Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let the Great World Spin

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Whenever I take a trip somewhere in the world, I want to choose a book to take along on my journey that will introduce me to the place, the people, their culture and history.  During spring break I took several high school students and my son to New York City for four, fun filled days.  Let The Great World Spin is the book I chose to accompany me on my journey through The Big Apple.

On August 7th, 1974, Phillipe Petit strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers and danced between the towers in mid air.  The eyes of New York looked up and saw an unbelievable spectacle.  The world, it seemed, was spinning out of control in 1974.  President Nixon resigns on August 8th, Gerald Ford is sworn in on August 9th, and Vietnam War enters its final year.  

McCann captures the stories of ordinary and extraordinary individuals with precision in Let The Great World Spin.  His novel spans all levels of society in 1974 in historical context and interconnects the characters with Petit's daring tightrope walk above New York City.  McCann's characters are so interesting that I found myself thinking of them while I was walking around the city.  Many of the character's in this amazing story had to walk the line on their own tightrope.  Many fell off, some died, others cried and survived but the challenges we are human beings face on a daily basis sums up to putting your faith in what you do and hoping it all works out.  Let The Great World Spin encompasses New York City today and how it appeared yesterday and includes all the grit and glamour associated with it.  This book totally wowed me it is  "The collision point of stories." page. 325.

My son mentioned a T-shirt he saw someone wearing in New York City on day 3 of our trip, the T-shirt said and I quote "New York Fuckin' City", and within the hour, I read a passage in Let The Great World Spin that actually quotes this exact same T-shirt and showed my son. "As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would." Page247.  New York City was showing its arrogance and we learned it through the connection of a book and a T-shirt.  Strange how real life connections happen and weirder still that New Yorkers are wearing the same saying on their T-shirts since 1974.

Visiting the former site of the Twin Towers was surreal and watching my son learn of the experience by reading aloud the account of the tragedy was emotional.  Reading this book while in New York City made me understand the significance of Petit's tightrope walk and how it bridged a world and brought hope to the people of New York City during a time of turmoil.  Truly this book is an amazing work of art and deserves the National Book Award.

Watch Man on Wire, a documentary on Petit's walk for more information on how Petit arranges this amazing event.

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