"One of the greatest pleasures of TransAtlantic is how provisional it makes history feel, how intimate, and intensely real. . . . Here is the uncanny thing McCann finds again and again about the miraculous: that it is inseparable from the everyday."--The Boston Globe "Ingenious . . . The intricate connections McCann] has crafted between the stories of his women and our men seem] written in air, in water, and--given that his subject is the confluence of Irish and American history--in blood."--Esquire "Another sweeping, beautifully constructed tapestry of life . . . Reading McCann is a rare joy."--The Seattle Times "Entrancing . . . McCann folds his epic meticulously into this relatively slim volume like an accordion; each pleat holds music--elation and sorrow."--The Denver Post
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-11
- Reviewer: Staff
In 1919, two British veterans pilot a Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland, becoming the first men to fly across the Atlantic, taking “the war out of the plane.” In 1845, escaped American slave Frederick Douglass comes to Ireland at the start of the famine on a speaking tour, staying with Irish Quakers and inspiring their maid to seek her future in America. In 1998, decades into the Troubles, American Senator George Mitchell brokers the Good Friday Peace Accords. Darting in, past, and through these stories are generations of women, including the maid’s descendants, Irish, American, Canadian, with sons lost to the civil wars of both continents. This is what interests McCann: lives made amid and despite violence; the hidden braids of places, times, and people; the way the old days “arrive back in the oddest ways, suddenly taut, breaking the surface.” A beautiful writer, if overly partial to three-word phrases (“Kites of language. Clouds of logic”) that can start to call attention to themselves, McCann won the National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin, which also linked disparate stories. This time though, while each story is interesting, the threads between them—especially in the last section, which features the maid’s great-granddaughter—aren’t pulled taut enough by shared meaning. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (June)
Unlikely connections made likely by time
In his new novel, TransAtlantic, Colum McCann proves once again why he is one of the most acclaimed authors of our time. Like the award-winning Let the Great World Spin, TransAtlantic explores the connections between people of different classes and ethnicities, but this time over centuries and between continents. McCann mixes actual historic events with the story of a singular Irish-American family. The interplay between the celebrated (who all happen to be men) and the ordinary (who all happen to be women) is one of the many strengths of this most notable book.
TransAtlantic begins with three momentous crossings. Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, two WWI aviators, set course from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919 on the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Almost 75 years earlier, Frederick Douglass makes his way to Dublin and Cork, seeking funding for the abolitionist movement. Jump to the end of the 20th century, and Senator George Mitchell is flying from New York to Belfast to broker the notoriously bitter Northern Ireland peace talks in what became known as the Good Friday Agreements of 1998.
McCann explores historical events through the lens of the everyday.
These iconic journeys are connected by a series of personal stories starting with Lily Duggan, a young maid in the Dublin home where Douglass is staying. His message of emancipation has a profound effect on her, and she immigrates to the United States. The novel follows her daughter and granddaughter to Canada and then back to Ireland, culminating in the story of Hannah Carson, the last of the Duggans, in the family cottage on the coast of Northern Ireland. The stories are tied together by a letter sent on that first transatlantic flight, though its re-appearance at the story’s denouement is somewhat anticlimactic.
McCann is most interested in the details behind the big stories and in the way historical events shape and transform thousands of smaller lives. Douglass’ pursuit of freedom inspires Lily’s departure from Ireland. Alcock and Brown transform a war machine into a mode of international travel. The faith both men hold in the nature of flight is echoed in Mitchell’s tireless work and the seeming paradox of achieving peace by preparing for war. These kinds of contradictions—holding multiple opposing truths or ideas—are also central to the novel.
TransAtlantic is a story of great profundity. Time, events and actions are interwoven in a gorgeous meditation on violence, the quest for peace and the balance between the two. McCann offers the reader new ways of seeing and thinking about historic events and their impact on the present. This is a novel to relish.