TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Had a little mishap with this book...

This book took a nosedive. Just like Alcock and Brown! #spoileralert

The thing about love is that we come alive in bodies not our own.

That is a quote from Colum McCann’s 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin. It came up as I Googled for a similar quote in TransAtlantic; the same concept, the same words “bodies not our own,” but it was about writing. The more I googled, the more I found in this vein, everything except the actual quote I wanted (let this be a lesson to you: have a pen handy while reading!) McCann uses this phrase again and again, in books and interviews, in relation to love, to reading, to writing, and to aging.

It makes sense, then, that McCann has such a talent for bringing characters to life. And so many of them! In TransAtlantic we hear from several seemingly unrelated men, Americans and English, all based on real people (one of whom is still alive – gutsy!) and later follow the maternal line of the fictional Lily Duggan’s family from 19th century Dublin to modern Belfast by way of America and Canada. Sometimes the shifts were jarring. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure who’s story I was listening to. That’s not a bad thing. The further you read, the more it all comes together.

I ended up jumping from audiobook to physical book and back again a few times. The narrator was phenomenal. This was my first ever audiobook and I have to admit, I’m finding “regular” reading a bit boring after listening to the Northern Irish accented, passionate reading of Geraldine Hughes.

I am ashamed at how little I know about the historical events McCann writes about. I didn’t know about Alcock and Brown, who made the first transatlantic flight in 1919, and ending up spoiling the story a bit when I looked them up on Wikipedia. I had only the slightest idea of who Frederick Douglass was. Most embarrassingly, I know next to nothing about The Troubles in Ireland, which occured during my lifetime, in a country my ancestors emigrated from themselves, a hundred or so years ago.

Back to the writing. The writing is so good, I can’t begin to quote it – if I could even find the quotes I wanted – in a way that was show you how good it is.  I considered reading this book many times over the past year and I could kick myself for waiting.

In short: this is everything I want in a book. Diverse characters, intertwined stories, tragedy, history, epic sweep and ordinary lives.

Books read: 3

4 responses to “TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

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  2. I read this when it first came out, and liked it, but not as much as you, I don’t think. I liked that it was historical (I hadn’t known about it, either), and I always like jumping around. I have had The Great World Spins near the top of the pile since reading this one. I will get to it someday…

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