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Let the Great World Spin: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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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 a singular world, sometimes passing close enough to touch or collide, to birth a new generation or kill it, sending out ripples, leaving residue, an imprint, marking each other, our city, the very air--compassionately or 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 MalcolmAmazon Exclusive: Frank McCourt on Let the Great World Spin
Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, Angela's Ashes, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. Times Book Award. In 2006, he won the prestigious Ellis Island Family Heritage Award for Exemplary Service in the Field of the Arts and the United Federation of Teachers John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education. McCourt also wrote Tis and Teacher Man, both memoirs. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of Let the Great World Spin:
Trust me, this is the sort of book that you will take off your shelf over and over again as the years go along. It’s a story of the early 1970s, but it’s also the story of our present times. And it is, in many ways, a story of a moment of lasting redemption even in the face of all the evidence.
There are dozens of intimate tales and threads at the core of Let the Great World Spin. On one level there’s the tightrope walker making his way across the World Trade Center towers. But as the novel goes along the “walker” becomes less and less of a focal point and we begin to care more about the people down below, on the pavement, in the ordinary throes of their existence. There’s an Irish monk living in the Bronx projects. There’s a Park Avenue mother in mourning for her dead son, who was blown up in the cafés of Saigon. There are the original computer hackers who "visit" New York in an early echo of the Internet. There’s an artist who has learn to return to the simplicity of love. And then--in possibly the book’s wildest and most ambitious section--there’s a Bronx hooker who has brought up her children in “the house that horse built”--“horse” of course being the heroin that was ubiquitous in the '70s.
All the voices feel realized and authentic and the writing floats along. This was my city back then--and now. McCann has written about New York before, but never quite as piercingly or as provocatively as this. This is fiction that gets the heart thumping.
The stories are interweaved so that it is one story, on one day, in one city, and yet it is also a history of the present time. In Let the Great World Spin, you can’t ignore the overtones for today: suffice it to say that the novel is held together by an act of redemption and beauty. I didn’t want to stop turning the pages.
I’m really not sure what McCann will do after this, but this is a great New York book, not just for New Yorkers but for anyone who walks any sort of tightrope at all. And yes, it doesn’t surprise me that it takes an Irishman to capture the heart of the city... --Frank McCourt(Photo © Kit DeFever)
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
In a sense this book is an homage to the city of New York. It begins with a true historical event, when Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It is a marvelous sight. It was "one of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief". (p.247)
Several people look up to see this tight-rope walker and this shared act of perception is the glue for this book. In some way, each of their lives are inter-connected and will remain connected through time.
There is Corrigan, very religious in a social/political/and theological sense, who is struggling between his faith and the woman he loves. Corrigan's love is a Guatamalan nurse, hoping that he will choose her over his God. Ciaran, whose life is in flux, is Corrigan's brother. Tillie is a prostitute in trouble with the law and hoping that the legacy of prostitution will not be passed down to her granddaughters as it has been to her daughter. Claire lives on Park Avenue but also lives in a world of grief, forever mourning her son who died in Vietnam.Read more ›
The book is a set of vignettes chronicling a loosely connected set of Manhattanites in August of 1974. In the background are the Vietnam War, Nixon's resignation and Phillipe Petit- a man who stretched a cable between the World Trade Twin Towers - 103 stories up in the air - and went for a stroll - successfully.
Our cast includes two Irish brothers; one a catholic priest, who lives among and befriends a pack of heroin addicted prostitutes; a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War; and a young married couple trying to break into the NY art world in between cocaine binges. Not the most original or creative set of characters, but with a good story to guide them great novels are made. Unfortunately, and this is the biggest fault I had with Let The Great World Spin, the author doesn't tell us their stories - he explains them. Therefore the characters never became real to me - just their dialogue seemed surreal - and the narrative simply overwhelmed any and all of the underlying stories.
Think of watching a movie sitting next to someone who has seen it before and feels the need to keep whispering in your ear - detailing plot twists and characters' actions. At some point you simply want to yell, "Shut up!" I had the same experience/frustration reading this book, hoping - vainly - that the author would remove himself from the narrative. I know I'm in the minority here - but pass on this one.
This was the first work I had ever read by McCann, and wow, was I impressed. McCann is a master storyteller and the way he weaves words together creates such vivid pictures, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the burning Bronx. While this novel wasn't my typical style--it is much darker and rawer than what I typically read--McCann's literary gifts can only leave a reader in awe. I did have a few problems with the structure of the novel--the jumping from character to character sometimes felt jumpy and abrupt, but I think this technique was intended to jar the reader--mimicking the realities of life in 1970s New York. The ending also felt out of place to me.
While this is not exactly light summer reading, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of great english literature. This work has marked McCann as one of the greats of the modern world, and I can't wait to see what else he produces.
Colum McCann tells the story of this aerial crime, enriching it with the stories of ten people who saw or were affected by the aerialist's action that day, including an Irish-born "street priest" in the South Bronx and his brother; Petit's sentencing judge, his wife, and son; mother/daughter hookers; and computer programmers on the West Coast. The reader is treated to a series of narratives that could stand alone as short stories, but that are, in the end, interconnected on the day of Philippe Petit's performance.
The novel introduces a stunning variety of social and historical issues that played out in the decade of the 1970's. The breakdown of social class is seen in the coming together of a group of mothers, mourning the loss of their sons in the Vietnam War, while celebrating their lives. The effects of poverty and drug addiction on women and children are illustrated by the "family business" of prostitution. The power of interlinked computers and telecommunications was in its infancy and creating excitement among the programmers who were thinking and dreaming big. The Vietnam War, moving towards its close in 1974, divided friends and family in New York City and elsewhere. The World Trade Center towers, newly constructed and occupied, represent a beginning in this novel, rather than the iconic destruction and terror we associate with them today.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the best book I have read in a while. When I moved from chapter one to chapter two, I thought I had been mistaken, that this is not a novel but a collection of short... Read morePublished 15 days ago by Eileen Lundy
Required book for my Arts in NYC class. It was a good read that rarely had any dull moments if any. Provided different perspectives of NYC which was really cool.Published 18 days ago by Amazon Customer
Read this for class but I now consider it one of my favorite books ever. I have been recommending it to everyone I know. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Amazon Customer
This is a phenomenal novel! I'm excited to read McCann's other works, this was clearly deserving of the National Book Award. Enchanting read.Published 21 days ago by Hunter
I chose this book for my bookclub pick. I loved the book, he sets a story in a time and place and then intertwines different characters to tell their stories and how different... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Mamadakis
This author is certainly a treasure, and joins the group of fine authors of contemporary fiction, many of whom hale from Ireland. Read morePublished 24 days ago by Public Name
Let the Great World Spin is a masterpiece of beautifully crafted prose, gripping character development, and writing style of the first order. One of my most beloved books ever.Published 1 month ago by Beth N
McCann loves each character he pens. He understands their desires, their flaws, and the poetry of their lives. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Bradford