Understanding Colum McCann chronicles the Irish-born writer's journey to literary celebrity from his days as a teenage sportswriter for the Irish Press in the 1970s, through the publication of his award-winning first story, "Tresses," in 1990, to his winning the 2009 National Book Award in fiction for the international bestseller Let the Great World Spin. In this first critical study of McCann's body of work, John Cusatis provides an introduction to McCann's life and career; an overview of his major themes, style, and influences; and close readings of his two short story collections and five novels. Cusatis traces McCann's redefinition of the Irish novel, exploring the author's propensity for transcending aesthetic, cultural, ethnic, geographical, and social boundaries in his ascent from the status of "Irish novelist" to "international novelist." In the process, this study illuminates the various incarnations of McCann's perennial subject: exile, both geographical and emotional. Cusatis also delineates how the influences of McCann's Irish upbringing, penchant for international travel, and exhaustive and eclectic reading of literature manifest themselves in his fiction. Close attention is given to McCann's stylistic trademarks, such as his poetic voice, use of Christian symbolism, Irish and classical mythology, intertextuality, multiple viewpoints, nonlinear plot structure, and the merger of what McCann deems "factual truth" and "textual truth." Understanding Colum McCann makes use of the existing body of published interviews, profiles, and critical articles, as well as a decade of correspondence between Cusatis and McCann. With international interest in McCann on the rise, this first full-length study of his career to date serves as an ideal point of entrance for students, scholars, and serious readers, and offers the biographical and critical foundation necessary for a deeper understanding of McCann's fiction.