Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

4 stars.

(Image: photo apeirogon - L. Jubin)


My name is Rami Elhanan. I am Smadar’s father. I am an Israeli, a Jew.’
‘My name is Bassam Aramin, I am Abir’s father. I am Palestinian, Muslim, Arabic’.

This is how both Rami and Bassam always start their testimonies.
Smadar was 13 when she died in a suicide bombing while shopping with friends.
Abir was 7 when she got shot in the head as she came out of a candy shop.

Apeirogon is the story of the friendship between two bereft fathers. They are expected to channel the energy from tragedy into hatred for one another. Instead, they take each other’s hand and make it their purpose in life to dig a small breach in the wall that separates their respective communities. They achieve this by sharing their story with people all around the world.

It is a heartbreaking story, and one that will undoubtedly move you.

However, there is so much more to the book than meets the eye. The title, Apeirogon, is a good place to start thinking about it. An ‘apeirogon’ is a geometrical figure that has a countable infinite number of sides. You can’t picture it in your mind; it is an abstract polygon. McCann excels in managing to translate the abstraction of this geometrical form into the concreteness of a book.

He does this by building a novel of 1001 sections. On the one hand, it seems as if the whole book has completely burst in all directions. On the other hand, everything is tightly centered: around the two girls, around their father’s mission, around one simple day. As you close the book and hit chapter 1 (the last chapter of the book, a photo), there is a feeling of all the dots suddenly connecting.

That was precisely McCann’s intention. In this story, everything is linked together, because “somehow, we are all a part of the same story”, as he says in an interview with Waterstones (25/02/2020). “We are all involved, touched by it, moved by it (…) We are all intimately connected”.

McCann makes it feel like an apeirogon is the only shape capable of illustrating the complexity of the history between an Israeli and Palestinian, and the wider confusion of the conflict.

You have to accept that you won’t be able to follow McCann round every corner – the link between some images to the actual story of Rami and Bassam is sometimes hard to catch. The 1001 sections, usually less than half a page long, are surely responsible for the fact that the narration doesn’t always flow naturally, which can be an obstacle to embracing the emotions of Bassam and Rami’s testimony.

The relationship between the reader and the two fathers takes quite some time to develop, and for this reason you have to persevere. Of course, it is completely worth it, because Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are more than characters. There feel like actual people you want to meet. They have so much to say to you.

The bottom line of this book is quite simple in the end: “I need to know you, you need to know me”. So, go discover Bassam and Rami. You need to.