Review by Tina Isaacs
[Honest review in exchange for a review copy by Times Reads]
Apeirogon presents the intertwining real life stories of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli fathers Bassam Aramin and Rami El Anam – the unexpected and profound bond arising between them over a shared loss of their daughters: Bassam’s ten-year-old Abir was shot dead by a rubber bullet from the Israeli border police after a trip to the store to buy candy (“This,” Bassam says wryly, “is the World’s most expensive candy”); and Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was thirteen when she was killed in a suicide bomb attack – and the convergence of a multitude of personal accounts, anecdotes and trivia in 1,001 mini-chapters, a nod to The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights, the latter which Irish-American author Colum McCann aptly describes as “a ruse for life in the face of death.”
This 2020 novel is part non-fictional examination of Israeli-Palestinian history and politics, part curation of anecdotes of seemingly unrelated happenings, and part author’s exercise of creative license and conjecture into the motivations of those involved. The relevance of a vignette of the past introduced at an early chapter may take some time to fulfill its purpose within the overarching story, but the author expertly weaves a powerful and astonishing narrative which serves to whet the readers appetite for further reading into the conflict and the arguments for its resolution. Readers are dealt with gritty reflections on humanity within each family’s courageous handling of grief, and searing insights on Bassam and Rami’s resolve to participate in the Combatants for Peace, a civil disobedience movement, and the Parents Circle, a grief forum for Palestinian and Israeli families, for which both men are Co-Directors.
McCann’s prose is rhythmic, spare and raw, going back and forth in chronology, examining numerous angles and causalities which affect these anti-occupation crusaders and the communities around them. While the author’s voice is succinct, some of the scenes were so devastating and concepts so bizarre that this fictional masterpiece took me, a speed-reader, over eight weeks to finish. Oftentimes I needed to reflect on the images the author conjured, and found myself reaching for my smartphone to google historical concepts that I had heard of but of which, I am embarrassed to admit, I was blithely ignorant – Intifada, Dead Sea scrolls, stories from the Jewish Holocaust, French Artist Philippe Petit’s tightrope incident with the white dove (the symbolic cover image of the novel), Yasser Arafat’s reference to the Olive Branch at the United Nations General Assembly in 1974, amongst others. As the book filled me with insight, it also brought forth questions that had my mind brimming with curiosity.
While you may find its nomination for the 2020 Booker Prize is fraught with controversy, I would argue that Apeirogon is nonetheless a must-read novel on this subject matter. The book will haunt you throughout and beyond your reading, due to its thought-provoking and impactful narrative, and unique presentation style. It’s so strikingly original and mind-boggling, I’d wager you have never read a novel like this before.
I would recommend this extraordinary account to lovers of thought-provoking fiction and seekers of literary hyperrealism, and thus confer it a perfect score of 5 Stars (for my Goodreads review).