This novel is based on an exceptional true story about the relationship between two men, Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli Jew. The Aramins and the Elhanans suffer in the aftermath of the violent deaths of their daughters. Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was killed when three young Palestinian men detonated suicide belts killing themselves, Smadar, and four others; Abir, Bassam’s daughter, died a decade later, and less than three miles away from where Smadar died, after being shot in the back of the head by an 18-year-old Israeli soldier as his jeep sped around a corner. Bassam Aramin co-founded the activist group Combatants for Peace; Elhanan joined the group after his son, Elik, brought him to a meeting some seven years before Abir’s death. Before Abir died, the two men became good friends; after her death, their friendship deepened into a sense of real brotherhood. They are both dedicated to telling their stories around the world to promote peace.
While the true story of Armin and Elhanan is compelling, the retelling of it in novel form by McCann is brilliant. He writes 1001 “chapters” alluding to 1001 Arabian Nights. The chapters are numbered from 1-500 and then from 500-1. The middle chapters, both numbered 500, recount each father’s personal experience of his own daughter’s death–words taken from source material gathered by McCann. The chapters move through time and space in ways that drive home the reality of how one tragic event can permeate all of life–past, present and future. Postage stamp black and white photos appear throughout the book adding a subtle visual dimension to the novel. References to birds (Israel/Palestine are on one of the largest migratory bird routes in the world) and descriptions of the landscape seem to give all of nature a voice in the story. The author’s empathy and his ability to capture the brutal reality of war draw the reader into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on a deep level that transcends any journalistic, historical or political analysis of the crisis. While heartbreaking in so many ways, Apeirogon is a testament to the miraculous resiliency of the human spirit. Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, at great personal cost, continue to transform their deep deep longing for peace into courageous action. Julie Orringer in her NYT’s book review of McCann’s Apeirogon writes, “It does far more than make an argument for peace; it is, itself, an agent of change.”