Tuesday, June 11, 2013

“TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann – The Irish Connection

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Book cover)
Though many of you may not be familiar with him, Colum McCann is one of the most celebrated authors on an international scale, even winning the National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin. He is known as being one of the most profound and enthralling storytellers out there, and I believe he confirms that line of thinking in his latest work, TransAtlantic.

Basically, it tells three separate stories, set in different countries and different time periods. The first one takes place in Newfoundland in 1919 as two pilots try to fly across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping, plotting their course for Ireland. The second story takes place in Dublin in 1845 and 1846, as Frederick Douglass tries to recruit people to his cause during one of the worst famines that ever ravaged the country. Finally, the last story takes place in New York in 1998, as a man leaves his life for Belfast where he must oversee North Ireland’s peace talks.

As you can guess, though the stories start out on their own, but as things get nearer the ending it becomes increasingly clear how they are intertwined. More precisely, all of them are connected by a few quite remarkable Irish women whose actions end up having repercussions years, decades, and even centuries after they were committed. As expected from a McCann book, the storytelling is exceptional; he manages to build very believable and atmospheric settings without spending entire chapters on descriptions, things keep moving at a brisk pace, giving you the chance to enjoy the scenery and the characters inhabiting it. From a technical perspective, I don’t see how McCann could have done any better than this.

Of course, the author’s genius isn’t merely limited to the writing style; underneath the many story layers and sub-plots lies a profound exploration how history affects who we are and the decisions we make, how it and the actions of others lead to the creation of our identity. In the end, perhaps McCann wanted to use this epic novel to transmit a message to us: despite the fact that life can’t be anything but hard for most people, it remains a true wonder that deserves to be cherished and taken care of. This should be a mandatory read for all those who like epic stories that stretch through long periods of time.


Colum McCann (February 28, 1965)

Colum McCann


Personal site

Colum McCann is an Irish author who now lives in New York. He is a notable professor of Creative Writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at the Hunter College in New York. His works have been translated into more than 35 languages, with his more noteworthy efforts as an author including This Side of Brightness, Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic. He is the recipient of many awards and honors, including numerous honorary degrees and literary prizes for best novel.

More of the Colum McCann's book reviews:
Let the Great World Spin

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