Groundbreaking Reads: 'TransAtlantic'
Published on Friday, August 2, 2013 - 5:05pm
Colum McCann's latest novel, TransAtlantic, is the story of journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, from North America to Ireland, spanning 150 years. Much like in Let the Great World Spin, McCann uses a common thread--in this case, transatlantic voyages and a family of women-- to tie many unique stories together.
This is an ambitious novel spanning generations of history; historical journeys include Frederick Douglass' visit to Ireland during the potato famine, the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown, and an American politician who assists with the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Fictional stories of a family of women weave between these stories and tie the novel together. The reader sees these historical events play out and impact the lives of this family through four generations.
I really enjoyed this novel. McCann doesn't waste prose over-explaining himself or his characters. Each chapter can stand alone as an independent story, and despite the overarching themes tying the stories together and the political turmoils happening in the background, each chapter is narrative-based, focused singularly on the character's experience and personal account. The characters are lively and well imagined, and each section is a first person narrative by a different character. Some characters cross over into one another's narratives, while others appear only once.
For anyone interested in reading TransAtlantic, I highly recommend brushing up on Irish history. Just a basic understanding of the political climate in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will aid the reader in fully grasping the significance of certain events -- both tragedies and triumphs -- as well as the irony of Douglass' reception in Ireland. This knowledge was very beneficial to my enjoyment of this novel.
Simply put, this novel is brilliant, heartbreaking, and satisfying. McCann's signature way of storytelling -- scattering fragments of the novel throughout time and geography (in this case, Ireland, Canada, and the United States), and leaving the reader to piece them together--is masterfully crafted in TransAtlantic. A reader might wonder what Frederick Douglass, a transatlantic flight, and an American politician working in Ireland have in common, but it all comes together without obvious effort through the stories of the women living in these times.