TransAtlantic (McCann)

TransAtlantic
Colum McCann, 2013
Random House
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 978140006959



Summary
In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.”

Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

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—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1965
Where—Dublin, Ireland
Awards—Pushcart Prize; Rooney Prize; Hennessy Award for 
   Irish Literature; Irish Independent Hughes and Hughes/
   Sunday Independent Novel of the Year; Ireland Fund 
   of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award;
   Deauville Festival of Cinema Literary Prize; named French
   Chevalier des arts et lettres; inducted into Ireland's
   Aosdana
Currently—lives in New York City


Colum McCann is an Irish writer of literary fiction—two collections of short stories and several novels, most recently TransAtlantic (2013). He is a Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College, New York and a regular visitor to the European Graduate School.

McCann's fiction has been published in 35 languages. His novels include Songdogs (1995), This Side of Brightness (1998), Dancer (2003), Zoli (2006), Let the Great World Spin (2009), and TransAtlantic (2013). He has written for numerous newspapers and periodicals, including the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Times (of London), Irish Times, Granta, and La Repubblica. His short story "Everything in this Country Must" was made into a short film directed by Gary McKendry. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

Early and private life
McCann was born in Dublin and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology He began his career as a reporter for the Irish Press, and had his own column and byline by the age of 21.

In 1986 he arrived in the United States with the purpose of writing a novel. He soon found that he was lacking the life experience to undertake such a project, so he took a bicycle tour across North America for the next 18 months, collecting many of the experiences that he later said influenced his fiction, especially the wide range of voices and backgrounds of his characters.

He settled in Texas from 1988 until 1991 where he worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas, and completed his B.A in the University of Texas. In 1992 he married Allison Hawke and moved to Japan, where the McCanns lived for a year and a half. He and his wife then moved to New York where they currently reside with their three children, Isabella, John Michael, and Christian.

Major works
McCann's 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin uses the true story of Philippe Petit as a "pull-through metaphor" and weaves together a powerful allegory of 9/11. The novel has won numerous honours, notably the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  In 2010, McCann and musician Joe Hurley cowrote a song-cycle—“The House That Horse Built (Let the Great World Spin)”—based on the character of Tillie.

On 16 June 2009, McCann published a Bloomsday remembrance of his long-deceased grandfather, whom he met only once, and of finding him again in the pages of James Joyce's Ulysses.

McCann's 2013 novel Transatlantic tells the intertwined stories of Alcock and Brown (the first non-stop transatlantic fliers in 1919), the visit of Frederick Douglass to Ireland in 1845/46, and the story of the Irish peace process as negotiated by Senator George Mitchell in 1998. The book fuses these stories with fictional narratives of women spanning the course of two centuries. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/22/2013.)



Book Reviews
In 1919, two British veterans pilot a Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland.... In 1845, escaped American slave Frederick Douglass comes to Ireland at the start of the famine on a speaking tour.... In 1998...American Senator George Mitchell brokers the Good Friday Peace Accords. Darting in, past, and through these stories are generations of women...with sons lost to the civil wars of both continents. This is what interests McCann: lives made amid and despite violence; the hidden braids of places, times, and people.... While each story is interesting, the threads between them...aren’t pulled taut enough by shared meaning.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) A masterful and profoundly moving novel that employs exquisite language to explore the limits of language and the tricks of memory.... [A]udacious in format (hopscotching back and forth across an ocean, centuries, generations)... [McCann] interweaves historical and fictional truth.... The novel's narrative strategy runs deeper than literary gamesmanship, as the blurring of distinctions between past and present, and between one side of the ocean and the other, with the history of struggle, war and emancipation as a backdrop, represents the thematic thread that connects it all.... A beautifully written novel, an experience to savor.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. In this novel, Colum McCann writes about four men: Jack Alcock, Teddy Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Senator George Mitchell. Were you familiar with any or all of these figures before reading TransAtlantic? Did what you learn about them surprise you? Do you find their journeys thematically linked?

2. As Alcock and Brown fly across the Atlantic they have several close calls, including a moment when their plane spins out of control and a rough landing, all in the fierce cold and damp. Do you think anyone could, nowadays, make the same sort of journey they did? Why or why not? What sorts of physical challenges remain for adventurers and explorers?

3. Douglass forms relationships with several women in the novel: we see him write home to his wife, Anna, but he also indelibly shapes the maid Lily and becomes friends with Isabel Jennings. What do you think draws these very different people together? How do these small threads eventually create a tapestry?

4. Why do you think Lily follows Douglass to America? What does she hope to find there? Does this novel confront the impossibility of the American dream?

5. Book One is not chronological: after Alcock and Brown’s flight in 1919, we travel back to Douglass’s tour of Ireland in 1845, and then move forward once more to 1998 and Mitchell. How would your reading of the novel change if this section were differently arranged? What would happen to the novel if the sections concerning the women were woven directly into the stories of the men?

6. In the third section of the book, McCann takes us into the mind of Senator George Mitchell during the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. What do you know about the Irish “Troubles”? How does Mitchell’s story enrich or change what you already knew?

7. The novel is structured so we meet the four men, seemingly unrelated, first—and then learn that women connected to all of them are multiple generations of one family. Why do you think McCann structures TransAtlantic in this way? What do the very male first half of the book and the very female second half tell us about men, women, and how we legislate history?

8. Lily loses most of the men she loves—the father of her first son, Tad; her sons, Tad, Adam, and Benjamin; and her husband, Jon. What do you think gives her the strength to continue on and become a successful merchant? Do you admire her? What does this say about the role of women in history?

9. In the course of TransAtlantic we see many technologies—to which we’re well accustomed today—at the moments they were still new, including airplanes, cameras, and automobiles. What does the novel tell us about these devices and how they bring people together (and tear people apart)?

10. There are two civil wars in the novel: the American Civil War, in which Lily loses her son, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which takes Lottie’s grandson, Hannah’s son. What does TransAtlantic show us about war? Who are its victims?

11. Why do you think Hannah leaves the letter behind with her hosts?

12. Some of the characters in the novel are based on real figures; others are entirely fictional. Is it easy to tell the two apart? How do these sets of characters illuminate one another? McCann has said in interviews that “the real is often imagined,” and “the imagined is often real.” What do you think he means by this?

13. The novel begins with an Eduardo Galeano quote that ends, “the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.” Why do you think McCann chose to open TransAtlantic this way? How do you see the stories in the novel—“the time that was”—relating to today, “the time that is”?

14. As its title suggests, TransAtlantic is about Ireland and North America, and the ideas and people that cross between the two. What do you feel makes this international relationship special? What draws families and individuals back and forth between these countries?

15. What is the function of the Prologue of the novel, set in 2012? How does it frame the novel? How does it tie in with the last line of the book? What is McCann suggesting about the circularity of human experience?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014