Colum McCann is an Irish writer and brings his experience of the Irish Troubles to this half fiction and half documentary, book set in Israel-Palestine. At its centre, two men – Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin – speak of their real life stories and experiences. Both men have lost their daughters. Rami’s thirteen year old daughter Smadar by a suicide bomber while out shopping with her friends. Bassam’s ten year old daughter Abir shot in the back of the head by a rubber bullet outside of her school.
The two men become best friends after meeting at the Bereaved Parents’ Circle, an organisation founded in 1995 that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict. http://talkmatters.info/directory/palestinian-israeli
McCann weaves exquisitely written passages of history, religion, poetry, philosophy and politics into the heart breaking story of the two families whose lives have been tragically changed by death. The book is strangely named Apeirogon. That is until McCann explains that an apeirogon is a shape with infinite sides. McCann says that, “As a whole, an apeirogon approaches the shape of a circle, but a magnified view of a small piece appears to be a straight line… Anywhere is reachable. Anything is possible, even the seemingly impossible”. The layout of the book seems to echo the complexity of the apeirogon in that the passages number one to five hundred and then puzzlingly retreat back to one. So does the apeirogon characterise the letting go of hatred, fear and revenge for the sake of a shared, peaceful future?
That maybe is the idea but how to get there at this time in the history of Israel/Palestine is not so easy. Incidents of the day to day frustrations and cruelties dealt out to Bassam’s family living under occupation do not go away because he is best friends with a Jewish Israeli. Nightmares of the holocaust, his children obliged to join the army, the existential fear of being surrounded by Arab countries intent on destruction do not always help Rami to influence others in his peace mission.
What does have a chance of helping is the persistent mantra of this book: “It will not be over until we talk”. Jews and Arabs must have the opportunity to meet and get to know each other. Lots of grassroots projects are necessary. A hundred percent agree but an important part of the equation is missing –‘it will not be over’ until the violence ends. Yes, let’s talk but at the same time confront extremism and learn about each other’s history – coming to terms with history –its underlying causes that result in throwing stones, killing with knives, bullets and missiles. Bassam is Palestinian. Rami is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colours every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.
Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace. A powerful book that allows reconciliation through deep love and compassion to outlive retaliation.