TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

LibraryThing’s batch of author interviews for the month include Julie Wu, author of debut novel The Third Son (which I wrote about in March) and Colum McCann, author of Let The Great World Spin and, most recently, TransAtlantic. I picked up a galley of TransAtlantic from the Random House booth at the Massachusetts Library Association conference last month, in part because I had both enjoyed and been impressed by Let The Great World Spin. Many books are enjoyable, and many books are impressive, but the two don’t always overlap.

TransAtlanticTransAtlantic takes place in three discrete time periods around three significant events: Frederick Douglass’ trip to Ireland in 1845, WWI pilots Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown’s flight from England to Ireland in 1919, and George Mitchell’s diplomatic efforts to end the Troubles in 1998. However, these characters are not the only main characters; four generations of women, beginning with Lily Duggan, a maid in the household that hosts Frederick Douglass, are also connected to these events.

The different time periods, events, and character relationships are a lot for a reader to keep track of, and in the end I found that the book left impressions rather than memories. Any one of the three central stories would have been enough for a book on its own, but McCann’s style is to twine many narratives together into one. I’m not sure he succeeds here as completely as in Let The Great World Spin, but the writing is absolutely beautiful (especially if you happen to be a fan of sentence fragments, which I am).

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