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Book review: Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Apeirogon is by no means a comfortable or enjoyable read. I didn’t find myself excitedly reaching for it or wanting to keep reading deep into the night.

But the more I think about it, the more grateful I am that I did pick it up and make myself finish it. This was brought home even more so after conflict resumed in the region. This novel made me understand the tragedy of the fighting for the individuals born into a place of such hostility and ancient grievance.

Colum McCann’s book tells of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the humans that, despite the worst happening to them, are able to rise above it.

It is a story of war, family, grief and hope.

Apeirogon focuses on the stories of two men who lost children to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, one by a bullet and one by a bombing. Interspersed are morsels about the history of the region, like the passages about a tightrope walker traversing a valley with a dove in the name of peace. It all builds a picture of a people, scarred.

While the deaths of their children could have cemented the fathers’ hostilities against the other, in fact, they strengthened their resolve to bring an end to the conflict.

The two toured the world spreading their message about the humanity of the other, and the truly awful cost of conflict and hate in their homeland.

The book is not just about the tragedies, but also the way the hostilities infiltrate the lives of Palestinian and Israeli communities on a day-to-day basis, like when one has to cross a checkpoint and is stopped by guards. Each time, there is fear of humiliation, or something much worse.

McCann told the story with poetry and restraint, which might have been why I did not have the same response to it as I do to books that aim to entertain, building and relieving suspense and building towards a neat conclusion.

Instead, it is frank and heartfelt. It educated me and changed me, providing me with a new perspective on a conflict and a region about which I knew little. It also provided me with a human face to understand more deeply what is happening, and has been going on for so long.

It is a book that provides an education, and although not easily readable, it is very much worth reading.

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