Apeirogon: a brave high-wire act piecing together loss

Book review: Colum McCann’s refractive novel wil appeal to readers who want to be challenged

Colm McCann: one of the finest writers of his generation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Colm McCann: one of the finest writers of his generation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

In geometry, an apeirogon, or infinite polygon, is a shape with an endless but theoretically countable number of sides. Colum McCann’s new novel, which takes its title from this figure, is composed of 1001 incantatory factual segments, presumably in homage to A Thousand And One Nights, which range from descriptions of rubber bullet manufacturing to anecdotes about Jorge Luis Borges, from meditations on the flight patterns of migrant birds to musings on the architecture and contents of the mansion of Munib al-Masri, the richest man in Palestine.

McCann uses this form to grapple with the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel. However, because he perceives life to be rarely black and white, and because, when you drill down into them, stories can have many sides, his angle of approach is not partisan or polemical.

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