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TransAtlantic: A Novel Paperback – May 20, 2014
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An 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. McCann then loops back to 1863 to launch the saga of the women we’ve briefly met throughout Book One, beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, whose bold escape from her troubled homeland cracks open the world for her daughter and granddaughter. 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. (Describing Lily’s first view of America: “New York appeared like a cough of blood.”) The finale is a melancholy set piece that ties it all together--an unopened letter, “passed from daughter to daughter, and through a succession of lives,” becomes the book’s mysterious token, an emblem of a world grown smaller. McCann reminds us that life is hard, and it is a wonder, and there is hope. --Neal Thompson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* In 1919, British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight, from Newfoundland to Ireland. McCann, in his first novel since the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin (2009), imagines a letter handed to Brown by a young photographer, written by her mother, Emily, a local reporter covering the flight, to be delivered upon their landing to a family in Cork. Years earlier, while on a speaking tour in Ireland with the mission to raise money for the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass forms a bond with young Isabel, the daughter of his host family in Cork. Lily, a young servant, emboldened by Douglass’ visit, sets out for America, in the hope of a better life. About a century and a half later, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell is coaxed out of retirement to broker talks between the various factions, with the intention of getting a peace agreement by Good Friday. At the tennis club, he meets a woman in her nineties who, years earlier, had lost her grandson to the Troubles. It is Lily and her offspring’s stories—set across different times and in many different places—that ultimately tie everything together, as McCann creates complex, vivid characters (historical and otherwise) while expertly mixing fact and fancy to create this emotionally involving and eminently memorable novel. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Prepub buzz about McCann’s latest suggests it will be among the summer’s leading literary fiction titles. --Ben Segedin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The story begins in 1919, with the planning and actual nonstop transatlantic flight by two British airmen, Alcock and Brown, who flew from Newfoundland to Galway in their old bomber. This is an exhilarating story and flight. Along the way we meet a journalist, Emily Ehrlich, and her daughter, Lottie. They have an up close meeting with Alcock and Brown, as Emily is covering their flight. We move on to the visit of the great black man, Frederick Douglass, as he stomps through Ireland in 1845, during the Great Famine, lecturing about his autobiography, without a worry about the racism he faces back in the United States. We meet Lily Duggan, who was a maid at the home of Douglass's host. And, then, my favorite of the stories, George Mitchell and his time in 1998, negotiating a truce between England and the Irish Republic. Mitchell is a new father in his second marriage, and every two weeks he flies fromhis home in New York City to Ireland and then to Washington, DC. He gathers information, talks to all the involved parties, and then flies home to New York for a few days, where he starts the traveling again. We learn of is life in this time and the people he meets and greets, and one of these people is Lottie.
In the second portion of the book, these women, Emily, Lottie and Lily have a more profound impact, as they are the features of the rest of the story. These women tie all of the stories together. It seems simple enough, however, the stories are wonderful and fulfilling. The writing is superb, and we are drawn into the sense of history. It is not until the second half, however, that the stories come to the fore, in the days and nights of the lives of these women. Colum Mccan is a skillful writer, his words come to life, jump off the pages. I was not satisfied enough, however, something seemed to be missing, a little morsel that was left unsaid, but, maybe that is just me.
Recommended. prisrob 07-11-13