Apeirogon by Colum McCann is a book unlike any I’ve read before; part fiction, part non-fiction. Facts and myths, history and politics, memories, even photos, are woven together to create a rich tapestry. At its heart lies the true story of two men, at either side of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, whose young daughters are killed. After being hit by the same devastating loss, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan become friends and decide to take their message of reconciliation and forgiveness out to the world. An original, clever and deeply moving read.
Smadar, days away from fourteen, is killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber as she skips along with her girlfriends in central Jerusalem. Abir, ten, on her way from the sweetshop, is shot in the head by an 18-year-old Israeli soldier.
So, how do you learn to live with a loss like that?
Rather than joining the eternal spiral of revenge and retaliation, Bassam and Rami chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and join The Parent’s Circle, a cross border group for bereaved parents.
Someone compared this book to a connect-the-dots drawing. And it’s true, as you read Apeirogon, which occasionally consists of just fragments and one-line chapters, a larger picture emerges. Pieces of history are interspersed with Bassam and Rami’s own stories, some of it real some of it imagined by McCann. Occasionally, the connections make you jolt. As when we move from the description of Bassam peacefully mowing his lawn on a stay in Bradford to another meaning of ‘mowing the lawn’.
Bombing operations in Gaza and raids into the West Bank are often referred to by Israeli officials as mowing the lawn.
As the wider picture emerges, so does our understanding of both sides of the conflict, a process mirrored by Bassam and Rami. Watching Holocaust movies for the first time, Bassam suddenly appreciates what lies behind the Jews’ need for a place to call their own. Realising the practical and psychological impact of living beyond security checkpoints, walls and barbed wire, Rami begins to grasp a reality he’s never had to confront.
It is not an easy read this book and it could have been shorter, but it’s seems to me a powerful portrayal of what the Israeli/Palestinian conflict feels like. And there is a flicker of hope in Bassam and Rami’s tireless promotion of their mantra:
It will not be over until we talk
Apeirogon by Colum McCann is published by Bloomsbury Publishing, 408 pages.