Friday, August 23, 2013

Review: Transatlantic by Colum Mccann

A wonderfully satisfying read for a number of reasons:
  •  Connected short stories to form a larger story are a favorite genre. 
  • The underlying setting - Ireland - is one I'm interested in but had not taken time to learn more about.
  • The three main characters, Frederick O. Douglas, the flying team of Alcock and Brown, who flew across the Atlantic before Charles Lindbergh, and finally George Mitchell, the U.S. emissary whose flights between the US and Ireland helped cement the Good Friday accords are fascinating to read about.
Each character's story is told individually, but then McCann weaves in the lives of "smaller" but more important players - a fictional generational story of women whose relationships with the main characters (or their missions) ties the episodes together. The women make the story what it is. This is a sub-genre of fiction that works well in skilled hands like McCann.  The ability to weave together seemingly disparate lives, missions, outcomes and intentions is done brilliantly.  For awhile, the reader is left wondering  Apart from the interesting fictionalized accounts of each of the three main stories, is there a point?  But as the second part of the book unwinds, and the other characters begin to intertwine, the reader is treated to a surprising epiphany of McCann's thesis which appears to be that the US was very involved for centuries with Ireland: their people, their politics, their "troubles" with the English.

It certainly is a different format that takes a bit of work on the part of the reader, but McCann's prose is so clear and unfrilly that subtle meanings emerge almost subliminally.  This is going to be a talked-about and popular book because of the subject matter, but ultimately, it's the writing that should draw the highest praise.

Title: Transatlantic
Author: Colum McCann
Publisher:Random House (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Irish rebellion and "troubles"
Setting: US, Missouri, Newfoundland, Ireland
Source: Review copy from publisher
Why did I read this book now? Consideration for Maine Readers Choice 2014 longlist


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