Darragh mckeon credit to ana schecter

Disaster strikes in crumbling system


Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

In a run-down Moscow apartment block, a 9-year-old piano prodigy practices silently to avoid disturbing the neighbors. In a factory, his aunt makes car parts, hiding her dissident past. In the hospital, a talented surgeon buries himself in his work. And in a village in Ukraine, a boy wakes up to a sky of deepest crimson. The scene is set in Darragh McKeon’s debut novel “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air.”

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McKeon’s encounter as a teen with some young people who’d traveled 1,000 or so miles from the East – from a city most Westerners had never heard of before 1986 -- led to something of an obsession. In adulthood, he spent years researching a subject that now features prominently in the book.

“It's set in the USSR in the mid-1980s and is centered around the Chernobyl disaster,” he said. “It follows a group of people whose lives are falling apart as the Communist system crumbles around them.”

McKeon, who is from a farming background in the Irish Midlands, spent most of his 20s in the theatre director with companies as Rough Magic (Dublin), The Royal Court (London), The Young Vic (London) and Steppenwolf (Chicago).

His branching out has won approval. As they’ve done before, two of Ireland’s best established novelists are happy to introduce a new talent to the reading public. Colum McCann said McKeon’s debut “marks the beginning of a truly significant career,” while Colm Toibin praised it as a “daring and ambitious” novel that blends “historical epic and love story.”

Early U.S. reviewers also like what they’ve read. “McKeon’s thrilling narrative is matter-of-fact but emotionally powerful,” said the Library Review’s critic, “And his convincing characters depict precisely the perseverance of the human spirit in the darkest of times. A promising debut; highly recommended.”

In another starred review, Kirkus Review described “All That’s Solid Melts Into Air” as a “leisurely paced novel intended for those who like serious and thoughtful fiction.”

Darragh McKeon

Date of birth: 1979

Residence: New York

Published works: “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” (HarperCollins)

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I write in an office near my apartment. I need a clean space, a window and silence. Thankfully, I can read anywhere, so I can get a lot of research done when I'm out and about.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read Rilke's “Letters to a Young Poet” and take on board everything he says.

What book are you currently reading?

“Antarctica” by Claire Keegan.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

There are many, many I respect and value, but I wrote the book I wrote.

What book changed your life?

“Underworld” by Don DeLillo.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Connemara. I lived there for a couple of years. It's a place where time passes at a different pace.

You're Irish if...

You want to be buried there.