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February 26, 2024

TransAtlantic: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann.

What was a life anyway? An accumulation of small shelves of incident. Stacked at odd angles to each other. The long blades of an ice saw cutting sparks into a block of cold. Sharpening the blades, seating them, slotting them into handles. Leaning down to make the cut. A brief leap of ember in the air. - from TransAtlantic -

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 on Maryland's eastern shore. He lived enslaved, beaten, and abused ... but becoming literate and finally escaping slavery in September 1838. Douglas went on to become a lecturer and speaker, seeking to end slavery forever. He went on a three year speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland. He worked closely with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to recruit northern blacks for the Union Army, and later went on to support the rights of women.

Douglass canceled a tea in Sandymount to get there on time. He arrived along the teeming docks. He could not believe the size of the crowd: as if the whole sponge of Dublin had been squeezed down into a huge sink. So many dishes, so many rags, such a riot of human cutlery. - from TransAtlantic -

Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. They flew from St. John's, Newfoundland to Galway, Ireland -- crashing their plane on landing, but surviving.

Floating icebergs below. The roughly furrowed sea. They know there will be no turning back. It is all mathematics now. To convert the fuel into time and distance. To set the throttle for the optimum burn. To know the angles and the edges, and the spaces in between. - from TransAtlantic -

Democrat George Mitchell served as a United States Senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995 and as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. He played a pivotal role in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland as an appointee to the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland (1995?2001).

They carried their sorrow -- not with photos under their arms, or with public wailing, or by beating their chests, but with a weariness around the eyes. Mothers and daughters and children and grandmothers, too. They never fought the wars, but they suffered them, blood and bone. How many times has he heard it? How often were there two ways to say the one thing? My son died. - from TransAtlantic -

These four men take a central role in Colum McCann's sterling novel, TransAtlantic. McCann introduces them all separately, and then weaves their lives together against the backdrop of the history in Ireland and four generations of extraordinary women. Lily Duggan is an Irish housemaid and it is from her that the women in this novel spiral out across the decades.

McCann is a poet with the English language -- he pares down his words to deliver a story steeped in history, yet lyrically captured. When George Mitchell, exhausted, sits in Prime Minister Blair's office, so close to an agreement and yet so far away from a document that will end the bloodshed ... McCann captures the moment perfectly:

The Prime Minister's shirt open to the second button. They are stuck now on a point of language. The British and their words. The Irish and their endless meanings. How did such a small sea ever come between them? - from TransAtlantic -

He also just as succinctly and beautifully captures the senseless loss of thousands during the Civil War:

They lifted the soldiers as gently as they could and placed them in the grass in the imprints of others who had been there just hours ago. All around, the grass was exhausted by the shape of the war. - from TransAtlantic -

McCann never loses his way in this novel about history and the men and women who played such a pivotal role in it. Large in scope, yet made personal by the characters who people it, TransAtlantic is a luminous story of courage, family, love, and loss.

I loved McCann's novel Let the Great World Spin (read my review) and I was certainly not disappointed by his newest work. Once again, McCann pulls off an ambitious, yet wholly readable work of literary fiction that stays with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

Readers who appreciate extraordinary literary fiction laced with history, will find much to love in TransAtlantic.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★:

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review on my blog as part of the Library Thing Early Review Program.

  • Rating System

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Excellent
★ ★ ★ ★ = Good/Very Good
★ ★ ★ = Okay read
★ ★ = Not recommended
★ = Ugh! Don't waste your time.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-04-28
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