Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: "Transatlantic" by Colum McCann

I have been curious about Colum McCann ever since he won the National Book Award and the IMPAC Award for his 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin. It has a cool premise, one of the few cool ones that a National Book Award winning novel has had in a few years, and I was excited to read his follow-up novel Transatlantic, which came out this year, coincidentally a few days after a similar novel, The Son, which happens to be my favorite book of the year. It isn’t nearly as good as that novel, but it does show McCann as a great talent that has many more good books in him. This is far from a perfect novel, and I have a few issues with near the beginning and end, but what it does well really warrants a reading if you can look past its glaring flaws to enjoy it. The book is really three different stories that have a bloodline running through it, much like Philipp Meyer’s book, and spanning a similar time line. The first story deals with a flight team in 1919 flying across the Atlantic to deliver a cache of letters to Ireland. Then the book flashes back to the 1850’s, where Fredrick Douglass is giving a speech in Ireland. Then we go forward into the president, where a US Senator is trying to broker peace between the warring factions in Ireland. These three threads never form a cohesive narrative, but for what McCann fails to provide with scenes of grandiosity, he gives us in the smaller moments, like the scene where Douglass lifts barbells made from slave shackles to inspire his writing. Scenes like that are profound and powerful, and make this book a pleasure to read, even when large portions of the book fail to deliver.
Rating: 4/5

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