"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Speak Memory

Here’s a lovely piece by Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award in 2009 for his novel, “Let the Great World Spin”:

A London nursing home. The shape of a figure beneath the sheets. My grandfather could just about whisper. He wanted a cigarette and a glass of whiskey. “Come up on the bed here, young fella,” he said, gruffly. It was 1975 and I was 10 years old and it would be the first — and probably last — time I’d ever see him. Gangrene was taking him away. He reached for the bottle and managed to light a cigarette. Spittle collected at the edge of his mouth. He began talking, but most of the details of his life had already begun slipping away.

Long wars, short memories.

Later that afternoon my father and I bid goodbye to my grandfather, boarded a train, then took a night boat back home to Dublin. Nothing but ferry-whistle and stars and waves. Three years later, my grandfather died. He had been, for all intents and purposes, an old drunk who had abandoned his family and lived in exile. I did not go to the funeral. I still, to this day, don’t even know what country my grandfather is buried in, England or Ireland.

Sometimes one story can be enough for anyone: it suffices for a family, or a generation, or even a whole culture — but on occasion there are enormous holes in our histories, and we don’t know how to fill them.

[Photo Credit: Grant Howard]


1 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 22, 2011 3:28 pm

I thought this was a beautiful piece. Have never read McCann's fiction but I intend to shortly...

2 dlaik1   ~  Apr 22, 2011 4:49 pm

Alex, I read LTGWS on a recent trip. It has a slow start but once you get in you will be hooked. One of the great pieces of New York fiction ive read recently. It will stay with you long after you finish. Ive recommended it to a number of people and no one has been disappointed. Enjoy...

3 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 22, 2011 4:53 pm

2) YO! Nice to hear from you, bro. Will do.

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