Pick of the Week: "Transatlantic'' by Colum McCann
Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and Teddy Brown, and U.S. Senator George Mitchell play key roles in "TransAtlantic.''
With "TransAtlantic'', Colum McCann (National Book Club Winner for "Let the Great World Spin'') has created an artful, layered novel about how four generations of women intersect with four famous men destined to make history.
McCann brilliantly weaves the various stories together, starting with the men who make headlines when they cross the Atlantic to Ireland. In 1845-46, Frederick Douglass is a runaway slave who travels from the United States to Ireland to promote his autobiography and the cause of abolition in the states. In 1919, World War I pilots John Alcock and Teddy Brown are the first to fly across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland. And in 1998, U.S. Senator George Mitchell is tapped by President Bill Clinton to broker a peace agreement in divided Northern Ireland.
During his travels in Ireland, Frederick Douglass encounters a poor housemaid named Lily Duggan, who is inspired by the abolitionist to seek a better life in America. Her daughter Emily is a gifted journalist who settles in Newfoundland and writes about the flight of Alcott and Brown. Emily and her daughter Lottie eventually move to Northern Ireland, where Lottie meets Senator Mitchell while he is trying to negotiate a peace agreement. The story of Lottie's daughter, Hannah, wraps up the novel.
I especially enjoyed the chapter about the quiet, dignified George Mitchell, and wondered how he felt about being depicted in a novel. I read that McCann actually had Senator Mitchell and his wife read and approve parts of the book to authenticate the story and tone. “TransAtlantic’’ is a beautifully penned story that I will want to reread just to enjoy McCann’s craftsmanship as a writer.