migrating birds and explorers, torture and checkpoints, the music of John Cage and Phillip Petit walking for peace on a tightrope over Jerusalem. McCann performs his own epic balancing act between life and art, writing with stunning lyricism and fluent empathy as he traces the ripple effects of violence and grief, beauty, and the miraculous power of friendship and love, valor and truth.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Globally best-selling McCann always commands attention and the daring subject and structure of this resounding novel will double its pull.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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