My Favourite Books: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let The Great World Spin

Book Review
Title: Let The Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: 2009
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1554684830
ISBN-13: 978-1554684830
Stars: 5.0

Redemption, joy, wonder; that which is meaningful to the human heart. These are just some of the themes of the most brilliant book I’ve read in years: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This story will stay with you for a very long time. As McCann writes in the Author’s Note at the back of the book:

“Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.”

Let The Great World Spin intertwines the stories of several remarkable and yet ordinary people’s lives, how they intersect with each other over time, and how life can be changed in seconds by people who don’t even know us. In these stories, he punctuates that no matter how badly our hearts break, the world doesn’t stop for our grief, so it is essential to realize that love, joy and the journey are all there is. “Our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.”

We see the world through the eyes of Corrigan, an Irish priest living in the bowels of the burning Bronx surrounded by hookers and have-nots as he struggles with whether or not he will fail God if he breaks his vows and gives in to his love for a Guatemalan woman named Adelita. We meet Corrigan’s brother Ciaran and later, his wife Lara and the hookers that Corrigan tries to help in modest ways. Tillie Henderson is a 38-year-old hooker whose daughter Jazzlyn walks the streets in her footsteps and Jazzlyn’s two young daughters who may or may not have a future.

On the other side of the city, a group of mothers who mourn the loss of their sons to the Vietnam War gather in a Park Avenue apartment to share their stories. We are particularly captivated by Claire and Gloria, who are as unlikely to be friends as two people can be, and yet they find peace with each other. Gloria was my favourite character because her strength and integrity are inspirational, but it is hard not to love something about every one of them.

“A big smile went between us. Something that we knew about each other, that we’d be friends now, there wasn’t much could take it from us, we were on that road. I could lower her down into my life and she could probably survive it. And she could lower me into hers and I could rummage around. I reached across and held her hand. I had no fear now. I could taste a tincture of iron in my throat, like I had bitten my tongue and it had bled, but it was pleasing. The lights skittered by. I was reminded how, as a child, I used to drop flowers into large bottles of ink. The flowers would float on the surface for a moment and then the stem would get swamped, and then the petals, and they would bloom with dark.”

The characters have a depth, honesty and beauty that come alive with such truth that it seems inconceivable that McCann created them from his imagination. All but one character, the tightrope walker, who is based on the true story of Philippe Petit, are works of fiction, but in some ways, they are more authentic than many people I have known.

While described as the “first great 9/11 novel”, the New York City of 1974 that McCann describes with his magical, eloquent prose is as alive in every sense on the page as the pulse within my wrist. He also takes readers back to Dublin, Ireland, where we not only discover Corrigan’s history but McCann’s.

Winner of the National Book Award and a plethora of stupendously positive and prestigious reviews, Let The Great World Spin should become a classic for the ages and have as much longevity and relevance as The Catcher In The Rye. I often buy novels by Irish authors and leave them on my shelves unread for years while I am distracted by other books. I purchased two other works by McCann ages ago. Everything In This Country Must was also an Oscar-nominated Dramatic Short by McCann and This Side of Brightness. As I have fallen in love with this author, they have moved to the top of my must-read list.

If you read one book this year, let it be this one.

Amazon’s Best Books of 2009

Let The Great World Spin by Column McCann
Best Books of 2009

Customers’ Bestsellers: Top 100 Books
It’s not a surprise that our bestselling book this year was The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s long-awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. But among books that made their debut in 2009, one about a real-life race against time was hot on its heels: economist Jeff Rubin’s sobering but hopeful treatise on Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, also one of our editors’ picks for the best books of the year. (And we can’t resist pointing out that two of the top 10 titles evoke conflagratory carousal.)

See our complete top 100 bestsellers for 2009. (Ranked according to customer orders through mid-November. Only books published for the first time in 2009 are eligible.) And don’t miss our Editor’s Picks for the Top 100 Books of 2009.

Editors’ Picks: Top 100 Books
Our annual Best of the Year debates, often contentious, were the easiest and most amicable we’ve ever had, at least when it came to our top pick. The nearly unanimous choice: Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, a rich and moving novel of New York City in the ’70s, told in ten distinctive voices from all corners of the city whose lives connect and divide against the backdrop of Philippe Petit’s audaciously graceful tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.

Title: Let the Great World Spin
Author: Column McCann
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (Jun 22 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 155468482X
ISBN-13: 978-1554684823

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Colum McCann has worked some exquisite magic with Let the Great World Spin, conjuring a novel of electromagnetic force that defies gravity. It’s August of 1974, a summer “hot and serious and full of death and betrayal,” and Watergate and the Vietnam War make the world feel precarious. A stunned hush pauses the cacophonous universe of New York City as a man on a cable walks (repeatedly) between World Trade Center towers. This extraordinary, real-life feat by French funambulist Philippe Petit becomes the touchstone for stories that briefly submerge you in ten varied and intense lives–a street priest, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers mourning sons lost in war, young artists, a Park Avenue judge. All their lives are ordinary and unforgettable, overlapping at the edges, occasionally converging. And when they coalesce in the final pages, the moment hums with such grace that its memory might tighten your throat weeks later. You might find yourself paused, considering the universe of lives one city contains in any slice of time, each of us our singular world, sometimes passing close enough to touch or collide, to make a new generation or kill it, sending out ripples, leaving residue, an imprint, marking each other, our city, the very air, compassionately, callously, unable to see all the damage we do or heal. And most of us stumbling, just trying not to trip, or step in something awful.

But then someone does something extraordinary, like dancing on a cable strung 110 stories in the air, or imagining a magnificent novel that lifts us up for a sky-scraping, dizzy glimpse of something greater: the sordid grandeur of this whirling world, “bigger than its buildings, bigger than its inhabitants.”–Mari Malcolm


“This is a gorgeous book, multilayered and deeply felt, and it’s a damned lot of fun to read, too. Leave it to an Irishman to write one of the greatest-ever novels about New York. There’s so much passion and humor and pure lifeforce on every page of Let the Great World Spin that you’ll find yourself giddy, dizzy, overwhelmed.” — Dave Eggers, editor of McSweeney’s and author of What Is the What

“Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking, heartbreaking symphony of a novel? No novelist writing of New York has climbed higher, dived deeper.” — Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis

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