I’ve wanted to read this novel ever since I saw McCann on The Colbert Report and then to discover it was on the Man Booker list made me more intrigued, but it didn’t make the short list. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann is about flight and all its meanings. “They are due to leave on Friday the 13th. It’s an airman’s way of cheating death: pick a day of doom, then defy it.” This all ends with seagulls dropping oysters on a tin roof followed by the aerobatics of the gulls as they collect their spoils.
This is a story of a family told through the daughters. It is about a journey from Northern Ireland to the Americas and back. It covers war and peace and slavery. Fredrick Douglass has a major role in this novel as do mix marriages. The oak barrel will have a new meaning to me now as will the notion of 12 ½ pound barbells and what they were made of. It’s about conflicts, but then how could it not when we are in Northern Ireland. George Mitchell plays his role. And all the time the women of this family continue on past deaths, auctions, and moving. I was constantly reminded about the idea of reaching the point of no return from one generation to the next. McCann’s control of language is soothing and wonderful: “the wind muscles,” “dawn unlocks,’” and “The trees were stubborn against the wind.”
“It astonished her to think that her own mother had been on a coffin ship some eighty years before, a floating boat of fever and loss, and here she was, now, with her daughter, traveling to Europe, first class, on a vessel where the ice was made by an electrical generator. “