Why Colum McCann’s Apeirogon is a stunning, uncomfortable read

Apeirogon is a beautifully written novel set in the West Bank, in the heat of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The novel poignantly explores the impact of love, loss, war, hatred, reconciliation and forgiveness. 

Fitting in this context, an apeirogon is by definition a shape with an infinite number of sides.

The Israeli Rami and Bassam, who is Palestinian, co-founded the organisation Combatants for Peace to share their stories of loss.

Both Rami and Bassam have suffered the loss of a daughter as a result of the conflict. Rami’s thirteen-year-old girl Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber. Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed by a member of the border police. The tragedies are years apart, but the impact of and impact of their devastation is the same. Theirs is an enduring and unlikely friendship, in the most unlikely of places.

Armed soldiers, road blockades, curfews and rioting are part and parcel of everyday life. It is normal to feel on edge after sundown, or to experience paralysing anxiety about taking the wrong turn. The people here are well-versed in the roles they must play, which language to speak, which accent to adopt, all depending on which controlled zone you are entering.

Nonetheless, no matter how well-practiced one may be, tragedy is always just around the corner and ready to befall even the most innocent.

Apeirogon is a geometric symbol or shape which has an infinite number of sides and as this is exactly what McCann’s epic novel possesses, it is limitless. There is no one side to a story and everything has meaning, every angle is to be explored – which in turn gives rise to further exploration.

No matter what scene McCann describes, he proffers a multitude of perspectives and in-depth narratives – each place, person and item has its own history. For example, when he explores the killer moment a rubber bullet meets the back of a child’s skull, it is not a singular event – the street has a history, as does the bullet, the factory and the person who invented, commissioned and shipped it.

The novel’s length may at first seem intimidating at almost 500 pages, but Apeirogon is in fact an effortless read. Although the narrative jumps through different times and places, its passages are merged together seamlessly. When something so complex works so well it can only signify true form and talent. Apeirogon is a stunning novel from a stunning author.

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