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This Side of Brightness

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,314 Ratings  ·  266 Reviews
This Side of Brightness weaves historical fact with fictional truth, creating a remarkable tale of death, racism, homelessness--and yes, love--spanning four generations. Two characters dominate Colum McCann's narrative: Treefrog (born Clarence Nathan Walker), a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and his grandfather Nathan Walker, a black man who came north in th ...more
Hardcover, Large Print, 335 pages
Published January 12th 1999 by Wheeler Publishing (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 17, 2014 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish
If I come to an author late, I like to go visit the earlier works, to see the progression. That, and I’m a completist. Having loved Let the Great World Spin and liked Zoli and Transatlantic, I wanted to see where Colum McCann came from. Other than, you know, Ireland.

In This Side of Brightness, we see an already competent writer not yet in full confident stride. And there is already a formula, a template: take a relatively obscure historical event or two, connect them with plot lines which take a
I'm totally in awe of Colum McCann, he writes about things that are relevant and he writes it with knowledge and passion.
The book is one of light and dark, good and bad , deep tunnels and high places always opposites, always pairs. The characters are so real , so vivid , I loved them but hated them.
This is a truly difficult book to read, how the homeless , the drug addicted , the prostitutes live, exist , survive in the tunnels of the subway that goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan , the story of N
I was absolutely head over heels in love with this book.......until the last chapter. (view spoiler) Definitely this would have gotten five stars if only that last chapter were absent. End it any way but this! That is my sole complaint. Four stars, not five! My heart wants to give this five anyhow.

I am going to give you a quote:

He played so
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.75* of five

How delightful it is to go back and fill in the high spots in a favorite author's early career. This book, published in 1998, was the third published book by McCann, and showed that his command of language was equal to his command of storytelling. He's a winner of the National Book Award now, but his earlier books don't disappoint in any way. (Well, Songdogs disappointed me, but not severely.)

The evocation of the sandhog life in early 20th-century New York was strong, compel
Aug 22, 2015 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
McCann’s third book and second novel, This Side of Brightness has a number of things in common with McCann’s most recent novel, the prize winning Let the Great World Spin. Both novels are set in New York; both involve issues of race, class, and immigration; and both novels are testimonies to the fragility and resilience of the human condition. Some people get crushed by circumstance and choice in McCann’s novels and others endure, struggling on, reclaiming hope from ruin’s ashes.

This Side of Br
Sep 16, 2011 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I scoff when I hear people say, "I wish I had time to read!" My reading time is at 5:30 in the morning, when I am doing my cardio, rocking out to my music, and trying to balance my book open on those cheap little plastic book "thingys". I have sensed a pattern recently when I listen to an old song from my Ipod and suddenly I am am shot back into a book I read three months, six months, or even two years ago.

When I purchase a new song, I will often open up my Ipod and listen to the same three song
Aug 17, 2013 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting narrative that alternates between past and present day, about the men who once traded in daily danger to dig NY's train tunnels and the relationships they formed. The writing is deeply humane; one of the back pg. blurbs calls it "an act of piety." It is.

A sample:

...If they get hurt, they will get hurt close to those they care about -- it's better to die close to family than to commerce. Still, death is seldom mentioned -- even at funerals they say nothing about the way the dead man
Oct 30, 2011 Karissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still trying to wrap my head around how McCann can take stories about "ordinary" people and make them so interesting that I can't stop thinking about the characters long after I'm done with the book. Also how he, as an Irish man, can get away with writing African-American characters. And how much research he must have done, into tunnel diggers, mole people and everything in between. Throw in his remarkable use of language, with lines that make me want to break my "no writing in books" rule, ...more
Sean Kennedy
I started off really enjoying this book and getting into the historical aspect behind the building of the underground train tunnels of New York. Unfortunately as the book went on it became depressingly easy to see where it was all going - all portents were delivered with an increasingly unsubtle sledgehammer. Therefore there were no surprises. Even though I had problems with Let the Great World Spin at least it had that going for it.

That's two books I've read by McCann now in which the hype over
If the second half of this book had been as good as the first, I'd have given it four or five stars. The world of the tunneling sandhogs is wonderful, but the Harlem of the later chapters doesn't have the same texture or flow. I also thought the crucial car-crash was a bit desperate and didn't fit with the rhythms of the book. But McCann's writing is lovely and he doesn't shy away from big subjects and multiple viewpoints. Recommended.
Sep 19, 2014 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Start with something positive; I loved the prose of this book. The writing was so smooth and really quite beautiful. That I enjoyed. The actual story...not so much. I was very disappointed after the hype about this book ~ I thought that this would be about the Irish experience in New York and for about a paragraph and a half it was. Much has been said about a white Irishman writing about the black experience, and that I don't have a problem with ~ what I don't like is that the African-American s ...more
May 22, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
TSOB is just my favorite book. Has been since 2003. If you like books about NYC where the city itself becomes a character, read this. Also good for those of you who love underground/alternative historical narratives (both fig and lit).
Debra Lowman
This was an interesting story of the transportation tunnel under the East River connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan. McCann tells the story of the tunnel through juxtaposing chapters, first the building of the tunnel and the tragic lives of the immigrant workers through the eyes of Nathan Walker and the later live of the tunnel through the eyes of Treefrog, a homeless man living in/near the tunnel. Its not as well done as Rutherfurd or Steinbeck in terms of writing about the American peril or docum ...more
Sep 20, 2014 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have heard amazing things about This Side of Brightness so I was excited when it was chosen for my book club. However, the book did not resonate with me in the slightest.

The story alternates between the the stories of Nathan Walker in the early 20th century and "Treefrog," a homeless man, living in a subway tunnel in the late 20th century. I thought this book was more historical fiction contrasted with present day. Nathan Walker is a "sandhog" who works on the crew digging a tunnel under the
Stacey Falls
Jul 23, 2013 Stacey Falls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this little blurb will contain some spoilers:

i loved this book. it was huge, expansive, and poetic. it was about life and all life entails: love, pain, loss, joy, triumph, defeat, small pleasures, huge disappointments, all that is great about humanity, and all that is terrible. it is amazing that a simple, fairly short book was able to do all it did.

but i have to say, it kind of killed me. i kind of killed me the way the daily news kills me in small pieces every day. i can watch some of the news
Catherine Siemann
I fell madly in love with McCann's Let the Great World Spin, and have been catching up on his backlist over the past year or so. But while I've been impressed overall (by Zoli in particular), I haven't quite loved another one of his books. Until this one. The subject matter sounded so depressing that I kept putting it off, and in fact the story, partly about a "sandhog" helping to construct the subway tunnels in the early 20th century and partly about a homeless man living them in the 1990s, is ...more
Feb 09, 2011 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nathan Walker is a sandhog, a man who has the dangerous job of digging tunnels for the New York Subway in the early 1900s. Treefrog used to work on the extreme opposite — high in the sky building skyscrapers — before his descent into homelessness brought him to live in the same tunnels that Nathan helped build.

Colum McCann tells the parallel story of two men: one who works digging the tunnels for the New York subway in the 1900s, and the other a homeless man who lives in these tunnels. I couldn’
Jun 15, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Second book by this author and it won't be my last. He is a genius at descriptive writing. While it was a depressing, dark storyline at times the writing was so wonderful and the characters so lovingly written I didn't mind the darkness or the dark themes. Never thought I could be this interested in sandhogs (the underground tunnelers) or the homeless living in NYC's subway tunnels. But in McCann's brilliant hands I came to really care about them all. He did a great job weaving the storylines. S ...more
Kayla Gutierrez
The plot is not one I would expect from an Irish author. Told from the perspective of an African American sandhog who helped dig New York City’s underwater tunnels at the turn of the century, this book shows the unraveling of a family, broken by so many types of tragedies: substance abuse, molestation, accidental death, racism, suicide, and neglect. The main character experiences so much despair and sadness that he lives as a homeless man for four years in New York City’s subway tunnels. Still, ...more
I absolutely loved this book. I was completely absorbed into all of the different threads of the story--Walker's sandhog work digging tunnels under the rivers of Manhattan in the early 1900s, the arc of his life, the story of relatively modern-day tunnel-dwelling homeless. All of it fit together in ways that were emotionally powerful but not at all cutesy or overly contrived. McCann's fluency with language makes the book a joy to read. And he isn't afraid to take a hard look at race here in ways ...more
Vivian Valvano
2.75 stars. Read for Night Owls reading group. I think Edna O'Brien did a better job in her short story "The Shovel King" depicting sand hogs. But the initial parts of McCann's book, I thought, were good - interplaying chapters on the building of the NYC subway tunnels in 1916 with chapters from 1991 and homeless people living in those old tunnels. The first few chapters were definitely the best for me. As the chapters moved along, little by little, very/very/very slowly, there will be a merger ...more
May 04, 2015 Saul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up the book from the library with no prior research. I rather enjoyed ‘This Side of Brightness’. The two fleeting stories running parallel make it a little harder to keep focus, particularly if you read the novel over a few days. I found McCann’s style of writing fairly challenging and, in a few occasions, I had to go back and read the paragraph or page again.

Unlike the majority of reviews on here, I actually thought the story set in the 1990’s was the most hard-hitting. However, at ti
Feb 14, 2015 Jargon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The pleasant lilt of this novel through history, showcasing the early years of building NYC's subway system through the eyes of its underclass, juxtaposed against its modern underclass living in its tunnels, is undermined slightly at the end by what feels like a forced connection between its two threads of alternating story. One protagonist, the young black man whose life passes at a breakneck speed through the narrative, from his young days building the tunnels, through the trials of his interr ...more
Nov 15, 2015 Mariele rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 3-so-so
One of McCann's earliest books. I read this as a companion / comparison piece for "Let the Great World Spin". It has a similar theme and construction, yet in many ways the writer's style is detectably not fully developed. Here, we have two story lines, one in the early and one in the late 20th century, and the chapters jump back and forth between the two main characters. It takes the reader about 200 pages to find out how the two are related. When I got there, I lost interest in the rest of the ...more
Oct 14, 2009 Danielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I saw today that Colum McCann is a finalist this year for the National Book Award for Fiction for "Let the Great World Spin," and I had to add this book. I read it 10 years ago when I lived in New York City and it broke me down and then built me back up again. It shattered me and changed my life. It is easily one of the most magnificent books I've ever read.
Apr 09, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read two other novels by McCann (Let The Great World Spin and Transatlantic), and this is the least enjoyable of the bunch. That being said, the other two were absolutely outstanding, while this one was merely engrossing. McCann is adept at creating characters about whom the reader cares and then describing their highs and lows in breathtaking clarity of prose. I had multiple moments in this novel where I was either rooting out loud for a character or drawing in a pained breath as a charact ...more
Apr 17, 2007 bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story of a Homeless man in the present, and a tunnel builder in the past, working on the Battery Tunnel. The Stories converge from both sides, and The tell a story of New York, both old and present, that is very different. Well done, moving and interesting, a good read.
Steve Taylor
Aug 05, 2014 Steve Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I have just recently discovered Colum McCann, and I am sooooo glad I did! I have to force myself to read other books when I finish one of McCann's, so I don't run out of his. This is the second book of his I've read. I picked it because the main character, Nathan Walker, starts as a sandhog in New York, and my wife's great-grandfather was a sandhog. The book is about so much more, though. McCann's writing has re-ignited a passion for reading in me. I allowed myself to get so bogged down wit ...more
Glenda Bailey-Mershon
Okay, I am in love with this book. McCann takes us into the tunnels and subways of New York and shows us the lives of the tunnel-diggers and the homeless. And then he wraps it all up in a family saga about redemption. Brilliant, beautiful stuff.
A great book. Much enjoyed. Highly recommended. A parallel story between the workers who built the tunnel under the Hudson river in the 1800s and the homeless who live in the tunnels now. This encouraged me to read all of Colm's other books.
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Was the way the ending tied the two stories together successful? 1 4 Feb 14, 2015 04:25PM  
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Colum McCann is the author of two collections of short stories and four novels, including "This Side of Brightness,""Dancer" and “Zoli,” all of which were international best-sellers. His newest novel “Let the Great World Spin” will come out in 2009. His fiction has been published in 26 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Paris Review and other places. He has wri ...more
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“They say ol’ man Beach is crazy. And maybe he is. But he goes ahead anyways. He’s the sort of man who knows the only things worth doing are the things might break your heart.” 2 likes
“Back home, he sleeps in Clarence’s bed. Then he moves across and arranges the pillows beside the ghost of his wife. All three of them lie down together. The pulse of Louis Armstrong sounds out from the record player, the notes moving tenderly through his torment.” 0 likes
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