TransAtlantic: A Novel

by Colum McCann

Hardcover, 2013

Collection

Genres

Publication

Random House (2013), Edition: 1st Edition, 304 pages

Description

Newfoundland, 1919-- Aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Dublin, 1845 and '46-- On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. New York, 1998-- Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, to shepherd Northern Ireland's notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

Media reviews

"But a book as ambitious and wide-ranging as this is bound to be a little inconsistent, and its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses."
3 more
"His new novel, TransAtlantic, likewise dramatises Irish-American encounters, and once again features elements of nonfiction, and a gravity-defying central metaphor."
Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: McCann’s stunning sixth novel is a brilliant tribute to his loamy, lyrical and complicated Irish homeland, and an ode to the ties that, across time and space, bind Ireland and America. The book begins with three transatlantic crossings, each a novella within a novel: Frederick Douglas’s 1845 visit to Ireland; the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown; and former US senator George Mitchell’s 1998 attempt to mediate peace in Northern Ireland. ... The language is lush, urgent, chiseled and precise; sometimes languid, sometimes kinetic. At times, it reads like poetry, or a dream. Choppy sentences. Two-word declaratives. Arranged into stunning, jagged tableaux. Bleak, yet hopeful. ... The finale is a melancholy set piece that ties it all together... McCann reminds us that life is hard, and it is a wonder, and there is hope. --Neal Thompson
"A masterful and profoundly moving novel that employs exquisite language to explore the limits of language and the tricks of memory."

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
I read the first section of Transatlantic about a month ago, but, not having been particularly captivated by the story of Alcock and Brown's 1919 transatlantic flight, I set it aside. I expected that the section about Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland on behalf of the abolitionist movement would engage me more, so I tucked the book into my bag when I went on vacation last week. My expectations were not only met but exceeded: I could not put the book down, and no matter what else I was doing, I found myself thinking about getting back to the it.

If, like me, you love novels consisting of interconnected stories that are told in different voices or from different points of view, your will love Transatlantic. It begins with three transatlantic journeys: the 1919 Alcock-Brown flight, Douglass's 1845 tour of Ireland, and George Mitchell's 1998 mission to work out a peace accord in Belfast. As stated above, the first story didn't thrill me, but the next two were absolutely fascinating. McCann was wise enough to use a light hand and let the irony speak for itself as Douglass, a runaway slave feted by the wealthy Anglo-Irish advocates of abolition, sees all around him the suffering of the Irish people. Mitchell's story, too, steps back from the volatile situation surrounding British rule, the overwhelming grief and loss on all sides becoming more pressing than any religious or political tenets.

McCann then shifts to the stories of Lily Duggan and her female descendants--women who (with perhaps the exception of Lily herself) slipped past as minor characters in the background of these celebrated men's accounts. He lets us know that they, too, played significant roles in history, perhaps less obvious than the men's but no less influential.

McCann has mastered two things that make Transatlantic an exceptional work: he has created unique, believable characters and has the ability to place the reader inside their heads and hearts; and his writing is stunningly beautiful. He doesn't need to tell us that George Mitchell is a modest, caring man; we recognize it in his gratitude for the baseball scores slipped to him by his driver, in his determination to remember a woman's name (one name among the hundreds of grieving women he has met), in his reluctant acceptance of any VIP perks. And we don't need to be told that Hannah loves the land on which the family home--which is about to be repossessed--sits; we feel it in simple descriptions like these:

"In the morning,---after the news from the bank--a flock of brent geese came gunneling over the lough, bringing with them their own mystery, low over the water. They arrive every year. Regular as clockwork. Swaths of them. I have in years past seen twenty or thirty thousand over the course of a few days. They can momentarily darken the sky, huge clouds, then tuck their wings, and blanket onto the water and grass. Not so much grace as hunger. They arrange themselves among the marshes and paddies and the sudden thrust of drumlins. . . . Not a soul for miles. The birds flew vast across the sky. They dipped and rose and came in a mass towards the shore, over our roof, and then vanished behind me, only for another group to come along moments later, from out in Bird Island direction."

"I walked Georgie around the island in the cold snap of dawn. Or rather she walked me. My curlew was calling from the eastern pladdies. I was glad to hear her after do long. I used to think her call was forlorn, but her return makes her so much more than a sound.
Georgie ambled alongside me among the tangle of old ropes and smashed oars and broken orange buoys washed in on the edge of the shore. The tide was returning and I cut up towards the mudflats, pulled myself along by holding on to the long reeds, unsettled a smoky muck from the bottom of the water. I sat still for several minutes, the better to absorb the landscape, or rather be absorbed by it."

History writ small and large. Connections that neither time nor troubles can break. Finding one's sense of place. The acceptance of moving on. And so much more. Overall, Transatlantic is a moving, though provoking, memorable, and thoroughly satisfying novel, one of a handful that I know I will be reading again.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
TransAtlantic opens with the daring first ever flight across the Atlantic from New Foundland to Ireland by two young WWI airmen, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, in 1919. Not many literary novelists start their narrative with an edge-of-your-seat, thrill-a-minute description, but then McCann is not your ordinary novelist. All the elements that brought him accolades of praise for his last novel, Let the Great World Spinare present in this tour-de-force novel that should further secure him his place in the top realm of literary novelists.

Using a non-linear construction, McCann recreates four historical events: the Alcock/Brown crossing, Frederick Douglas’s 1846 escape from slavery and subsequent sailing to Ireland and George Mitchell’s 1998 participation in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Each of these historical figures was involved in crossing the Atlantic between North America and Ireland. And each of these events is witnessed by four generations of fictional women beginning with Irish maid Lily Duggan in 1846. McCann weaves their stories into a compelling narrative as he combines history and fiction.

McCann spells out his theme very clearly on page 218.

And it is in connecting these events that the four generations of women provide a luminosity to the narrative that simply shines. Not to be missed.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
The books I love typically have a great plot and/or well developed characters. [Transatlantic] was different: I liked it for its structure. The novel opens with what appear at first to be three independent stories: a pair of aviators crossing the Atlantic in 1919, Frederick Douglass visiting Ireland in the mid-1800s, and George Mitchell brokering the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Lurking in the shadows of these three stories are women, whose lives are more directly and powerfully linked, and gradually the story becomes theirs. McCann achieves a kind of optical illusion in book form: in the first few chapters my eyes and thoughts were so focused on the famous figures that I missed important details, at times even dismissing the women as unimportant characters. And then suddenly there would be an "aha!" moment that sent me back to the earlier parts to discover the links I'd missed before.

The women's stories are interesting, too -- stories of love, and loss, and womankind's ability to persevere in the face of it all. But I keep coming back to McCann's trompe l'oeil, and marveling at the way he drew me into the story while, all along, telling a very different story that I had yet to discover.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 4.85* of five

The Book Description: National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann delivers his most ambitious and beautiful novel yet, tying together a series of narratives that span 150 years and two continents in an outstanding act of literary bravura.

In 1845 a black American slave lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling at his feet. In 1919, two brave young airmen emerge from the carnage of World War One to pilot the very first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. And in 1998 an American senator criss-crosses the ocean in search of a lasting Irish peace. Bearing witness to these history-making moments of Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and "Teddy" Brown, and George Mitchell, and braiding the story together into one epic tale, are four generations of women from a matriarchal clan, beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan. In this story of dark and light, men and women, history and past, fiction and fact, National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann delivers a tour de force that is his most spectacular achievement to date.

My Review: This is an ambitious book indeed. McCann refines storytelling techniques he used in [Let the Great World Spin], and layers in more complexity than he created in that National Book Award-winner. For that reason alone, I'd give him high marks.

But as a work of social commentary on Ireland, on its colonial past and its enraged present, the book comes alive. Without ever leaving his focus on the personal lives of people, he limns the results of the struggle of his homeland to be its ownself. Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, is in Ireland to raise money for Abolition in the USA. Isn't that a nice cause for turn-about, with the IRA raising money in the USA for its militancy?

Webb took him out onto the verandah by the elbow and said: But Frederick, you cannot bite the hand that feeds.

The stars collandered the Wexford night. He knew Webb was right. There would always be an alignment. There were so many sides to every horizon. He could only choose one. No single mind could hold it all at once. Truth, justice, reality, contradiction. Misunderstandings could arise. He had one cause only. He must cleave to it.

He paced the verandah. A cold wind whipped off the water.
The water, the recurring use of the water, the wind off the water, being in the water, all of it the Atlantic, all of it marking transformation and immersion in the moment of transformation for each character...that's lovely.

The toughness and surivorhood of Ireland's women is a major part of the story. So is the deep-seated need of the Irish to Be Irish.

She stood at the window. It was her one hundred twenty-eighth day of watching men die. They came down the road in wagons pulled by horses. She had never seen such a bath of killing before. The wheels screeched. The line of wagons stretched down the path, into the trees. The trees themselves stretched off into the war.

She came down the stairs, through the open doors, into the wide heat...The men had exhausted their shouts. They were left with small whimperings, tiny gasps of pain...One soldier wore sergeant's stripes on his sleeve, and a gold harp stitched on his lapel. An Irishman. She had tended to so many of them.
So is the quixotic character of men, pushing boundaries that separate them (in their minds) from Glory. (The transAtlantic flight of the title...so very male in its pointless bravado, and in its gauntlet-flinging results of commonplace transAtlantic air travel.)

It was that time of the century when the idea of a gentleman had almost become a myth. The Great War had concussed the world. The unbearable news of sixteen million deaths rolled off the great metal drums of the newspapers. Europe was a crucible of bones.
That's plain old-fashioned beautiful phrase-making.

But in the end, the story large and small is about the strength of women to carry on. The struggles of men against the futility of their existence, a mere accident of evolution's need to stir the pot to keep the soup of life boiling merrily instead of burning irretrievably, are as ever and as always propped up, supported, allowed to exist, by women, evolution's one essential ingredient, carriers of whatever life the planet holds and makers of whatever future the men leave alone in their ceaseless tinkering.

The tap of his cane on the floor. The clank of the water pipes. She is wary of making too much of a fuss. Doesn't want to embarrass him, but he's certainly slowing up these weathers. What she dreads is a thump on the floor, or a falling against the banisters, or worse still a tumble down the stairs. She climbs the stairs before {he} emerges from the bathroom. A quick wrench of worry when there is no sound, but he emerges with a slightly bewildered look on his face. He has left a little shaving foam on the side of his chin, and his shirt is haphazardly buttoned.

...The ancient days of the Grand Opera House, the Hippodrome, the Curzon, the Albert Memorial Clock. The two of them out tripping the light fantastic. So young then. The smell of his tweeds. The Turkish tobacco he used to favor. The charity balls in Belfast, her gown rustling on the steps, {her husband} beside her, bow-tied, brilliantined, tipsy.
Worry for the present...nostalgia for the past...awareness of the short horizon of the future. She will bear it all. He will be borne to his bourn-side bier on the shoulders of this woman.

And the wonder of it is...it goes on.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“There is always room for at least two truths.” (152)

TransAtlantic opens in 1919 where two young airmen who have managed to exit WWI intact, will pilot the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1845, a black American slave travels to Ireland, championing his ideals of freedom and democracy. And in 1998, a US Senator is engaged in multi-national talks in Dublin to bring Northern Ireland to peace. Such are the stories of Book One of the novel. McCallum is genius in using them as his point of departure for Book Two, also set on both sides of the Atlantic. Minor characters in each of the three stories reappear as familial generations of remarkable women caught up in the tide of history. Among them: Lily, an Irish maid; Emily, newspaper reporter; Lottie, photographer and tennis enthusiast.

Book Three, the novel’s final Book, is a meditation on memory, on time, and on history. Can we go back? How do we move forward? What is the effect of the past on the present? How, precisely, do our lives connect and intersect?

“The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing möbius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves." (252)

TransAtlantic is one of the best novels I’ve read this year: the writing, the plot the structure – remarkable, all! Highly recommended. I’ll definitely be reading more of McCallum’s work.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
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.

Colum McCann's Booker longlisted novel begins with two men preparing to fly a repurposed British bomber from Newfoundland to Ireland, attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic ocean nonstop. The novel follows them as they get ready, assembling their Vicker Vimy and waiting for the weather to be right. And then the story ends, moving on to a new one about Frederick Douglass on a trip to Ireland to raise funds for the Abolition movement in 1845, just as the Irish Potato Famine was taking hold. The final story of the first section involves Senator Mitchell as he works to reach what will be known as the Good Friday Accords.

But this isn't a book of short stories, or even short stories of famous men traveling to Ireland. The second part of [TransAtlantic] draws those seemingly unconnected stories together in the lives of the women of a single family, from Lily, the illiterate daughter of alcoholics working as a maidservant in a house that hosts Frederick Douglass during his stay and who is inspired to take a brave step by the former slave, to her daughter, who is a journalist reporting on the transatlantic flight from Newfoundland and her daughter, who photographs the intrepid aviators and on to Lily's great-granddaughter, the last living member of her family, living in Northern Ireland and looking back to the tragedy of the Troubles.

What shines in this book is the language, which is almost lyrical, while staying firmly grounded. It takes a strong structure here to hold McCann's writing, but it all works so brilliantly here. Moving from important men involved in great events to the most ordinary of women's lives is a beautifully effective method to bring forth the unexpected influences of big events in small lives and impact of the ordinary, small things on world-shaking events.

When I sat down beside them, their silence was lined with tenderness. We have to admire the world for not ending on us.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
I loved Let the Great World Spin, so I was excited to get McCann's latest book, which goes on sale June 4, from the Early Reviewer program. From the book's description, I could tell that Transatlantic was an ambitious undertaking. McCann borrows from history, sharing the stories of Frederick Douglass (1845), Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown (1919), and George Mitchell (1998). Their stories are linked by four generations of women, beginning with Lily Duggan, who observe these historical moments and live lives deserving of notice as well. Given the scope of the story, I expected an epic novel, sweeping across the years. But McCann delivers something that is much different, first offering snapshots of brief moments in history and then revisiting each era to shift the spotlight from the historical figures to the women of Lily Duggan's family. At first, I found the structure of the novel (and McCann's strings of short sentences) jarring, pulling me out of the story with each shift. But I came to appreciate the layers that McCann places, one by one, until the story is built.

This novel was also a pleasure to read because the writing at the sentence level is beautiful - almost poetic. Here's just one example, describing the struggles of a writer:

"The elaborate search for a word, like the turning of a chain handle on a well. Dropping the bucket down the mineshaft of the mind. Taking up empty bucket after empty bucket until, finally, at an unexpected moment, it caught hard and had a sudden weight and she raised the word, then delved down into the emptiness once more" (p. 165).

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
“But this is not the story of a life. It is the story of lives, knit together, overlapping in succession, rising again and again from grave after grave.”

This Wendell Berry epigraph neatly describes this delightful set of interconnected short stories by Colum McCann. In “Transatlantic” we make our way from century to century and from Ireland to the New World and back. We are treated to tales of the well known: Brown and Alcock (the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic in 72 hours or less), Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and peace negotiator George Mitchell. Interspersed are the fictional stories of those less famous: a pioneering newspaper writer and her daughter, a young Irish maid and an Irish mother grieving the loss of her son. Each story stands on its own. I especially liked the one about George Mitchell. As we read, we recognize the ways in which these tales of hope and loss overlap and connect with one another.

I particularly liked McCann’s atmospheric writing style, which nicely captures time and place. What I found magical, however, others might find it too lyrical, creating a lack of immediacy. This came highly recommended by a woman in my book group and she was spot on. A delightful read.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
I just completed reading *TransAtlantic* and it left me breathless. An exquisite blend of tragedy and optimism, McCann's newest novel weaves together several story lines and lives. Starting with the gut-dropping story of Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown flying an old war plane from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919, moving through the insightful exploration of Frederick Douglass' visit to Ireland in the mid-1840s, and then to Senator George Mitchell's diplomatic efforts to secure peace in Ireland near the end of the 20th century, McCann uses the green and gray backdrop of Ireland's history to guide his reader through sweet moments of grace, terrible moments of loss, and ultimately to a sense of redemption and hope and connection. The writing is deceptively straightforward, eschewing unnecessary complete sentences to provide momentum and pause. McCann's choice of words in any given sentence is perfect.

"It was odd to Emily how life could be so very expansive and still return to the elements of childhood. Lottie in the corridors of the Cochrane Hotel. Walking down along Paton Street on her first day at Prince of Wales. The day Lottie first discovered a camera, the bellowed Graflex. How, at Wimbledon, just four months ago, they sat together at center court, mother and daughter, watching the quarter final, and Lottie turned to tell her what she already knew. The lover's fine sense of crisis. The circumference of Lottie's world had shifted. She would stay now. She had fallen in love. Emily nursed a moment of joy that turned to jealousy and then returned once more to a fascination with the swerve of the world. What was a life anyway? An accumulation of small shelves of incident. Stacked at odd angles to each other."

"...the swerve of the world." Indeed.

This is the best novel I've read this year. I'm astounded that it didn't make the shortlist for the Booker Prize. I've read four of the six shortlisted novels and they are all good in their own ways (I've not yet read *The Luminaries* or *A Tale for the Time Being*), but *TransAtlantic* belonged on that list.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
Waves come in and the tide goes out. The sea ebbs and flows, but what changes does that result in? It is only when taking long looks from a distance does it seem that anything has been altered. But looking at a distance also can mean an impersonal point of view in which individual grief does not matter and mourning is no more than another part of life.

The same could be said about what happens in Colum McCann's Transatlantic, which has been longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize. Men die, women mourn, women endure, women lose. Another generation comes along, grows old in the blink of an eye and suffers grevious loss.

McCann uses the same type of storytelling that he used in Let the Great World Spin to write about life and death, especially death, on both sides of the Atlantic. In both Northern Ireland and North America, great men stand out and attempt great deeds.

In the years between the two great wars of the 20th century, two former prisoners of war attenpt to fly from Newfoundland to Ireland. After they land, the stage shifts to young Frederick Douglass before the Civil War as he visits Dublin to speak and raise funds for the abolition movement. After he leaves, it's more than 100 years later and George Mitchell is leaving New York, his second wife and infant son to head toward the last stage of what will be known as the Good Friday Accords.

In each of these set pieces, the famous men touch the lives of women who are perhaps more extraordinary than they are, because they endure and they do so without celebrity or honor, without recognition or reward.

As Alcock and Brown prepare for their flight across the Atlantic, in part to win the prize money and in part to use the war-waging airplane when there are no overt battlefields, Brown is given a letter to deliver by young photographer Lottie Erlich. It is one her mother has written to someone in Ireland, a country her own mother left decades ago after hearing Douglass speak. Young Lily was inspired by Douglass and ends up as a nurse helping Union doctors in their bloody work. She started following the army after her young son, turned down twice already, goes off to fight. She ends up marrying one of the doctors but death continues to follow Lily.

Her daughter, a bookworm, becomes a writer, is used by a man, and raises a daughter of her own. They end up in Newfoundland, where the daughter hands off the letter before they go back to Ireland. She marries an Ulsterman and stays to raise a family. The daughter grows old, meets George Mitchell and wishes him success because there has been one death too many in her extended family. Her own daughter grows old and hopes the letter, which was not delivered nor opened, but which finds its way back to her, will be worth enough money to save her home.

Things that would be played up in most novels, such as how the various women feel about the various deaths, how they find the strength to carry on, what it means to them to be the ones who survive, even the letter and whether it saves the home, are not important in this novel. Time goes on and there is no tarrying.

A few setpieces do not make a novel, especially when many of the setpieces have the flat emotionless style of reportage (the George Mitchell section is particularly flat; as a friend remarked, you can almost see where McCann took notes of what Mitchell said and where he added a wee bit of flair).

Although I don't often specifically reflect on a book as being from a woman's point of view, part of the flatness of the McCann was due to his standing back and not looking at the lives of these women and the deaths of so many loved ones they survived as a mother would look at them. That does not do justice to the men who grieve for lost children and other loved ones, and is yet another reason why the McCann did not work for me.
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LibraryThing member yolana
Trans Atlantic
Colum McCann
Random House

The first half of Colum McCann's 'Trans Atlantic' reads almost like a series of long short stories and I mean this in the best possible way. He sets before the reader the journeys of Alcock and Brown, survivors of the World War I and the first aviators to make the transatlantic crossing, of Senator George Mitchell, broker of the Good Friday agreement that began to lay the troubles in Ireland to rest and of Frederick Douglass, whose visit to Ireland in 1845 reset the destiny of Lily Duggan and her descendants whose lives and journeys make up the second half of the book.

Each tale in the first half could really stand on its own and McCann has Anton Chekov's talent for the telling detail. In the first story all it takes is a simple noting of the difference in drinking styles between Alcock and Brown for the reader to see the contrast between the two (and of course their commonality).

In the second, Frederick Douglass, has come to Ireland to champion the cause of American abolition, in a land with a poverty and hunger, largely ignored by the gentry who come to hear him speak of hopes for freedom for American slaves, unlike anything he has witnesses in the States. He is paraded around the country like a prized show dog at Westminster and yet he continues to train with barbells , forged from auction house slave chains, that he brought along with him. A small ritual of defiance and strength. This is only the second book that I've read by McCann, the first being 'Let the Great World Spin', but I must say that in both I really enjoyed his portrayal of black characters. It's very unexpected in a white author, and an Irish one at that. As an black woman myself I often find myself rolling my eyes as 'the magic negro' enters stage left. Not so with McCann, and his Douglass is a finely drawn portrayal of a whole man.

In the last he tells the story of George Mitchell, called away from his wife and new son, back to the political arena to try and end the troubles in Northern Ireland. This last was disconcerting for me, not because it wasn't well written, but rather because I have memories of hearing about the troubles in Ireland and it would seem that events that happened during my life are now historical as far as fiction is concerned.

The second half ties together these disparate lives through tracing the matrilineal descendants of Lily Duggan, the maid in the house where Frederick Douglass stayed for part of his time in Ireland, and who was inspired by him to make the journey to the New World. I think it's best to discover these knowing as little in advance as possible. It leads to wonderful moments of recognition, the oh-I-know-him/her moment. The last words of McCann's in his afterword are (this is an ARC not the final copy but I think it's okay to quote here since it's not part of the actual novel) “I will thank them quietly along the way, all of us together aloft.” The same could be said for the characters in the book, their comings and goings creating acts of grace and gratitude in each other's lives.
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LibraryThing member Rosareads
This is an Advanced Readers Copy. It's difficult to categorize this wonderful historical novel by Colum McCann. The author takes snippets of true history--The first transatlantic flight, Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland, George Mitchell's efforts at Irish peace--and weaves a tapestry that comes together in a family saga. It is another version of the concept of "six degrees of separation." We are all tied together by six interconnecting steps. TransAtlantic is a a rewarding read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
[this review is of the Advanced Reader's Edition
This is a fine weaving of history, genealogy, and fiction. In telling these stories with connections to Ireland, McCann moves back and forth in time and back and forth across the Atlantic, so that, combined, the stories become an historical fiction/mystery novel. McCann takes the reader into the American Abolitionist movement; the Alcock and Brown flight; the 1998 Easter Accords; and generations of a family whose stories connect to these historical events. Though McCann builds this house starting with the second story, his almost magical control of the overall structure, and his wonderful prose, mean that the reader has only to trust in the author and be carried along as the story unfolds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this work, and can't imagine that anyone would not. But then again, I love history, Ireland, and genealogy, so, perhaps, I was meant to read this. Nevertheless, I recommend this read without reservation.

Os.
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LibraryThing member Grist
The lyricism of McCann's previous novel, "Let the Great World Spin," flowed with less effort than is apparent in "Transatlantic," though he new book does engage in the same kind of time-hopping. The title refers to various travelings between North America and Ireland, including that of actual (nonfictional) people like Alcock and Brown, who were the first to make the trip by airplane in 1919, Frederick Douglass, who visited Ireland in 1the 1840s, and George Mitchell, the former US senator who was involved in peace negotiations in Ireland in the 1990s. These sections are better researched than imagined, and are sometimes downright dull, especially the Mitchell part. The Douglass part is also not entirely convincing. (A curious aside: some of the least convincing parts of "Let the Great World Spin" were also done from the perspective.of an African-American). Throughout the book, McCann dutifully goes down the list of all the Irish historical and cultural memories of the past two hundred years that you'd expect. Potato famine? Check. The Troubles? Check. Boozing? Check. A way with words? Check. It's all rather rote.
More promising are the (presumably) nonhistorical characters, generations of a family whose stories are interwoven with the famous folks'. McCann seems more emotionally invested in these people, and his writing feels less restricted. Still, you can easily see coming everything that happens to them. Because this a novel takes place in the times and places it does, you just know someone is going to die a pointless, violent death. McCann does his best to minimize the political particulars of the death and focus on the private toll it takes on the characters, but it's hard to feel the impact of a character that is introduced merely to be killed off.
I think McCann is a talented writer, but this book didn't do it for me.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
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 Douglas 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 when 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 mnay 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 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.
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LibraryThing member Laura400
This was a very enjoyable book, fast-paced but meaningful.

To spend time with a Colum McCann book is to experience a generous imagination, a sensitive eye and beautiful writing. It wasn't until I finished this book that I realized how carefully constructed this novel is. My favorite chapter was about Frederick Douglass, which could stand on its own, I think. But even the chapters that were less obviously stand-alone pieces were essential to the weave of McCann's story. Simply put, it is a story of the trans-Atlantic relationship between America, on the one hand, and Ireland and Northern Ireland on the other. In McCann's hands, it is thought-provoking and moving. It's a book that I think anyone will appreciate, from a wonderful writer.… (more)
LibraryThing member kbuchanan
I received this book through LT Early Reviewers. This book is well worth a read. In the tradition of McCann's previous novels, the writing here is of an extremely high calibre. He takes what could have been a run-of-the-mill plot device--an old letter holds secrets, and through the novel we see its history, ala "The Red Violin"--and has given us instead a unique and truly lovely work whose characters are fully-developed individuals in their own right. The presentation of real-life historical figures in this novel, such as Frederick Douglass, avoids many of the pitfalls of stodgy or cautious writing that appear in many other historical novels. McCann is not afraid to give us lush and complex language, and the focus here is really on the women who experience these figures and the courses that their lives take. In many ways, this is a novel about journeys and language. The challenge of putting into language subjects that seem to be beyond it, some because they are momentous and some because they are very small and infinitely close and intimate is a fascinating thread to follow in this novel.

The work strikes successfully a very difficult balance. We will obviously not find here a thriller of an action novel, but it is not inaccessibly dense either. The richness of McCann's writing, appropriately described as "lyrical," could draw many comparisons to prose poetry, but this may make it sound more off-putting to some readers than it is. Like the novel's many "flights," McCann's writing may soar to points of breathless beauty, but it returns, at the end, to something grounded and authentic. Amongst a sea of historical novels that attempt to give us history with multiple narrators down through the years, this is one that is well worth the journey.
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LibraryThing member chrissie3
Close your eyes and picture me smiling.

That is me after finishing this book. I was so very satisfied, pleased, happy. I think this book is fantastic.

McCann has perfect dialogs, be they set centuries earlier or two years ago. His books do demand that you pay close attention, but they deliver a message that is worth the reader's effort. He skillfully interweaves historical events into fiction. His characters come alive. Every single sentence has a purpose. His ability to put the reader in another time or place cannot be improved upon. I absolutely love his writing.

You may choose this book to learn about the Abolitionist Movement or Suffragist Movement or the Good Friday Accords or Transatlantic navigation or to understand how "there isn't a story in the world that isn't addressed to the past." What does that tell us in how we should live our own lives?

I listened to the audiobook narration by Geraldine Hughes. Me, I love the Irish dialect. Perfect.

Completed June 21, 2013
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LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
Transatlantic
This is a wonderful story with Ireland as the centrepiece of a narrative that crosses several generations. It starts in 1919 with the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown and their landing in Ireland. This is followed by the lectures given by Frederick Douglass in 1845-1846 in Dublin and elsewhere to promote the abolition of slavery worldwide. In 1998, American Senator George Mitchell is the lead negotiator in the talks that end the troubles in Northern Ireland culminating in the Good Friday accord.
So, this sets the stage for the other characters who although minor in the grand scheme are impacted and affected by the three famous people in interesting ways that we follow for the rest of the story. Lily Duggan, Emily Ehrlich, their children, grandchildren and an undelivered letter provide a fascinating tell in America, Newfoundland and Ireland.
The characters are really well developed against the historic background, wonderful descriptions of weather, internal monologues, tragedy, sadness, grief and joy.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Alcock and Brown and the first non-stop transatlantic flight. Frederick Douglass in Ireland. Senator George Mitchell working for peace in Ireland. Three entirely different stories that jump without any segue from one to another. Amazingly, it works very well. If you think you don't like reading too much history in your fiction, don't let these stories scare you off, because they are fascinating on their own, even before the ties begin to reveal themselves.

There is a tie, and the stories as they unfold are wonderful, but I don't want to give away too much of the story. There is a perfect balance of nonfiction and the tale that binds it. McCann's writing is smart, sometimes beautifully descriptive and sometimes staccato phrases shot at the reader. I loved every word of this book.

I was given an advance copy of the book for review for which I am grateful.
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LibraryThing member mckait
If there is a key player in this story, TransAtlantic: A Novel by Colum McCann, it is Lily Duggin. Lily is thread, the spirit, that runs through each story. Lily and the women of her own family bind these stories together. Lily, whose life began by scrabbling to survive being born to parents who didn't have the capacity or ability to love and cherish. Perhaps they were too damaged by their own struggles? But their failures contributed to Lily's strength and her will to survive.

This novel seems at first to be a series of short stores, with little or no connection. It opens with the story of two survivors of WWI who build and repurpose a plane, one that at one time dropped bombs, took lives and then flew back into the night. They had both experienced life as prisoners. They not acquainted until the thunder of the war had dimmed to a small rumble in the background of their lives. The met, and together claimed for themselves, a mission. To fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic ocean. They found a way to attempt to make this dream trip a possibility.

What could be more hopeless than to be a slave? Frederick Douglass first escaped hopelessness, and then he escaped slavery. He started a family and became an author, an abolitionist, and a great speaker. He was hosted in 1845 by Richard Webb, with whom he traveled through Ireland to speak of his life, and recognized the similarity of the plight of the poor in that country. A plight characterized by a lack of hope. This was also the beginning of the time known as The Great Famine. Douglass carried the weight of his experiences of that time as he traveled. Ireland suffered the famine, and The Troubles, years of seeking freedom South from North. It seemed that for them this would never be possible.

George Mitchell, a former American Senator had an interest Ireland finding its freedom, its peace. It is1998 and we find him devoting days of his life away from his young family.He is on a mission to stop the killing. To seeing to it that each family will have its full complement of members sitting down to supper each night. No more tears. No more senseless death. Hopelessness again rears its ugly head, but it is pushed back, refused. Mitchell is a man who is determined to see this job done. Protestants and Catholics brought together at last, a dream or a real possibility?

Common themes, war, hopelessness, strength and selflessness resonate through this story. The women of Lily's family appear again and again, as we flow back and forth through the years. More common threads. A quote that stayed with me from this story is :"There is always room for at least two truths". Perhaps one of these truths is that we are all connected through time, through family and through our experiences.
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LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
I received an Advanced Reader's Copy from Library Thing i nexchange for an honest review. This is the first book I've read by Mr. McCann and it won't be my last. I've already ordered a copy of his "Let the Great World Spin." It has received outstanding reviews so I am looking forward to reading it.

TransAtlantic is a beautiful novel in which Mr. McCann must have put consideralbe research and effort. The book covers about 150 years and takes place in Ireland, America and Newfoundland. It gets off to an interesting, but slow, start. I was determined to stay with it and I'm really glad I did. It's divided into three books, and the second and third books are much more fast-moving than book one.

Involved are history-making Frederick Douglass, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, and former Senator George Mitchell. These men are woven together with four generations of women beginning with an Irish maid. It also touches on the famine in Ireland during the mid-1800's.

This is quality writing at its best. What a talent Mr. McCann is!! I can't wait to read "Let the Great World Spin."
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LibraryThing member rhussey174
I very much enjoyed this novel: the story is engaging, the structure is interesting, and the sentences are strong. I was absorbed in the book the whole way through. McCann weaves stories of everyday people in with famous figures such as Frederick Douglass and George Mitchell, and he brings it all together deftly. It's a great portrait of Ireland's history over the last two years as well. Recommended if you like realistic fiction, especially of the historical variety.… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzer
This remarkable novel explores Irish-American connections at multiple levels and over time. The narrators were both real and fictional. The sections on the early flight from Newfoundland to Ireland by Alcock and Brown; the visit to Ireland by Frederick Douglass; and the peace negotiations to end the “troubles” from the perspective of George Mitchell were fictionalized versions of real events and quite effective at setting the stage for many of the themes (emancipation, flight, civil war, race and emancipation, loss). Despite the importance of these sections, the soul of the novel clearly is embodied in the four female fictional narrators. After being inspired by Douglass (quite unbeknownst to him), Lily emigrates to America, making a life of hard work and raising a large family, but losing her son to war and husband to accident. Her daughter, Emily, is the second narrator and is seen returning to Ireland with her own daughter, Lottie. There she meets Brown and is given a letter that was entrusted to him by her mother, but never delivered. This letter remains unopened until the end of the novel and seems to serve as a symbol of the frequent failure of communication and unrealized potential between the two cultures. Lottie marries a man from Northern Ireland and has her own daughter, Hannah. They also experience tragic loss due to civil war. The last section of the novel follows Hannah through her efforts to maintain the family home in Northern Ireland.

McCann’s writing is lyrical and filled with striking images. He develops the characters of the four women as strong, resourceful, artistic and well grounded. However, a few more faults may have made them more believable. He is also quite skillful at imagining his non-fictional characters through interior dialogues. The novel has the feel of a much longer narrative than it actually is. This is a testament to McCann’s ability.
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LibraryThing member knittingmomof3
TransAtlantic by Colum McMann is one of those rare books that sweeps the reader away from the first page and makes the reader want to reread it again as soon as one has finished the last sentence. The writing is exceptional, the places and characters are splendid and I cannot possibly do justice to this beautiful work of literature. I recommend TransAtlantic by Colum McMann without reservation, especially to discussion groups. Enjoy!… (more)

Pages

304

ISBN

1400069599 / 9781400069590
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