Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of intractable conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to take to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attends. But their worlds shift irreparably when ten-year-old old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet meant to quell unruly crowds, and again when thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers.
... tragic and transporting ... McCann meshes the actual and the imagined in concise, numbered passages totaling 1,001 in homage to the Arabian Nights. Each is exquisite and haunting, many are harrowing, and together they form an entrancing and unnerving associative collage of fact, memory, observation, and invention. He discovers startling connections while pondering weaponry and poetry, migrating birds and explorers, torture and checkpoints, the music of John Cage and Phillip Petit walking for peace on a tightrope over Jerusalem. McCann performs his own epic balancing act between life and art, writing with stunning lyricism and fluent empathy as he traces the ripple effects of violence and grief, beauty, and the miraculous power of friendship and love, valor and truth.
The tale of these friends in mourning resists simple storytelling expectations such as beginnings and endings and is more truthfully represented here by telling other stories, from avian migration and the evolution of ordnance to Jorge Luis Borges’s 1969 trip to Jerusalem and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls ... beautifully re-creates Rami and Bassam’s real-life relationship while offering a sweeping range of counterbalancing narratives, ultimately conveying the profound essentiality of their friendship. An important book; McCann’s considerable creative powers astound.
... a soaring, ambitious triumph ... a sprawling masterpiece but not a perfect one. Rarely does McCann incorporate the voices of women. Smadar and Abir are necessarily rendered silent by their deaths, but McCann doesn’t make much space, either, for Rami’s and Bassam’s wives to inhabit. Nor does he assemble women writers, artists, and intellectuals with anything approaching the frequency with which he defers to figures like Darwish and Borges. Still, his writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply nuanced and sensitive to the afflictions of both sides. As a whole, the book is a remarkable achievement ... Imperfect but ultimately triumphant, McCann’s latest novel might be his finest yet.