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This Side of Brightness

This Side of Brightness [Kindle Edition]

Colum McCann
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

This Side of Brightness weaves historical fact with fictional truth, creating a remarkable tale of death, racism, homelessness--and yes, love--spanning four generations. Two characters dominate Colum McCann's narrative: Treefrog (born Clarence Nathan Walker), a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and his grandfather Nathan Walker, a black man who came north in the early years of the century to work as a "sandhog", digging the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. Tunnelling is perhaps the most dangerous occupation a man could have; in the close, dark and dangerous pits far beneath the city streets, differences such as colour or ethnic background cease to matter and Walker soon becomes friends with his crewmates: two Irishmen and an Italian. Then an explosion in one of the tunnels literally blows Walker and three other men up through the earth and into the East River. Walker survives but his best friend Con O'Leary is never found. Leary leaves behind a wife and young daughter whom Walker marries many years later. Walker's tale is told in alternating chapters with Treefrog's, who, like his grandfather, chose a hazardous profession--this one high up in the bright sunlight--as a construction worker building skyscrapers. But madness has brought Treefrog out of the light and back to the tunnels his grandfather helped dig as he scrapes out a meagre existence among the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and petty criminals that make up the homeless community. But the grimness of McCann's tale is leavened by the beauty of his prose and the intimations all through the book that, even on this side of darkness, redemption is possible. Guy Smit


'It is, perhaps, the first authentic novel about homeless, about living below and beyond this rich city. He evokes so powerfully the stink of the present, the poignancy of the past' Frank McCourt 'Vivid, potent, beautifully measured, and sustained by astonishingly deft description' Maggie O'Farrell, Independent on Sunday 'A tour de-force social history of modern New York, exploring the labyrinthine netherworld of disused subway tunnels, from their creation by Irish migrant workers to their occupation by down-and-outs' Dermot Bolger, Irish Independent 'A dazzling blend of menace and heartbreak' New York Times Book Review

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1045 KB
  • Print Length: 257 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 140880591X
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; 1 edition (1 Aug 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #140,304 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Colum McCann, originally from Dublin, Ireland, is the author of five novels and two collections of stories and has won numerous international literary awards for his writing. His film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for a short-film Oscar in 2005. Zoli, Dancer and This Side of Brightness were international bestsellers and his latest novel, Let the Great World Spin, won the 2009 National Book Award. His fiction has been published in twenty-seven languages. Colum McCann lives in New York.

(Photo credit: James Higgins)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Work 26 Oct 2002
By taking a rest HALL OF FAME
Colum McCann has written a beautiful book with his work, "This Side of Brightness". Beautiful in this case may seem odd, but I would use the word here as I would use it to describe a work by John Steinbeck. Human nature and behavior often has trouble rising above decent much less beautiful, but a talented writer can bring painful lives and experiences to paper in prose that is wonderful to read. The pain that is documented is not minimized, rather written in a way that allows the truth to remain unvarnished, and the prose to be rendered by an artist like Mr. McCann.
I have read about the men who dug the excavations for the caissons of the Brooklyn Bridge, but never for the hundreds of miles of tunnels throughout the boroughs of New York. Tunneling is an extremely dangerous occupation, and if possible is even more hazardous when tunneling under water. The men must work in highly pressurized rooms in order to keep the river from collapsing in upon them, and yet the pressure cannot be so great that the air violates the walls of the chamber blowing outward as opposed to being crushed. The book documents a true story of men that were literally pushed through the walls of the tunnel they were digging until ejected in to the river and then being blown out of the water. To live through such an experience has to rank with the most remarkable stories of survival.
The book shares two lives that are revealed in parallel as far as narrative, but are intertwined in practice. The lives of both men are occupied at various times by living/working underground, but ultimately one life is spent and finally ends beneath the river, while for the other it is a refuge that ultimately allows him to emerge once again to life above ground leaving his demons buried.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable achievement 16 Oct 2004
In this epic novel, Mr McCann combines both historical facts and fiction. On the historical side, the story opens with the digging of a railway tunnel under the East River in New York in 1916. The reader follows the main character, a coloured man called Nathan Walker, a sandhog who struggles daily with his shovel against the earth. The working conditions are atrocious: the heat, the noise, the dirt, the physical strain - the digging was done by manpower in these days. Later Nathan marries Eleanor O'Lear, a white woman of Irish descent. Such a marriage was considered by most New Yorkers as a disgrace at that time. They bring up two children, both a social and a financial challenge.
Parallel to Nathan Walker's story, the reader follows another character, a homeless man nicknamed Treefrog who made his home in one of the many disused tunnels in New York in the 1990s. At first there appears to be no connection between Nathan and Treefrog but soon enough the reader discovers how and why they are linked in the novel.
With a marvellous narrative for its economy, Mr McCann constructs a beautiful epic story of laughter and tragedy, of sadness and small victories. It is an authentic account about homelessness, about living below the rich and about the stronghold of the past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mingo Bingo VINE VOICE
Two stories from either end of a century, at first seemingly unconnected, but inexorably working towards each other.

1916 and George Walker is digging the tunnels beneath the Hudson that will form the New York Underground.

1991 Treefrog is homeless and seeking refuge in the same tunnels from the bitter cold New York winter.

This is a story of big events that change lives, about hardship, the human spirit that pulls people through and about how families can shape the bigger history about them. Shaped around a true event where the pressure in the tunnel cracked the roof and sent the tunnelers up into the air above the Hudson on a geyser, This Side of Brightness is a considerable vision.

I don't want to give away too much about how the 2 stories are linked because it is a pleasure to see the skill with which McCann pulls them together.

As George Walker's body forces him out of the tunnels we follow him through the century as his family are affected by racism, war, drug addiction.

At the same time we learn how Treefog used to have a family of his own, used to work building the skyscrapers which make up NY's familiar skyline. How he too suffered his share of problems, mental health issues, the break up of his family and years of surviving in the brutal world underneath the city streets.

One man digging and one man building up, both helping to shape the city that forms their world. The dual narrative pulls us skillfully along, bringing the two men together.

McCann does this big picture, part history/part fiction thing with real finesse, he is a writer of real quality. The recent Let The Great World Spin shows that this wonderful novel isn't a one off.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is superb. 30 Oct 1999
You come to love and respect the characters so much, that your emotions are stretched. McCann gets you below the belt sometimes when you are least expecting it, on the turn of a full stop, wham - you are knocked for six ! Unusual backgrounds, for the two parallel characters whose lives touched me deeply. I urge you to read this book. This novel had a profound effect on me. I know you will not regret it. A great book, beautifully written.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 5 days ago by murphy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 28 days ago by Rosemarie Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful story tracking a family over time.
I absolutely loved this book. Full of tragedy and hope, and with a wonderful twist as the characters came together over the timeline. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gabrielle Berring
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read
A gripping read so well interwoven from start to finish. The characters so vivid and tragic.
Published 1 month ago by Joan Flynn
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful prose fails to lift a depressing story
Not light holiday reading, that's for sure. I love Colum McCann's writing, but the darkness was unrelenting until the last 30 pages
Published 7 months ago by Lorna Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book.
This is a fabulous book. Totally engrossing as two stories relating to the tunnels under New York become entwined. Absolutely fascinating.
Published 8 months ago by joyce
5.0 out of 5 stars emotional
The author has created believable flawed characters. Written beautifully. The reader cares for the characters and wants them to be ok. You can feel the cold of the snow.
Published 9 months ago by Maria Andrews
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking But Real
As someone who has never been to New York before but loves to read about it I was attracted to this book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ruairí Devine
5.0 out of 5 stars moving stories making history
Specially if you've recently walked in Brooklyn, the street names will enable you to visualise even better the descriptions, it's a superb book, but be warned, breaks your heart... Read more
Published 13 months ago by mclaire
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
Although this has tragic parts I loved this story. Such a clever author. Fascinating setting and interesting characters. Will read more of his work.
Published 21 months ago by miriam rawson
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