Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

What do you do when your world spins out of control and changes so drastically that you begin to feel adrift?  Colum McCann‘s Let the Great World Spin examines these issues, while at the same time demonstrating how individuals can be connected to one another without even realizing it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere.” (page 153)

“No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon.” (page 81)

McCann focuses his story in 1974, mostly in New York City, where a tenuous thread is stretched between a series of characters from an Irish monk and a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War to a young artistic couple and a black prostitute. That thread is the a tightrope walker, Philippe Petit who traversed the still under construction World Trade Center towers.

“It was the dilemma of the watchers:  they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.” (page 3)

In a way, the tightrope walker is all of us, teetering on the edge of every decision we make, but what we often do not have is the courage to enjoy the moment or revel in the thrill of each step we take in our lives.  McCann is a gifted storyteller, but some readers may find the shifts between story lines hamper their ability to become emotionally tethered to the characters.  There are some moments where the prose takes on a list making quality, which is a bit overdone and jambs up the narrative.

The Vietnam War plays a significant role in the novel, touching lives in immediate ways and peripherally.   In many ways the tightrope walker symbolizes the perceived precariousness of the world at large in the 1970s, with the threat of communism and the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.  Overall, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a satisfying examination of the 1970s, the Vietnam War, and modern society, and would be a good selection for book club discussions.

About the Author:

Colum McCann, a Dublin born writer, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Let the Great World Spin, 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.

Check out the other tour stops.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Random House for sending me a free copy of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann for review.

This is my 5th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 31st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd and final book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.


  1. Your review was posted here on War Through the Generations.

  2. I’m so sorry for my extremely belated response to your review. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

    I’m reading this now for my book club meeting in July, and I do get what you mean by the transition from the Irish brothers to the grieving mothers being a little jarring. What I do with this kind of book is put it down for a while between stories, just to kind of sit with it for a while and take in what I’ve just read. I finished the second story (Claire and the other mothers) last night and found it really powerful and profound. I didn’t connect as much with Corrigan and the hookers. Not sure what’s up next but I can’t wait to find out.

    Thanks again, Serena!

  3. I should pick this one up – sounds like a great read, and if it counts for both Vietnam and Ireland challenges….
    .-= Carrie K.´s last blog ..Book Review: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent =-.

  4. I only recently learned about this book. It does sound good. And like a good one for the Vietnam War Challenge.

  5. I am still formulating my thoughts on this one but had to check out your review since I saw your updates on Facebook as you were reading it. I’m not sure it’s a book for everyone but there is a quiteness to it that struck a chord with me. I am also on the tour but not until May 19th.
    .-= Ti´s last blog ..Wuthering Heights Wednesday: May 5, 2010 – Week 5 =-.

  6. It sounds like I enjoyed this much more than you did, Serena…it took me some pages to really understand the connections, and then I really loved it. I felt most connected to Corrigan and then Claire. I really liked the ending because it seemed to encapsulate the theme that people could go on living and find joy even after trauma or loss. Thanks for a great review of this book 🙂
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Winners: Chow Hounds =-.

    • I saw some of the connections sooner than others, but I enjoyed the book overall, but it didn’t blow me away as I expected it would.

  7. I’m nervous every time I pull up one of these reviews because it touched my heart so deeply. I listened to it on audio, so it may have made a difference, but the transition from narrator to narrator didn’t bother me a bit. In fact, I was so invested in each of these characters that a few of them brought me to tears. I’m trying to remember prose that was list-like, but the only thing I can remember is one scene where the mother is grieving over her dead son, and goes through all the ways that someone can die…death by strangulation, death by baseball bat, etc. I thought it was insanely powerful. I never thought of using this for the Vietnam Challenge. I might just do that…
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Guest post with Karen White, author of On Folly Beach =-.

    • I was emotionally invested in the Irish brothers, but then suddenly I was thrust into a grieving mother of a Vietnam soldier. It was a rough transition for me, but as I read along, I enjoyed the book more. I think I’m also not in the frame of mind to deal with death at the moment…there is too much that has been going on in relation to that lately.

      Sandy, the list is exactly one of the ones that I was talking about, which was tedious for me…I kind of said I get it…lets move on. But there is another list as well before that which bothered me…though I am drawing a blank right now. lol

  8. I got this book when Oprah was offering if for free download. Maybe I can get to it for the Vietnam Challenge.

  9. I just started this book yesterday, but haven’t got too far. Sounds like it has great potential; I’m worried about the lack of emotional connection, though. I guess we’ll see.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..National Poetry Month Blog Tour: The Girl’s Thoughts on Shel Silverstein =-.


  1. BOOKS AND MOVIES » Links for Saturday, May 8, 2010 says:

    […] ~ Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, reviewed by Sandy at You’ve Gotta Read This and Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. […]