Read by Colum McCann
Published February 2020 by Random House
Source: my audiobook copy from my local library
Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of intractable conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to take to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend. Theirs is a life in which children from both sides of the wall throw stones at one another. But their worlds shift irreparably when ten-year-old old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet meant to quell unruly crowds, and again when thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers.
When Bassam and Rami learn one another's stories and the loss that connects them, they become part of a much larger tale that ranges over centuries and continents. Apeirogon is a novel that balances on the knife edge of fiction and nonfiction. Bassam and Rami are real men and their actual words are a part of this narrative, one that builds through thousands of moments and images into one grand, unforgettable crescendo
I had no idea what this book was about when I downloaded it; it was Colum McCann and that was all I needed to know. And now I don't know how to tell you about this book other than to say that it is incredible. So I'm just going to share with you some of my notes:
- The Guardian says you don't so much read Apeirogon as feel it. I concur; as I was listening, I got angry, sad, frustrated, and hopeful.
- This bookends the novel: "Beyond right and wrong, there is a field. Meet us there." It is perfect.
- In a nod to the One Thousand and One Nights, there are 1001 chapters in this book. Many are simply a sentence which are astonishingly impactful. Many are, apparently, blank pages which, of course, I missed listening to the book.
- Abdel Wael Zwaiter was the first Palestinian assassinated by Mossad as part of the retaliation for the killings of Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics. At the time of his death he was in the process of translating the One Thousand and One Nights into Italian. This is only one of the many recurrent images and themes in the book.
- Birds and music play recurring roles in the book.
- One person who makes a recurring appearance in the book is then U. S. Senator John Kerrey. Aramin met with Kerrey with the sole intent of saying "You killed my daughter." Kerrey was not insulted; he didn't rush Aramin out of the office or respond with hollow words of sympathy. In fact, Kerrey was remarkably understanding.
- McCann makes use of a lot of repetition. This gives the book a poetic feel.
- While the book theoretically takes place over one day, McCann moves back and forth in time, telling both of the men's stories and the stories of their daughters' deaths. He also gives us background on the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. The fact that the mens' stories are not told in a straight line actually makes it easier to keep track of what's going on.
If ever there were two men who should not have become friends, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are those men. Aramin was tortured after being imprisoned for throwing rocks; both men lost their young daughters to the conflict. And yet they first formed a friendship and then joined a group of other parents who had also lost children. They speak of their experience trying to help others find a way past their hatred, to find a way to live with the idea that there may not be a wrong side and a right side. But beyond those there is a field. Meet us there, they ask.