"Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, peace activists" (The Parents Circle)
The author and N4 cofounder Colum McCann and a group of international artists offer ideas of how to approach contemporary conflict through the arts.
Why Read Apeirogon?
Ru Freeman is an award-winning Sri Lankan and American novelist, poet, editor, and critic, whose work appears internationally and in translation.
Imagine introducing students to a book described in the media as “a novel that will change the world.” In 2020, prize-winning author Colum McCann published that book, a masterpiece that rocked the literary establishment. Apeirogon took on issues of truth and news, blending fiction and non-fiction, bringing readers nose-to-nose with our most fundamental concerns: friendship, belonging and family. The book, whose title refers to a shape with a countably infinite number of sides, confronts the seeming opaqueness of war, and equips the reader with a flashlight.
Fiction can transform the equations of our lives. Our worldview widens, the world draws close. When we think of our own lives, we see our intricacies, the interplay of dreams, circumstances, origins, journeys. But for most of us it is much harder to permit an equal complexity to other people’s lives. We pare them down to their politics, faith, professions, gender, race, dress, even their musical tastes. But Apeirogon — like all good literature — allows us to step into bodies and geographies and times that are not our own. It allows a girl who has never left Galveston, Texas to enter a street in Jericho, or a teenager from Mississippi to become a father holding his daughter’s hand, or a student from Michigan to understand what it means to walk through a checkpoint.
Apeirogon centers on two fathers and the people and histories that bring them together. Rami and Bassam are cast from a great height into the deep human water of grief. The ripples that ensue cannot help but touch, overlap, and create new patterns. McCann crosses centuries and continents alongside these two men, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. As powerful as it is delicate, McCann’s narrative stays wide-open on every page. Apeirogon is, from start to finish, an invitation to think differently, to learn with our hearts, and to walk with courage through our broken yet utterly beautiful world.
Apeirogon suggests that we are all cast into the world. Terrible things happen to us. Joy finds us. We make mistakes, we hurt, we break, we repair. We hope. We change amidst aspects of our identity that we cannot change: our race, color, where we are born. The novel reminds us that, no matter what came before, we have a choice in what we do with the present moment. Apeirogon is your passport and your flight reservation to set forth from that place. Go.
Questions and Understandings for a Unit
Students could explore the following questions:
How can we...
Students could investigate the following understandings:
Sample Teaching Ideas
Discuss the difference between fiction and non-fiction. (“The real is imagined and the imagined is real” – Clifford Gertz). Why does Colum McCann call it a hybrid novel? How does this fit into the concept of truth and/or “fake news”? How do we determine what is “true”? What is the difference between objectivity and subjectivity? Assignment: Push a truth just short of a lie, and vice versa to see how far people can go and how information is manipulated. Also consider social media and how the speed of “sharing” without checking can get us in trouble.
Examine a history of walls: from the wall around Jericho (the oldest walled city in the world, where Bassam now lives) to the Berlin Wall to the “Peace Walls” in Belfast, to the Wall between Israel and Palestine. (Could also include a history of graffiti and tagging). Assignment: Explore this link to some fantastic female graffiti artists and the questions that follow: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-boundary-breaking-women-new-yorks-graffiti-scene. What might compel you to draw on a wall? Do you have a favorite piece of graffiti?