By Colum McCann
Random House, New York, 2013
Hardback, 305 pages $27.00
Reviewed by Judith Favor. Published in Friends Journal, September 2014, pp 42-43
I yearn for writing that is transformational, and this beautifully crafted novel met my longing. Colum McCann braids together the passions of publicly acclaimed men – abolitionist former slave Frederick Douglass, WW1 pilots Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown and peacemaker Senator George Mitchell—with the private stories of feisty fictional women. McCann brings his characters to life through exquisite prose, gifting the reader with story lines that arc across the centuries and crisscross the Atlantic, interweaving Irish and American views and values.
Memorable scenes pulse with Quaker testimonies. In 1845 Irish maid Lily Duggan crosses paths with Frederick Douglass whose integrity and commitment to equality inspire her to escape servitude, sail to America and nurse wounded soldiers on a Civil War battlefield. The novel follows her daughter Emily and granddaughter Lottie whose journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. In 1919 they are influenced by two aviators who set course for Ireland, attempting a nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in a bomber they modified for peaceful means, a flight designed to heal the wounds of the Great War.
In 1998 Lottie encounters Senator George Mitchell in Belfast as he labors to negotiate the historic Good Friday Peace Accords. Mitchell granted the author access to his inner reflections, making para bellum a profoundly moving chapter, worthy of repeated readings. Mitchell’s inner light shines through McCann’s poignant portrait of the contemporary peacemaker who embodies simplicity, equality and integrity under intense international public pressure.
TransAtlantic is not a quick read. McCann’s truthful, tender pages invite pauses for deep thinking, remembering past peacemakers and imagining a more simple, just and equitable future. There is so much goodwill, humor and pure life force in every chapter that this book will lift the spirit of Friends and meet the hunger for transformational fiction.Judith Favor is a member of Claremont Friends Meeting in Southern California. Literary fiction seeded with Friends’ testimonies feeds her hungry soul.