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TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
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TransAtlantic (2013)

by Colum McCann

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8941359,875 (4.12)271
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Showing 1-5 of 133 (next | show all)
Colum McCann is a consummate stylist. Of that, there’s little doubt. But he sometimes paints with prose the way a pointillist paints with oils – and this style can be exhausting if ingested in large chunks. When you come away from one of his portraits, you’re left with a distinct image of the character he’s describing – perhaps in exactly the same way you’re left with a distinct image after studying a pointillist’s painting up close and over a long period of time. You’re also exhausted.

Sentences are often short. Punctuation, sparse. Like this. With no waste of words. But sometimes, abrupt. Truncated – and idiosyncratically so. Not to mention dense.


And speaking of a “tangled skein of connections” (p. 260), the connective tissue between these chapters and books (since the novel is divided into three of the latter) is, at times, a tad difficult to decipher, given the apparent nonlinearity of the novel itself. A graphic family tree spanning the several generations might’ve helped me in my understanding of the various stories and their interconnectedness.


As for the occasional Oops! … we find on pp. 25 – 26 “(i)t is one of the many things that brings (sic!) a smile to Alcock’s lips…”. Then, on p. 252, “(t)here is no seal, no insignias, no discernible shape to what may lay (sic!) inside.” And am I wrong in suggesting that “him” is the wrong case in “(s)he used to say that she was younger than him…” on p. 261 and elsewhere in the book?


But for a larger critique – and I offer this one of an author as accomplished as Colum McCann clearly is with a great deal of hesitation – it seemed to me that there was often a tad too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing.’ I’d like to think this impression was largely a function of my own faulty concentration rather than any shortcoming on McCann’s part – but for the time being, and until I read another one of his books, I’ll let it stand.


What I will say in favor of this novel is that McCann captures the peculiar sadness of the ‘Irish story’ perfectly and without that blast of pyrotechnics, sentimentality or even kitsch that too often colors everything from the Great Famine to the Troubles -- and right up through those present St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Boston and New York that seem to drown in green beer, drunken antics and self-pity. For this, I’m even willing to overlook his one mention of ‘the gloaming.’


I’m sorry I can’t conjure up as much enthusiasm for TransAtlantic as I did for Let the Great World Spin, but we can’t all hit the bull’s eye all of the time. And maybe, just maybe, McCann's target was too refined for my once-sturdier powers of discernment, now in a state of inexorable atrophy.


On a parting note, I must say that a couple (Aoibheann and David Manyaki) introduced only at the very tail-end of the book is one of the most delightful I’ve ever found in literature – and that it's worth the whole ‘cost’ of the book just to meet them. While they may never be as memorable as some of Dickens’s more notable characters, they’re anything but caricaturesque. In fact, they’re very real. And present. And recognizable, however idealized.


RRB
11/23/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
McCann's short rhythmic sentences are mesmerizing; as if there is an invisible metronome alongside, clicking, keeping time. Not to everyone's taste, but after a couple of futile attempts to ignore the metronome I got used to it. Eventually I realized the measured tempo added to the story in some places.

Having originated in Northern Ireland, the chapter describing Senator George Mitchell's participation in the Northern Ireland peace talks was of particular interest to me. The task must have been difficult to the point of being virtually unattainable. He was obviously the perfect choice for the job.

The combination of history, biography, location and storytelling, makes for a clever, entertaining, and impressively interesting read. ( )
  VivienneR | Dec 10, 2014 |
This is my second novel by Colum McCann -- the other was This Side of Brightness -- and he is certainly one of the best writers and story-tellers I've read in a while.

This story is based on three historical events: Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland; the first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown; and Senator Mitchell's attempts to broker peace in modern-day Ireland. Along with these great moments of history and the men who made them, we see the story of four generations of women. McCann has given us history in the grand sense, and the history of ordinary people (women). This is the story of the ability of women to carry on; the story of the impact history has on all of us.

The end of the book is about Hannah, the last in the generation of women who have interacted -- sometimes profoundly, sometimes tangentially -- with the great men of the book. To me, Hannah was not as compelling a character as some of her ancestors, so the book dragged a bit for me at the end, but overall, I really enjoyed it. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 28, 2014 |
I listened to this as an audiobook and really enjoyed it. The touching on the personal lives of historical figures intertwined with an Irish / American family really worked for me. It was fascinating. George Mitchell's ruminations on tea made me laugh out loud but it was also very sad in parts. ( )
  infjsarah | Sep 20, 2014 |
Irish historical fiction woven through the stories of 4 generations of women. Serendipitously read whilst visiting USA Civil War sites. Enjoyed the Frederick douglass section the most. Would make good book club discussion. ( )
  celerydog | Aug 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 133 (next | show all)
Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: McCann’s stunning sixth novel is a brilliant tribute to his loamy, lyrical and complicated Irish homeland, and an ode to the ties that, across time and space, bind Ireland and America. The book begins with three transatlantic crossings, each a novella within a novel: Frederick Douglas’s 1845 visit to Ireland; the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown; and former US senator George Mitchell’s 1998 attempt to mediate peace in Northern Ireland. ... The language is lush, urgent, chiseled and precise; sometimes languid, sometimes kinetic. At times, it reads like poetry, or a dream. Choppy sentences. Two-word declaratives. Arranged into stunning, jagged tableaux. Bleak, yet hopeful. ... The finale is a melancholy set piece that ties it all together... McCann reminds us that life is hard, and it is a wonder, and there is hope. --Neal Thompson
added by JSWBooks | editAmazon.com, Neal Thompson (pay site) (Jun 1, 2013)
 
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Geen enkele geschiedenis is sprakeloos.
Hoezeer ook geannexeerd, gebroken en belogen,
de menselijke geschiedenis weigert haar mond te houden.
Ondanks doofheid en onwetendheid blijft de tijd die was,
tikken binnen de tijd die is.

-Eduardo Galeano
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De cottage stond aan de rand van het meer.
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A tale spanning 150 years and two continents reimagines the peace efforts of democracy champion Frederick Douglass, Senator George Mitchell and World War I airmen John Alcock and Teddy Brown through the experiences of four generations of women from a matriarchal clan.… (more)

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