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.
This book has been sitting on my bookshelf since it was published in 2013. Why it has taken me so long to get around to it I’m not sure, but when this years Reading Ireland Month/Begorrathon (hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at The Fluff is Raging) rolled around I was determined this would be one of the books I’d read. I’m glad I finally took the leap.
Spanning 150 years, TransAtlantic follows one family of women as they criss-cross the Atlantic during pivotal moments in the histories of Ireland and America.
There is little overarching plot beyond tracking this family of women through history. The story is presented in vignettes in which we get snapshots of the women. 1845 – 1846, the famine has arrived in Ireland as has Douglas Hyde, and we meet Lily Duggan a maid in the house in Dublin in which Hyde stays, before taking a coffin ship for what she believes will be a better life in America. 1919, Brown and Alcock are attempting the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland. There to witness and report on the event on Lily Duggan’s daughter and granddaughter Emily and Lottie Ehrlich. 1998 and Senator George Mitchell is attempting to end the Troubles, cheered on by Lottie and her daughter Hannah. Jumping forward and back across this 150 year span we come to know and love these unconventional, amazing,strong and resilient family of women.
It takes skill to tell a story with no significant action or culmination in the plot, yet it is one McCann has mastered. It also takes skill to produce such a collection of interesting and equally strong characters. I honestly would find it hard to choose my favourite though if I absolutely had to it would probably be Lottie, though there is honestly little in it. All portrayed in beautifully constructed prose in which the various cities and places come alive, and will weave a spell over the reader.
I shall be most certainly be adding more McCann to be TBR list….and hopefully it won’t take me 3 years to read the next book.