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
“Luminescent. Colum McCann has taken the monumental force of the past and created from it a novel of wrenching emotional dimension, a novel resplendent with dignity.” —"The Boston Globe" “Inside the gritty and perilous lives of the men who dug the tunnels under New York’s East River, Irish novelist Colum McCann finds poetry....McCann’s prose shines like the waters of the East River on a bright winter day.”—"The Philadelphia Inquirer" “Disturbingly beautiful...A dazzling blend of menace and heartbreak.” —"The New York Times Book Review"