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Magwood on Books

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Reviewed: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Random House

Let The Great World SpinFor most people, there is only one narrative about the Twin Towers in New York. Long before they were destroyed, however, they made front pages around the world. In 1974 the French acrobat Phillippe Petit strung a tightrope between the towers, and as the summer morning dawned the people of Manhattan watched, stunned, as he ran, danced, and lay down on the wire.

Colum McCann takes this extraordinary feat as the organising thread of this book. He plucks a handful of seemingly disparate characters down in the city and weaves them into a dazzling cyclorama of hope and pain and redemption. There’s the radical Irish monk Corrigan who wrestles his own furies as he looks after a group of prostitutes on the Bronx, a young artist involved in a hit and run accident that will reshape her life, a group of mothers who meet to grieve the death of their sons in Vietnam.

Adding more and more characters, McCann spins threads between them, linking their stories and their lives, syncopating a magical chorus that will stop on that day and look up at the Towers.

Not wanting the book to ever end, I went online to look at the pictures of Petit’s heart-stopping walk, and watched the recent Oscar-winning documentary about it, Man on Wire. I then went back to the Exclusive Books sale where I had found the book, and bought up the remaining copies to give to friends. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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