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This Side of Brightness: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (January 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421977
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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, a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and 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. Tunneling 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 color 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, before his slide into homelessness, 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 that Walker helped dig as he scrapes out a meager 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Called "New York's most visible up-and-coming Irish writer" by the New York Times, McCann skillfully evokes early 20th-century New York, where Irish mixed with African Americans and Italians to dig the tunnel under the East River.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire's "Best and Brightest," and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Customer Reviews

I recommend this book to everyone who asks me for a good read.
Lois Wingerson
I just felt that towards the end there was too much misery, and not enough character development.
Tony S
Colum McCann has written a beautiful book with his work, "This Side of Brightness".
taking a rest

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on August 20, 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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By KDMask VINE VOICE on June 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book was a rare find. My brother actually bought it and when I looked on the publishing page, I found it's a first edition. I do believe it will become a classic one day.
Billed as a tale of the "homeless" I found it much more an adult type "Holes"--a magical story that weaves it's way through time, bringing us to a finale that's intertwined with the beginning. It's also a facinating look at the building of the train tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn and the men who toiled underground, now largely forgotten. I especially loved the way history repeated itself through time and space, making the tunnels themselves a character in the book.
You won't be disappointed if you read this great work.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on October 16, 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Frank O'Shea (donnelly@interact.net.au) on March 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover
There are 1300 km of tunnels under New York city. They were built in the early years of this century by Irish, Italian and African-American navvies, working under the most appalling conditions. Today, as well as carrying millions of people in trains that are often overcrowded and sometimes dangerous, these tunnels are home to unknown thousands of vagrants and homeless people. Colum McCann sets his latest novel among these lost souls, telling the story of a family which is an unusual mix of Roscommon Irish and Georgia negro. This Side of Brightness starts with a historical event: the 1916 collapse of a tunnel which caused three workers to be forced up through tonnes of soil on a spume of pressurised water. They survived their ordeal, but the fourth member of their gang, an Irishman named O'Leary, was never found, his body stuck somewhere in the shale that separates the Brooklyn river from the tunnel that still carries trains beneath it. The book deals with the lives of the survivors, particularly the young black man named Walker who continues to work as a sandhog and marries O'Leary's daughter. The story is told with tenderness and understanding, carefully avoiding the temptation to sensationalise. This is how you write about the poison of racism sloshing through every corner of society; this is how you tell what racism means for ordinary human beings - the casual savagery of the police, the all-encompassing disdain of white people, the soul-destroying subservience of the blacks. Walker remembers the gentle times of growing up in Georgia. His wish to return there with his white wife and son is not dimmed by the realisation that if he ever did so, both he and his son would almost certainly be hanged.Read more ›
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