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This Side of Brightness Paperback – 19 Jul 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (19 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140880591X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408805916
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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)

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'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

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on 26 Oct. 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mingo Bingo VINE VOICE on 13 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on 16 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By anita_gresham@yahoo.co.uk. on 30 Oct. 1999
Format: Hardcover
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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