Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Since the publication of Let the Great World Spin—the 2009 National Book Award winner for fiction—it’s been no secret that Colum McCann is one of the most compassionate writers alive, but, wow: his new book not only enters the hearts and minds of all its characters; it also validates my faith in the novel as a relentlessly resourceful and powerful form. Apeirogon is a wrenching and repetitive book, structurally inventive, made up of a thousand and one sometimes tiny, Borgesian chapters that discuss everything from, well, Borges and The Arabian Nights to Einstein, Freud, mathematics, and the migratory patterns of birds.

At its core, this is a fierce and brave rendering of the Middle East crucible from numerous angles, ergo McCann’s title: Apeirogon, “a shape with a countably infinite number of sides.” The story snaking through all these musings on the history of the world is based on the real-life friendship of two men: Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian who as a teenager spent seven years in an Israeli prison, and Rami Elhanan, a Jewish veteran of three wars and a self-described “graduate of the Holocaust.” This unlikely pair are brought together in passionate alliance by the weariness of living in a perpetual war zone when Rami joins “Combatants for Peace,” a group Bassam formed. We learn that, by the cruelest twist of fate, each man had a young daughter who was murdered by the other side.