Rating: 4 / 5
** Disclaimer: I received an ARC of TranAtlantic from Random House.
Colum McCann intricately weaves three historical events together and eloquently portrays the lives central to the stories. In 1919, British aviators Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown retrofit a plane to be the first to make the transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1845, Frederick Douglass goes to Ireland to speak about slavery. And in 1998, Senator George Mitchell heads to Dublin one more time to broker peace in Ireland.
The first section of TransAtlantic sets the stage for the main action, which is really about the women surrounding these events. Journalist Emily Erlich and her daughter Lottie witness and report on Alcock and Brown’s historic flight. They have also asked the pilots to deliver a letter in Cork when they land. Housemaid Lily Duggan, inspired by Douglass, emigrates to the United States for a better life.
This was my first Colum McCann novel, and he definitely lives up the hype. His ability to weave together events and characters is nothing short of remarkable. I liked the fact that although TransAtlantic started out as three separate stories, it all comes together at the end, and is intricate, seamless, complex, and wholly satisfying. TransAtlantic is filled with success, sorrow, resilience, and endurance. I found Lily’s character the most compelling, for she displayed the most ambition, from leaving Ireland, to enduring the tragedy of her husband and two sons and picking up the pieces to help the rest of her children survive. On the other hand, I found Douglass’s struggle between pushing his abolitionist agenda with extreme poverty in Ireland utterly fascinating.
While TransAtlantic is only 259 pages, it surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, if you are familiar with McCann’s work) packs a punch. McCann doesn’t stick to one style, but switches points of view, and mixes sentence length (oh those staccato statements!), making this novel more lyrical and giving it depth and dimension. TransAtlantic is a treasure that I definitely recommend.