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McCann's new novel lives in the space between two lands

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TransAtlantic' by Colum McCann
Book cover courtesy of publisher

Colum McCann's new novel, "TransAtlantic," exists, as its title suggests, in the space between two countries: Ireland and the United States. A review in the New York Times suggested that it's not so much a novel as "a series of linked stories joined over time by a common thread." That thread is the journey from Ireland to the United States, or vice versa.

The novel mixes invented characters with real historical figures: Frederick Douglass, Sen. George Mitchell and pioneer aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown. The book is set in different eras and written from different points of view. Jumping in and out of time and from one perspective to another, the novel probes the relationship between Ireland and the United States with a vivid imagination.

McCann joined Kerri Miller ahead of his appearance at the Central Library in Minneapolis.


A little ambiguity is needed to counterbalance McCann's rhapsodic charm
Colum McCann is a very gifted, charming writer; in full, rhapsodic-onrush mode, he is hard to resist. He coins a good phrase. Pondering the vast gulf between the British and the Irish, Mitchell asks himself: "How did such a small sea ever come between them?" TransAtlantic is deft, well-crafted, and broad in its imaginative range. The many people who loved his last novel will certainly enjoy this one. And yet it is somehow less impressive than it ought to be. (The Guardian)

Review: 'TransAlantic' by Colum McCann
If McCann were a showy writer, there would be a circus atmosphere to all these miraculous feats. He is not. With each book he reinvents, and hones his style. The sentences have become ever more chiseled and self-effacing. The right words, McCann proves, draw us inward, not to the page. Similarly, his fiction has become increasingly marinated in anguish and relief. As if its creator has emerged from his desk, each time, with a fresher understanding for how great works are often born from humbling loss. (Boston Globe)

Colum McCann spins out
There's a fairly obvious impulse behind aligning such a disparate set of public and private stories. Popular histories tend to elide the hopes and fears of ordinary people, forgetting, for instance, that the Gettysburg Address was intended not for the walls of the Lincoln Memorial, but rather for the ears of people like you and me. Part of the novelist's imperative is to supply that deficit. McCann has often argued as much. Discussing his novel Dancer, about the great ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, in The Believer in 2010, McCann said, "I didn't care one whit about Rudolph Nureyev nor his very obvious hubris. I cared about the shoemaker, the rentboy, the smaller characters at the edges." (Salon.com)