It might be tempting to interpret Colum McCann's brilliant novel, TransAtlantic
, as a literary exercise in pointillism. After all, he presents us with a series of "dots" which slowly click into place and paint, when we take a step back, one breathtaking picture. But McCann, the winner of the National Book Award for his previous book, Let the Great World Spin
, goes one step beyond. The "dots" here are not fuzzy and loosely pixelated. Instead each literary vignette is so precisely painted that there's beauty both when the camera zooms in and out.
Three historical events, transatlantic crossings, create the scaffolding for the story: Frederick Douglass visits Ireland in 1845, at the start of the potato famine and is impressed by Irish emancipator Daniel O'Connell; in 1919, aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown make history as they try to be the first people to fly...
Beyond the Book
One of the historical events that frames TransAtlantic
is Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland. Douglass was an escaped slave and later became a champion abolitionist. In late 1845, he visited Ireland as part of a two-year lecture tour through Ireland, Scotland and England. Douglass had escaped seven years earlier and had published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
. As Douglass traveled through Ireland, through Belfast, Cork and Dublin, he was greeted enthusiastically.
It was in Ireland that he met Daniel O'Connell...