*REVIEW* Transatlantic: A Novel

mccann1Colum McCann,
Transatlantic: A Novel

Random House, 2013
320 pages

Colum McCann’s newest novel is an historically driven fictional account of three separate-but-connected journeys between North America and Ireland. Don’t let the subject matter deter you – admittedly it may not sound like the most exciting book of the year. But I can’t recommend McCann’s novels enough, and especially this his latest, if for no other reason than his writing. His prose is surely as beautiful, poetic, and penetrating as any writer I’ve read. 

McCann spans 150 years in this novel by covering the three seemingly disparate events of Frederick Douglass’ journey to Ireland in order to raise support for the anti-slavery cause in the United States, the first non-stop plane flight between North America and Ireland, and Senator George Mitchell’s work and influence on North Ireland’s peace process.

Boldly writing from the perspective of each of these characters McCann very cleverly weaves these three stories together. While the book seems at first to be about 4 historically significant men (the plane was flown by 2 men), before long it becomes clear that the story is sustained and connected by a string of strong women in a most unexpected way.

McCann’s writing often arrives with almost jarring precision. It’s sparse, like poetry, and deliberate. This book isn’t really about one thing, except maybe Ireland, and still somehow manages to cover the gamut of human experience. Like all of his characters, the ones in this book show a deep vulnerability and honesty, so much so that even his most unlikely portrayals don’t disrupt the narrative.

While this book is most broadly about the mutual influence North America and Ireland have had on each other (no doubt mirroring McCann’s own life), it is ultimately a celebration of Ireland itself. McCann faithfully portrays his homeland, with all of its troublesome history and violence, as a mysterious and hopeful place.

I would wildly recommend any McCann book and Transatlantic, in many ways, is his best. This book will surely reward anyone willing to give it a chance.

Nick Buck
Manager, Christian Theological Seminary Bookstore
Master of Theological Studies ’14


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