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Author:
• Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Sam Savage was born in Camden, South Carolina,USA in 1940. He graduated from Yale University in 1968 and received his Ph.d. in philosophy from the same university in 1973. He was also a teacher at Yale for a short time.

Prior to writing, Savage worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, a shellfish fisherman and letter-press printer. In 2004 Sam Savage moved to Madison Wisconsin, USA, where he now lives with his wife.

Sam Savage has written five books to date but he is known for his best selling first novel Firmin, published in 2006 and translated into several languages.

The novel is narrated by a skinny, erudite, sensitive, extraordinary rat called Firmin. He is a very special rodent who can read by an unknown miracle. He is born with an unusually large head and ugly features and is the runt of a numerous litter of twelve siblings. Firmin’s birth takes place in what he calls, “a mausoleum of books, a museum of forgotten treasures, a cemetery of the unread and unreadable”, the basement of Pembroke bookshop in Scollay Square, an old, insalubrious part of Boston which is about to be pulled down as part of an urban reconstruction scheme.

Firmin was born in the sixties to an alcoholic, overweight mother of easy virtue named Flo, who cushions her litter’s nest by making confetti out of James Joyce’s big novel, Finnegans Wake, “The biggest book she could get her paws on”.

Soon after his birth, Firmin learns quickly that he has to fend for himself. He owes his survival to books, becoming figuratively very fond of literature for nourishing his highly curious intellect as well as literally nibbling books when desperately hungry and when he has nothing else to eat.
Firmin finds out that no matter how keen his intellect can be, his stomach also claims its due.

He also finds comfort in his loneliness and in his hunger in the Rialto Theater where he gorges himself watching the “lovelies” – the exquisite naked actresses shown in late night films – as well as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, while at the same time gorging on the food dropped by spectators.

Due to his extensive reading and film-watching, Firmin acquires knowledge and a philosophical, critical mind. He becomes remarkably cultivated and therefore feels more affinity with humans than with rats. In fact he considers himself a human at heart which creates a chasm between him and the other rodents.

After observing Norman, the bookshop owner, for several days, Firmin develops some fondness for him to the extent of wanting to befriend him. Sadly, things go wrong through a misjudgment on both sides when Norman tries to poison Firmin, regarded as a vermin squatting his bookshop. Henceforth Firmin will distance himself from Norman and mention him only by his family name, Shine, since he is no longer considered a friend.

Depressed, forlorn, frustrated and disappointed by being unable to fulfill his dream of communicating with people, despite his hopeless efforts and eagerness, Firmin finds his salvation with his new friend, Jerry, an alcoholic, marginal novelist who hosts him in his humble room above the bookshop before dying in an accident and leaving Firmin once more to fend for himself.

As Firmin is about to pass out under the rubble of his beloved bookshop, he thinks as he always did, how lucky he is to have been a very special rat, enjoying reading and dreaming about books to the point of ecstasy and to the point of substituting himself with the characters from his books or the film stars watched in the Rialto Theater. Even if he was estranged by his own family and disconnected from other rodents, he felt the urge to fulfill his exceptional destiny.

For Firmin, books were his only solace and a mine of enrichment during his short existence. He says: “Even though I consider myself lucky to have lived the life I did, I would not like to be that lucky twice”. Firmin feels inconsolable and caustic. He says: “ O bitter ending! They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me […] Dry and cold was the world and beautiful the words”.

A very imaginative, endearing, touching and original bittersweet novel, funny in parts, about a rat who, during his short life, attains a great deal of culture and knowledge coupled with a vivid imagination. Regrettably all his acquired knowledge, culture and philosophical views are to no avail. A thought provoking subject.

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Author:
• Friday, April 27th, 2012

Colum MacCann was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965 and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology. He obtained a BA degree from the University of Texas and was awarded an honorary degree by the Dublin Institute Of Technology. Starting as a journalist, he worked for The Irish Press, The New York Times, The Times, La Repubblica, Die Zeit, The Guardian and the Independent. He now teaches Creative Writing at City University of New York’s Hunter College.

In 2005 he was nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Everything In This Country Must.
He received the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

In 2009 he was the National Book Award Winner for his novel, Let The Great World Spin.
In 2011 he received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2010 the Ambassador Book Award.
He was awarded the French Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010.

He now lives with his wife and three children in New York.

Colum MacCann has written two collections of short stories and five novels to date which have been translated into thirty languages:
Fishing The Sloe-Black River 1994
Songdogs 1995
This Side Of Brightness 1998
Everything In This Country Must 2000
Dancer 2003
Zoli 2006
Let The Great World Spin 2009

Colum MacCann masterfully inter-connects the everyday life of people living in New York City in the seventies and makes one story out of what seems to be a series of short stories.

Let The Great World Spin starts with the genuine, illegal stunt of the French funambulist, Philippe Petit. Petit manages to successfully cross the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in Manhattan on his tightrope at a tremendous height in August 1974, to the amazement and apprehension mixed with suspense of the onlookers down below in the street. This event forms the backbone and recurrent theme of the story, since each one of the characters has something meaningful happening on that memorable day and maybe they were also leading a “tightrope walk” kind of life.

Nobody knew in August 1974, one year after the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers were completed and functioning, at a time when U.S. soldiers were returning home from Vietnam, that in September 2001, the world’s attention would be focused on the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers with horror, panic and fear after their attack and tragic destruction. No one could have guessed either, that American soldiers would be sent to fight another war, this time in Iraq followed by Afghanistan, as an act of revenge instead of seeking other means for putting things right.

As MacCann puts it, referring to the tightrope walker, Philippe Petit: “The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty seven years later.” A stunning contrast.

Colum MacCann depicts with great empathy, the suffering, loneliness, expectation and hopes of the various characters in his novel, in order to give his readers a sort of a kaleidoscopic picture of The Big Apple and its inhabitants in those years. A picturesque illustration of New York City which is described as an important character in the story in such an authentic way that one feels catapulted there among all these people.

There is the Irish monk, Corrigan, who wishes to live an ascetic life and likes to believe that he is a soul saviour but finds it difficult to reach a compromise between his beliefs and reality. He he has a good deal of compassion for the prostitutes working in his neighbourhood, the Bronx and actively tries to defend them. He seems to be at a loss about how to deal with his love of Adelita, the Guatemalan nurse, and his spiritual commitment to celibacy in the Catholic Church

Ciaran, his two years elder brother, has a completely different character. His view on life is dissimilar to his sibling and he tries, but never succeeds, in convincing his younger brother to change his ways. Ciaran ends up marrying the artist, Lara, who feels guilty after being involved with Blaine, her driver and now ex-husband, in the fatal car accident that kills Corrigan and his passenger, the young prostitute, Jazzlyn.

Then there is Claire and her husband, judge Solomon Sonderberg, who live on Park Avenue, an expensive area in New York and who are trying, each one in his own way, to deal with their grieving over the loss of their only child, Joshua, who died in an explosion in a coffee shop in Vietnam while being there as an American recruit.

In one of his interviews, Colum MacCann mentions that in his novel it all starts with the “angel” like figure in the sky, seen as a speck of dust to the people standing many meters below. Before the author goes down to explore the core of the city, where he tries to capture the voices of the New Yorkers, the ordinary people in the street “find what is meaningful for the human heart… Find joy and redemption” through the interesting different characters. People who form the heart and soul of this big metropolis.

The image of redemption is portrayed in the adoption of Jazzlin’s little twin girls by Gloria, meaning the end of the prostitution legacy of their mother and grandmother. Colum MacCann says in a conversation with Nathan Englander, the American author: “When two little girls emerge from a Bronx housing complex and get rescued by strangers. That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up… It’s important to say that this is my own emotional response to 9/11”. McCann projects his optimism through his characters, by implying that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.

When asked which character he likes most, he says Tillie, the thirty eight year old black American prostitute granny from the Bronx but especially the Irish priest, Corrigan.

A very well constructed novel, like a spider’s web, where everything connects. The characters are painted with extreme authenticity. They all have the vulnerability in common and whether rich, humble or destitute, each one in his own way shares with the other, the need for love and recognition.