Transatlantic by Collum McCann (2009)

imagesThough I liked his previous book—Let the Great World Spin—a bit better, there is much to like about this one as well.  I haven’t read his other four books, but these two have a lot in common.  In both novels (if they are, in fact, novels) we get essentially a series of short stories that relate and connect, but it usually takes some rereading to see the connections.  Maybe if I read the whole book in one sitting, I wouldn’t have needed to reread, but since I too often get interruptions lasting a few or several days, my feeble brain needed to go back a few times to figure out some of the connections in both characters and time. I like the way McCann weaves history and fiction.  Like Great World, he centers the book around a few historical events.  British aviators John Alcock and Arthur (Teddy) Whitten Brown fly their WWI Vickers Vimy  from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919.  And  later in the book we get Frederick Douglass visiting Ireland speaking about abolition (I’m assuming this is a historical fact). Mixed in with those two events, McCann give us a series of fictional characters, including 4 generations of women from an Irish family.  So we get Irish history, American history, current conflict in Northern Ireland, and politics told through three plot lines and three time periods.  The thread that pulls this all together is a letter that crossed the Atlantic on the 1919 flight, and though it feels a bit of a stretch at times, the letter winds its way through all the stories which continually shift back and forth in time.  A good read—really enjoyed this book. (fiction)

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