TransAtlantic (McCann)

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

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
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
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

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