by Colum McCann
If there is a key player in this story, TransAtlantic: A Novel by Colum McCann, it is Lily Duggin. Lily is thread, the spirit, that runs through each story. Lily and the women of her own family bind these stories together. Lily, whose life began by scrabbling to survive being born to parents who didn't have the capacity or ability to love and cherish. Perhaps they were too damaged by their own struggles? But their failures contributed to Lily's strength and her will to survive.
This novel seems at first to be a series of short stores, with little or no connection. It opens with the story of two survivors of WWI who build and repurpose a plane, one that at one time dropped bombs, took lives and then flew back into the night. They had both experienced life as prisoners. They not acquainted until the thunder of the war had dimmed to a small rumble in the background of their lives. The met, and together claimed for themselves, a mission. To fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic ocean. They found a way to attempt to make this dream trip a possibility.
What could be more hopeless than to be a slave? Frederick Douglass first escaped hopelessness, and then he escaped slavery. He started a family and became an author, an abolitionist, and a great speaker. He was hosted in 1845 by Richard Webb, with whom he traveled through Ireland to speak of his life, and recognized the similarity of the plight of the poor in that country. A plight characterized by a lack of hope. This was also the beginning of the time known as The Great Famine. Douglass carried the weight of his experiences of that time as he traveled. Ireland suffered the famine, and The Troubles, years of seeking freedom South from North. It seemed that for them this would never be possible.
George Mitchell, a former American Senator had an interest Ireland finding its freedom, its peace. It is1998 and we find him devoting days of his life away from his young family.He is on a mission to stop the killing. To seeing to it that each family will have its full complement of members sitting down to supper each night. No more tears. No more senseless death. Hopelessness again rears its ugly head, but it is pushed back, refused. Mitchell is a man who is determined to see this job done. Protestants and Catholics brought together at last, a dream or a real possibility?
Common themes, war, hopelessness, strength and selflessness resonate through this story. The women of Lily's family appear again and again, as we flow back and forth through the years. More common threads. A quote that stayed with me from this story is :"There is always room for at least two truths". Perhaps one of these truths is that we are all connected through time, through family and through our experiences