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TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann TransAtlantic by Colum McCann is a novel that spans both the Atlantic Ocean and the last century. Beginning just after the First World War with two aviators who use their military training to attempt the first transatlantic delivery of mail by air in their refitted military bomber, the story concludes almost a century later with the elderly woman re-visiting the past.

We begin with a woman musing about her home on the edge of a lough, realizing that the sound on her roof, as she lies in bed, is “gulls flying overhead, dropping oysters on the roof to break the shells open…the shells pinged first, silent a moment as they tumbled down into the long grass…when a shell hit directly, it cracked open….”. Later in the novel, again, a woman describes the same experience “shells fall on the roof constantly from the birds overhead. There are times I feel I am living inside a percussion instrument.” And, it is this circle of time that is one of the most delightful aspects of this novel - second only to the beauty of the writing and the fascinating story told by Colum McCann.

As the novel progresses in time we meet an American diplomat who travels frequently to Ireland, attempting to move forward the peace process. Really, he wants only to lay his head back in the silence of his car and rest. He is no longer the heady young man who expected to be able to make change, but he must continue to try.

There is also a black man from America, who appears in Ireland at a time when he could still have been a slave. The people of Ireland welcoming him and championing his cause – his celebrity status causing a stir wherever he goes.

The members of each generation have their own tragic losses, but they persevere because they must. One woman questions what part chance played in the death of her loved one – was it happenstance? She wonders what might have prevented the death of her son who she wants only to hold in her arms again. And it is she, much later, elderly and alone who muses “we return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing Mobius strip until we come home eventually to ourselves.”

There are crossings of the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland, and Ireland to the United States and Canada. There is the back-story of famine and warfare, slavery and emancipation, and attempts to bring peace to Ireland. Each generation is presented with the stories of men and women that leap off the page and into your heart.

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