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'TransAtlantic' has a way of luring you in

Nov. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

I had no intention of reading away an entire weekend day but I was drawn into this book so completely that neither hunger nor other urges budged me from my reading nest until the last page was turned.

The book club at the Gallaher Village Library had just discussed a biography about Amelia Earhart so the first chapter (if you don't count the first two teaser pages), which continued the storied saga of the competition and wrecklessness (by today's standards) of early aviation, the lives of the flyers, and the somewhat tenuous construction of their flying machines just provided more fascinating information. The sinkhole in the bed was foretold.

"TransAtlantic" is an extraordinary novel in which Colum McCann reveals the linked lives of many characters, both famous (Frederick Douglass, George Mitchell, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown) and fictional.

In Part 1, each in his own time, these famous men cross the Atlantic Ocean from west to east to the shores of Ireland over a period of nearly two centuries, on uniquely historic and heady missions. Alcock and Brown in 1919 attempt the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. Douglass is in Ireland in 1845 on a lecture circuit to promote his abolitionist cause.

And in 1998 Mitchell is trying to broker a peace agreement between the two Irelands by Good Friday so he can return home to his young son and wife. While these are great men of history and we are familiar with their stories, McCann infuses mystery and suspense in their journeys and exploits as well as insights into their very personal lives.

In Part 2 three remarkable women from different generations of the same family, bit characters throughout in the first part, embark on their own journeys from east (Ireland) to west (USA and Canada). Each character has his or her own epiphany which propels the trajectory of the quest. The complexity of the emerging relationships and the intertwining threads of their lives is engagingly yet unpretentiously developed with details that fully immerse the reader in the tribulations and triumphs of each and every character.

We are vested in their hopeful successes and mourn the tragedies. Fact and fiction merge and historical landscapes unfold with compelling personality and emotion. We live through the potato famine, plane crashes, utter poverty and depredation, a woman's emergence from homemaker to entrepreneur, and crushing economic defeat.

National Book Award winning McCann's literary aptitude is in high form here, smoothly and effectively employing techniques (I loved some of his ingenious metaphors) which mirror and enhance the mood of each story. This book should appeal to fans of literary fiction as well as anyone who enjoys a good yarn. I enjoyed it thoroughly as my sore backside can attest to. The book is available to be checked out of the Cabell County Public Library.

Ginny Jaskot is the manager at the best little secret in town, the Gallaher Village Library.

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