Book Review: Colum McCann – Let the Great World Spin

Just yesterday night I finally finished reading Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. It took me quite some time to read as I had been so busy. It also took some time since it takes some time to figure out what the book is about and what direction it will go in. All in all, I really liked this book. When I finished it, it left me with a bit of a smile on my face.

One reason why I picked up this book to begin with is because it is set in New York City. I love NYC so any book that deals with the city with a somewhat promising story sounds good to me. This book is most certainly deals with New York City in a unique way. It is set in August 1974 and it roughly set around the story of a man who put a wire between the Twin Towers and walk and danced between the two towers. His story is featured the least in the book: only at the beginning and a few small chapters in between are dedicated to this marvelous act.Yet, it is this story which forms the glue to the rest of the story.

What is the book about then? That day in August 1974 is used to fuse together the stories and lives of characters who at first glance have nothing to do together, but in the end all come together on this one day. It would take ages for me to explain the intricate way in which McCann fuses together the stories of seemingly complete strangers. Somehow, he manages to make an Irish monk, a bunch of hookers & their daughters and uptown Park Avenue lady and her husband (a judge), a group of women mourning their sons whom they lost in the Vietnam war, and a young woman in 2006 come together. And I’m pretty sure there are a few other characters whom I left out.

Each character has its own story to tell and that is how the book is structured: each person has its own chapter in the book. The chapter usually starts by giving some background story about the character and some stories are told from a first person point of view, but their is also a few which are told from a third person point of view. It sort of tells their life story and then climaxes on that day in August 1974, after which you also find out what happens to the characters afterwards.

The best part of the book is that the more you read, the more obvious some of the links between the characters are, as different character pop up in different stories. Certainly half way through the book you can guys whose story it is you’re reading and the links between the characters become clearer and clearer. By the end of the book you then also understand what the title is all about: how one such memorable day fuses seemingly opposite lives together by a simple twist of fate.

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