Transatlantic. Colum McCann. Random House Publishing Group. June 2013. 320 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781400069590.
Four stories are interwoven in this novel of escaping the boundaries of earth and soaring to a peaceful yet ecstatic state of mind and soul. Yet this is the stuff of history so often given noble status and sometimes just ignored as a cog in a wheel. Colum McCann gives all equally dignified and seminal status!
First we read about the first flight in 1919 from England to Ireland of Arthur Brown and his transatlantic team, flying a former bomber plane used in the First World War. One carries a letter that never gets delivered but will show up years and years later to be given dubious recognition.
Then we meet Frederick Douglass who arrives in Ireland in 1845 and again in 1846 to speak and listen about the emancipation of slavery while he observes the beginning of the Great Famine and the hatred between Ireland and England over the fight for Irish independence.
The story of George Mitchell’s diplomatic quest in 1998 for Irish Independence is told from multiple perspectives, but it’s mainly Mitchell’s perseverance and frustration that stands out vividly in a cause with so many points of view and demands that it’s mind-boggling. It feels hopeless yet Mitchell never gives up hope, even as he truly yearns to be home in America with his wife and infant son.
One young woman is inspired by Frederick Douglass’s eloquent speech about freedom and her story is the multigenerational story told for the last portion of the novel. This is a story about women whose strength is what forges great nations behind the scenes and beyond the ephemeral talk and ideas of politicians, poets and storytellers themselves.
It takes a bit of time before one begins to connect the dots in this very fine historical and contemporary novel. It’s truly a timeless classic work of fiction presented in a highly literate yet readable style. While it doesn’t brook foolish theories or deny the negative aspects of people or issues, it dreams larger than the muck it seeks to surmount. For that it deserves great praise and high recommendations!!!