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This Side Of Brightness
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This Side Of Brightness

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,795 ratings  ·  218 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, a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and Nathan Walker, a black man who came north in the early years of the century to work as a "san ...more
Published (first published 1998)
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Tony
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
...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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
...more
Colleen
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
...more
Maria
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
...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
...more
Rick
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
...more
Chrissie
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
...more
Karissa
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
David
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
Sarah
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).
Ryan
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
...more
Stacey Falls
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
...more
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
Jeff
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’
...more
Michelle
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
Joanna
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
Fionnuala
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.
Danielle
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.
bob
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
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.
Granuaille
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.
Julia
What a wonderful book. This was recommended to me at Booktopia Santa Cruz as McCann's best. I would agree.
Steffi
Von zwei Polen beginnend – dem Bau eines Tunnels zwischen Brooklyn und Manhattan im Jahr 1916 und auf der anderen Seite dem Leben eines Obdachlosen in einem Tunnel im westlichen Manhattan (vermutlich unter dem Riverside Park, der zu dieser Zeit (1991) bekannt war für die vielen Menschen, die dort lebten – entwickelt sich eine Geschichte der Stadt New Yorks, über Rassismus, aber auch Freundschaft und Liebe, die diesen überwinden sowie zahlreichen Verlusten. Bis am Ende die beiden Teile sich zu ei ...more
Patrícia
Começo por dizer que este não é (ou não foi para mim) um livro fácil de ler. Não pelo tipo de escrita, que é bastante acessível não deixando de ser cuidada, mas sim pelo tema (ou temas) que trata.
A história passa-se entre 1916 e 1991 em Nova Iorque. O hiato de tempo entre as histórias de Nathan Walker e Treefrog vai-se dissolvendo ao longo do livro e o que os une só é perceptível mais ou menos após o meio do livro.
Nathan é um trabalhar nos túneis de NY, Treegrof é um sem abrigo que vive num tún
...more
Danelle
This Side of Brightness follows a catastrophic day during the digging of the tunnel that will connect Brooklyn and Manhattan under the East River and the repercussions that follow three generations of a family.

Nathan Walker is an African-American sandhog, digging that tunnel in 1916 New York City. His story is told in alternating chapters with the story of Treefrog, a homeless man living in the tunnels in 1991 New York City. Both stories continue in this alternating fashion until they intersect
...more
Zoë
This Side of Brightness is two stories tied into one. One story begins in the early 20th century with the digging of tunnels for the New York subway involving a set of sandhogs, the men who are digging the tunnels, and the next chapter occurs in the later 1990s focusing on people who live underground in the tunnels. The chapters go back and forth between the two time frames, finally revealing how they are connected. This Side of Brightness starts with a tragedy- several men are sucked up through ...more
Mary
As a huge fan of Let the Great World Spin, I looked forward to reading another book by McCann. Although this book was written well before Great World, it was just as compelling. McCann is the Scott Fitzgerald of our day. His prose is beautiful. His characters genuine and complete and his story telling ability marvelous.

This Side of Brightness is the story of a man Nathan Walker and his family over three generations. The structure of the book is such that the reader moves between present day and
...more
Michael Kitchen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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
More about Colum McCann...
Let the Great World Spin TransAtlantic Dancer Zoli Everything in This Country Must

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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
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