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Apeirogon
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2020 Booker Longlist: Apeirogon

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2020 04:29PM) (new)


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6249 comments I loved this. Its the one of the 5 I have read that I will re-read for the longlist.


message 3: by Navi (new) - added it

Navi (nvsahota) | 16 comments That’s good to know, Gumble! I’ll be starting with this book. Thankfully, I currently have it checked out from my library but I only have three days to read it before it needs to be returned!


Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
I really cared about these characters. So much so that I couldn't read it critically at all. It was exactly what I want from a book: people I can't help but care about and for, plot lines that we "think" we understand but of course never really can, and he brought me a bit closer to a place that is too easy throw up one's hands about. It was gut-wrenching for me, even pre-pandemic.


Dylan (dylansbooknook) | 80 comments I'm in the same boat as GY.

Without having read any of the other titles, I think this is a strong contender to take the win.


message 6: by LindaJ^ (last edited Jul 27, 2020 08:02PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 690 comments Colum McCann is one of my favorite authors. This book just blew my socks off. It was a 5-plus star read. The structure was intriguing and worked well for me. I was in Israel last December, which, I think, helped me to appreciate the book perhaps even more than I would have otherwise. My review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Robert | 2139 comments For me , this is the winner but we’ll see


Tracy (tstan) | 365 comments Another excellent book- I loved this one, and wouldn’t be surprised if it won.


John Banks | 159 comments On the book shelf, I purchased this one. Very much looking forward to it. Just a few library loans of others that are on the longlist to get through first.


message 10: by Hugh (last edited Jul 28, 2020 12:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3391 comments Mod
Really pleased to see this one on the list. It would make a worthy winner. I had a paper ARC back in January thanks to Five Leaves, and found it brilliant and very moving. It is impossible to write about Palestine without there being any element of controversy, but for me McCann is as even-handed as it is possible to be, without ever straying too far into sentimentality.


message 11: by Paul (last edited Jul 27, 2020 11:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments It didn't quite make 5 stars for me, but very close (4.49).

The book relies on an association of ideas which at times felt a little artificially constructed, and didn't flow as naturally as in the best novels of the type by say Sebald, Drndić or Tokarczuk. But that is setting the bar unfairly high, and actually the book's deliberate construction is explicitly mathematical.

As GY said elsewhere, the fact that he has been criticised from both sides of the situation suggests how well balanced this is. I would say it is very firmly centrist - rejecting rather than acknowledging extremism on both sides.

The other potential criticism of the novel is whether an outsider can say anything about a situation that hasn't been said by Israeli (Grossman or Oz say) or Palestinian (eg Shibli) authors. The publisher who normally translates and publishes his novels in Israel passed on this one as they didn't feel it would add much for Israeli readers. But on reflection I think:

- it perhaps allows him to maintain the balance I mentioned before rather than be pre-labelled with views;
- there is no American Dirt style appropriation (two real-life people gave him explicit permission and have done book tours with him);
- the literary form he uses breathes new truths into the story.

Overall - I'd love to see it win.


message 12: by Laff (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laff | 61 comments Me too. A worthy winner.


message 13: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "- it perhaps allows him to maintain the balance I mentioned before rather than be pre-labelled with views;
- there is no American Dirt style appropriation (two real-life people gave him explicit permission and have done book tours with him);
- the literary form he uses breathes new truths into the story."


All of these are the reasons I wrote my feelings above. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.


message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments I would also agree one feels very much for the characters. Of course is in part as they aren’t fictional, it is a true story. With this and Who They Was, the judges do seem to have bent the definition of fiction (both books are novels but not really fictional). NB I think that is a good thing.


Gwendolyn | 30 comments This is an amazing novel. One of the best I have read in recent years. I would be happy if it won the whole thing. As someone who has visited the region and who actively follows the politics, I think this novel captured the difficulty of the problem. There is no good answer. McCann embraces this and represents both sides. It’s a very human novel and extremely powerful.


message 16: by Cristiano (new)

Cristiano | 58 comments I see drama coming: Apparently, McCann has assaulted Randa Jarrar, who just tweeted about that encounter.


message 17: by Ella (last edited Jul 29, 2020 11:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Cristiano wrote: "I see drama coming: Apparently, McCann has assaulted Randa Jarrar, who just tweeted about that encounter."

Oh wow. Her tweet takes you to a bunch of other tweets that tell a long story, and that's just the tweets... This is not unbelievable, but upsetting.

But I'm still looking for the story rather than an whisper campaign about him. It's like a bunch of writers know, but haven't told anyone else...

ETA then ETsubtract an article that has nothing to do with this...

Also, on her book jacket for Him, Me, Muhammad Ali

"Praise for Randa Jarrar:

“Jarrar does what every brave storyteller should do-she makes sense of what other writers leave outside the bounds. She connects us with that which others have left unsaid.” – Colum McCann, author of "Transatlantic"


message 18: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
OK, I really have to go to work, but I found the story...

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/... 

followed up by this tweet that she took down but it was clearly screenshotted or whatever you call that:
 https://twitter.com/artcrimeprof/stat...

"That married man in this piece is Colum McCann" -- then it's verified by Roxane Gay (who is starting to seem like the Forest Gump of this list) - who picked her up hours later, bruised etc...


message 19: by Cristiano (new)

Cristiano | 58 comments Interesting...

I am just wondering why she took her own tweet down. If she wants to fight the good cause, she should just do it. But yeah, Roxane came straight out to support her claims.

It is for sure a tough one as Jarrar says herself that some of it was with consent.

I won‘t judge yet and wait how the story unfolds.


message 20: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Cristiano wrote: "Interesting...

I am just wondering why she took her own tweet down. If she wants to fight the good cause, she should just do it. But yeah, Roxane came straight out to support her claims. "


I think she wrote the piece, and being a woman calling out a man on Twitter is not easy. Given the piece wasn't about him specifically (he was part of a much larger picture), I can understand not wanting that piece of scandal to take over. Even so, it seems odd to now call him out. (Just looking back and forth at the various blurbs etc, it seems there is more to the story than we can possibly know now.)


message 21: by Jessie (new) - added it

Jessie (yestopesto) | 16 comments Randa Jarrar is ... difficult. I am reserving judgment.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6249 comments Rahim remarked on the Booker longlist podcast that this was the first book of the entire submissions that he read - as he had a copy pre being a judge - and it stayed with him for the whole period.

He remarked that while there is lots of talk about cultural appropriation currently, in this case where it is done intelligently and sensitively then a neutral, outside perspective (one informed by McCann’s knowledge of a different conflict in Ireland) is really useful.


message 23: by Ella (last edited Jul 31, 2020 12:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Jessie wrote: "Randa Jarrar is ... difficult. I am reserving judgment."

I would agree with that.

Gumble's Yard wrote: "He remarked that while there is lots of talk about cultural appropriation currently, in this case where it is done intelligently and sensitively then a neutral, outside perspective (one informed by McCann’s knowledge of a different conflict in Ireland) is really useful."

Re: cultural appropriation: I'm fairly attuned to these things (I'm sure everyone remembers my ire over American Dirt?)
But I just didn't really see it in this book, for the reasons listed above and elsewhere. Not least that he has the blessing of the two men and families he writes about.

I may be missing something larger, or I may have been too engrossed to spot some things that are in the book. Certainly many have a "side" that they won't look beyond, and most humans have feelings about the situation, but if one can go in without being too tied to preconceptions, and just read the story he writes, I feel like he succeeded very well on that count.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6249 comments Yes I feel the judges views here very much align with what you and Paul discuss earlier in the thread.


message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments There does seem to be a argument being made on Twitter (yes, I know...) that even if it isn’t appropriation, still “why is a white Irish-American on the list writing a book like this not a Palestinian author.”

Which I can see (language issues aside, since translations don’t qualify) ... except that a) it seems to be being tied in with the other allegations (to which it is separate) and b) the people making the point don’t seem to be adding “..or Israeli author.”


message 26: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Ella wrote: "I really cared about these characters. So much so that I couldn't read it critically at all. It was exactly what I want from a book: people I can't help but care about and for, plot lines that we "..."

It read like a good biography of two men to me; I can't spot any fiction. So I guess I'm saying it's not what I want from the Booker Prize for Fiction.


Robert | 2139 comments Here's my video review of Apeirogon.

No spoilers - it's a superficial overview.


message 28: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments You've removed so many of the spoilers Robert that you seem to have removed the link to the video itself!

I think it is this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fupjc...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6249 comments Ang I did wonder in advance if the judges might think this was too non- fictional. Under my review someone pointed out that Schindler’s Ark/List won the Booker but I think that was also criticised for being biography. The judges this year clearly have a broad stance as they have also listed what they believe to be effectively a literary memoir (I say believe as I am still not completely sure if any of What They Was is fictional).


Debra (debrapatek) | 367 comments Robert wrote: "Here's my video review of Apeirogon.
No spoilers - it's a superficial overview."


I'm halfway through the book and share your enthusiasm for it! Thanks for sharing.


Debra (debrapatek) | 367 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "Ang I did wonder in advance if the judges might think this was too non- fictional."

I also wondered about this but am glad it is so non-fictional. In fact, one of the things that nagged me about Hamnet and How to Be Both is that they were both (unavoidably, I must admit) so heavily fictionalized.


Robert | 2139 comments Paul wrote: "You've removed so many of the spoilers Robert that you seem to have removed the link to the video itself!

I think it is this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fupjc..."


Whoops! thanks!


Robert | 2139 comments Debra wrote: "Robert wrote: "Here's my video review of Apeirogon.
No spoilers - it's a superficial overview."

I'm halfway through the book and share your enthusiasm for it! Thanks for sharing."


Thanks!


message 34: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments On the fiction/non-fiction there are two aspects to the book each of which raise questions:

- the story of the real-life Rami. Bassam and their daughters. Everything said about them is true but the author does put or repurpose words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads, so it heads to novel territory (isn't that in one sense what Mantel does with Cromwell? certainly Cercas uses similar techniques).

- the association of ideas that is the books most distinctive feature (from GY review "modern and ancient history, geography, ornithology, mathematics, language, science, politics and so much more"). Again all (I think) are true but Sebald, Drndic, Tokarczuk, Sagasti etc do much the same in their novels.

So it feels definitely a novel - just not one with much fiction.

But I agree the Booker does talk about 'fiction' in the rules (I seem to recall at one point the International version didn't).


Debra (debrapatek) | 367 comments Some make a distinction between "historical fiction" and "historical novels", with the latter being more closely tied to real events.


message 36: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments It is definitely a novel and there have been other non-fiction or very lightly fictionalised novels on both Booker lists before. I think I would rather the rules were broadened than that novels like this one were ruled out, and the judges seem to agree.


message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments Yes I agree, although I can see the opposite view (I remember a rather heated discussion on The Years when that was featured)


message 38: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1713 comments Paul wrote: "On the fiction/non-fiction there are two aspects to the book each of which raise questions:

- the story of the real-life Rami. Bassam and their daughters. Everything said about them is true but th..."


Agree with what Paul said. This is a novel. I think it is more a novel than The Years but when they are as artful as both were, I won't even quibble.


message 39: by Ang (last edited Aug 02, 2020 11:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Sam wrote: "...This is a novel..."

I don't doubt that. The publisher obviously thinks so, the judges obviosly think so. My comment was based on how I felt while reading it. (I could not see the fiction.) It was my personal reaction to the reading a book on the Booker longlist and not a criticism of the book itself.

As for the book itself, I am not as convinced as some of you that all of the "asides" work and I felt some of them were gratuitously harrowing.

Edit to add: Some of the asides work very well.


message 40: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1987 comments I have friends who have worked with various charity organisations in the area and, from the stories they tell, it feels a bit like he dialled it down rather than being gratuitous. It’s a bit like Who They Was, I think: a world you can’t imagine unless you have lived it but which, it seems, does actually exist (hence all our discussions about whether these two books are fiction). With this one, I don’t think it is fiction, but I do think it is art.


message 41: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Sorry, I don't mean the things that happened in the region were gratuitously harrowing. I meant some of the asides (that may be more of a theatre term - I mean the side stories that are not part of the main story). I made a few Kindle comments such as " Why are we being told this?"


message 42: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments And I guess they seemed gratuitous to me because I didn't see how they related to the main story.


message 43: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9834 comments I very much agree it felt forced at times - say compared to Sebald where the ideas flow freely.

Although I think that was in part deliberate - the book is more mathematical / deliberate in its construction and it draws on GH Hardy's ideas on the aesthetics of mathematics and even the music referenced is very mathematical/artificial.

I did find it interesting to judge the book based on the author's own advice in Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

At certain points in history it is only the poetic that is capable of dealing with brute reality. The writer arrives at the conjunction of these two forces — reality and fiction — and makes a decision about how to proceed. There she stands, on the edge of two tectonic plates. What she has to do, then, is let the facts go. Let the figures go. Let the simplicities disappear. Let the soundbites drown. She descends into language instead. Bravely and elegantly. Into the abyss. The poetic gives shape to the brutality, but it also gives meaning and credence to its destruction. Only that language which is capable of reaching the poetic will be able to stand in opposition to that which is wrong. Nothing short of your best will do. Make it sing.

I am not sure it sings quite as much as intended and there may be too much reality/asides.

Albeit for me this is what makes it a 4.49 star book not a 5 star one.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6249 comments The subject matter here feels like it needs a rigorously neutral interpretation (given how many commentators on both sides are actively looking for signs of bias against them) so I wonder if that influenced the approach adopted.

If the book makes the shortlist it would be interesting Ang if you could share here the asides that did not fit the story


message 45: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1713 comments I also think McCann's contrived construction provided a necessary distancing of artist from topic. The contrivance makes it is easier to approach Apeirogon as a work of art rather than social commentary, and also helps McCann escape the claims of appropiation. The only other novel I have recently read with a critical view of the Palestine/Israel solution is Sadness Is a White Bird which is more emotionally engaging on the personal level. I don't think McCann could have convincingly written on the topic without artistic distancing, having read Rothman-Zecher's novel.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 690 comments I enjoyed the "asides" and thought they fit in well. Some I recognized as related to other books he has written that were also factually based -- Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic. While I only spent a couple of weeks in Israel and Jordan, it was long enough to challenge my whole outlook on the situation there. Using the true story of these men captures, I think, so much of the greyness of the situation, how nuanced it is, i.e., there is nothing that is black and white about it.


Jonathan Pool LindaJ^ wrote: "Colum McCann is one of my favorite authors. This book just blew my socks off. It was a 5-plus star read. The structure was intriguing and worked well for me. I was in Israel last December, which, I..."

I read your review and completely agree that while Rami and Bassam represent the core of the book, the many other ancillary stories and relationships are also superbly drawn.


message 48: by Ang (last edited Aug 04, 2020 01:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Using the true story of these men captures, I think, so much of the greyness of the situation, how nuanced it is, i.e., there is nothing that is black and white about it.."

I agree and I wonder whether it would perhaps soften the view of those who think it is black and white if they read it. It is unfortunately deemed contentious to disagree or even question.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 690 comments I would hope that the book might soften the view of those who think it is black and white. While I don't think I was ever black and white on the situation, I did lean a bit one way until my visit to Israel/Palestine and saw (and heard) the reality/impossibility of the situation.


message 50: by WndyJW (new) - added it

WndyJW | 5701 comments I don’t want to read reviews until I finish the book, I just want to say that I see why this books has garnered so much praise. I love it so far.


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