Posted by Donna B. on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
This week we introduced our latest Fiction Book Club series, New York, New York: Books Set in the Big Apple. For six months we’ll explore the boroughs, wander the streets, and delve into the stories of New Yorkers of all nationalities and persuasions.
We’ve just read This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann. I chose the book because the story was based on a real life incident which took place in a tunnel under the East River. A New York Times article from February 1916 “Shot By Geyser From the River Bed” related the story of three “sandhogs” spouted by compressed air & blown through 40 feet of sand and water!
Author McCann took inspiration from this event & wrote the novel which follows the story of a sandhog, Nathan Walker, a 19-year-old black man from Georgia who worked with three others on the tunnels. One of his coworkers dies in the accident and the story takes a turn to relate the next 70 years in Walkers life.
“In the early years of the century, Nathan Walker leaves the Okefenokee swamps of his native Georgia for New York City and the most dangerous job in America. A sandhog, he burrows beneath the East River, digging the underground tunnel that will carry trains between Brooklyn and Manhattan. In the bowels of the riverbed the sandhogs - black, white, Irish, Italian - dig together; above ground, though, the men keep their distance until a spectacular accident welds a bond between Walker and his fellow sandhogs that will bless and curse the next three generations.”
So begins a moving, family saga of a mixed race marriage between Walker & the daughter of the Irish sandhog who died in the blowout. With each generation, the family faces poverty, racism, drug addiction & homelessness. We meet Treefrog, a homeless man living near the very tunnels that began the story.
“Years later, Treefrog, a homeless man driven below by a shameful secret, endures a punishing winter deep in his subway nest. In tones ranging from bleak to dark to disturbingly funny, Treefrog recounts his strategies of survival - killing rats, scavenging for soda cans, washing in the snow, sleeping through the cold - in New York’s netherworld. Between Nathan Walker and Treefrog stretch seventy years of ill-fated loves, unintended crimes, and social taboos. The two stories fuse to form a tale of family, race, and redemption.”
Members of the book club agreed this was not an easy read, but so well written, truly capturing the sense of homelessness & ultimate resurrection, it was worth the time invested.
McCann offers some insight into the work in an interview given on his website.
Want to learn more about McCann? Visit the Biography Resource entry by clicking here.
P.S. It’s a first! We are reading another McCann novel, Let the Great World Spin, for the June 21 & 23 meetings.
Our next title in the New York, New York series is The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. We’ll be discussing this book at our next meeting on Tuesday April 19 at 7:00 PM and again on Thursday April 21 at 10:00 AM.
“This extraordinary book was inspired by the author’s four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss--Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power.
Venturing into Paul Auster territory in her graceful inquiry into the interplay between life and literature, Krauss is winsome, funny, and affecting.”
Stop by the Reference Desk to pick up a copy of the New York, New York reading list and a copy of the next book on our list! New members are always welcome!
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