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TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, narrated by Geraldine Hughes, reads like a collection of interconnected stories, beginning in 1919 following WWI.  Aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown set course for Ireland from Newfoundland to heal old wounds after WWI, but before readers are engaged enough, the story shifts to 1845 when Frederick Douglass is on an international lecture tour in Ireland about the abolitionist cause. This portion of the book was the most engaging, where Douglass’ fears of being called slurs or targeted for the color of his skin is top of mind, even in nation where the Irish long for freedom from oppression.

The hardships of the famine would seem to bring the Irish and Douglass to the same side of freedom, but there are too many obstacles. As the novel moves to more modern stories, including Senator George Mitchell’s trip to Belfast to broker peace in the late 1990s, the chance meetings and encounters have clearly had lasting effects on history, even if their details have been forgotten or lost.  Connecting all of these stories are women — Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, mother and daughter Emily and Lottie, and Hannah Carson.

The narration by Geraldine Hughes is flawless, and she never once pulled me out of the story.  She carefully narrated each interconnected story, and the novel took on a cohesion that was unexpected.  However, readers may want to pick up a print copy of this so they do not miss any of the nuance in McCann’s writing.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, narrated by Geraldine Hughes, is a sweeping book that speaks to the minor moments in our lives and how they can have ripple effects across the ocean and across history.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Colum McCann is the author of two collections of short stories and four novels, including “This Side of Brightness,””Dancer” and “Zoli,” all of which were international best-sellers. His newest novel “Let the Great World Spin” will come out in 2009. His fiction has been published in 26 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Paris Review and other places. He has written for numerous publications including The Irish Times, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, The New York Times, the Guardian and the Independent.

Mailbox Monday #233

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  August’s host is Bermudaonion The Reading Fever.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, which I won from Caribousmom.

Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.

2. Everyday Book Marketing by Midge Raymond, which includes a Q&A from me! I was so surprised when the book came.

Book publication is just the beginning… Everyday Book Marketing is for the published author who is not only a writer but who also may have another career, a family, and any number of other obligations that require fitting book promotion into a budget where both hours and dollars may be hard to find. This book will guide you on the journey from Writer to Marketing Pro, offering essential marketing tools along the way-including such book promotion basics as how to schedule a book tour and how to make the most of social media to how to keep the buzz going long after your launch date. Everyday Book Marketing is divided into easily accessible sections that cover not only what you’ll need to handle before publication, such as establishing a blog and website, but what you can do during your book launch and beyond. It also offers tips and advice for how to keep the never-ending tasks of book promotion manageable, whether you have ten minutes a day or two hours a day. Also included are Q&As with a range of authors and industry experts-from fiction authors and poets to librarians and event managers-who provide such invaluable tips as how to present yourself as an author, how to reach out to event coordinators, and how to find new readers both within your community and beyond.

3.  Always Watching by Chevy Stevens, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn’t want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island.  What happened to Nadine?  Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group’s leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today?

4.  TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

5.  The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas, which I snagged from Novel Books‘s ARC free pile.

On the eve of 1941, newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Britain to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to the exotic city of Srinagar, India. But when he leaves to take on a complicated mission elsewhere, Nerys discovers a new world. Here, in the heart of Kashmir, the British dance, flirt, and gossip against the backdrop of war, and Neryssoon becomes caught up in a dangerous liaison. By the time she is reunited with her husband, she is a very different woman.

Years later, Nerys’s granddaughter Mair Ellis clears out her dead father’s house and finds an exquisite shawl. Wrapped in its folds is a lock of a child’s curly hair. With nothing else to go on, Mair decides to trace her grandparents’ roots back to Kashmir, embarking on a quest thatwill change her own life forever.

6.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which I purchased at Novel Books as it is the October book club selection.

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

7. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk, which I purchased at Novel Books as it is the September book club pick.

The Silk Road, which linked imperial Rome and distant China, was once the greatest thoroughfare on earth. Along it traveled precious cargoes of silk, gold, and ivory, as well as revolutionary new ideas. Its oasis towns blossomed into thriving centers of Buddhist art and learning. In time it began to decline. The traffic slowed, the merchants left, and finally its towns vanished beneath the desert sands to be forgotten for a thousand years. But legends grew of lost cities filled with treasures and guarded by demons. In the early years of the last century foreign explorers began to investigate these legends, and very soon an international race began for the art treasures of the Silk Road. Huge wall paintings, sculptures, and priceless manuscripts were carried away by the ton and are today scattered through the museums of a dozen countries.

What did you receive?

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

What do you do when your world spins out of control and changes so drastically that you begin to feel adrift?  Colum McCann‘s Let the Great World Spin examines these issues, while at the same time demonstrating how individuals can be connected to one another without even realizing it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere.” (page 153)

“No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon.” (page 81)

McCann focuses his story in 1974, mostly in New York City, where a tenuous thread is stretched between a series of characters from an Irish monk and a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War to a young artistic couple and a black prostitute. That thread is the a tightrope walker, Philippe Petit who traversed the still under construction World Trade Center towers.

“It was the dilemma of the watchers:  they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.” (page 3)

In a way, the tightrope walker is all of us, teetering on the edge of every decision we make, but what we often do not have is the courage to enjoy the moment or revel in the thrill of each step we take in our lives.  McCann is a gifted storyteller, but some readers may find the shifts between story lines hamper their ability to become emotionally tethered to the characters.  There are some moments where the prose takes on a list making quality, which is a bit overdone and jambs up the narrative.

The Vietnam War plays a significant role in the novel, touching lives in immediate ways and peripherally.   In many ways the tightrope walker symbolizes the perceived precariousness of the world at large in the 1970s, with the threat of communism and the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.  Overall, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a satisfying examination of the 1970s, the Vietnam War, and modern society, and would be a good selection for book club discussions.

About the Author:

Colum McCann, a Dublin born writer, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire’s “Best and Brightest,” and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Check out the other tour stops.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Random House for sending me a free copy of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann for review.


This is my 5th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 31st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd and final book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.