Monday, August 12, 2013

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

I loved Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin and was really looking forward to TransAtlantic, which has the same sort of interconnected story lines - this time about three memorable journeys in three distinctly different time periods.  Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown flew the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic carrying mail in 1919.  Frederick Douglass visited Dublin in 1845 to rally people around the Abolitionist cause.  And George Mitchell traveled to Belfast in 1998 to participate in peace talks in bitter Northern Ireland.  Interlaced with the stories of these men are the women whose secondary roles become primary in the latter portion of the book.  An Irish housemaid from the Douglass section becomes the mother of Emily and grandmother of Lottie who write about and photograph the Alcock and Brown flight and supply a piece of iconic mail that is the focus of the final section of the novel.  The symbolic unopened letter is passed from on generation to the next.  McCann writes, "We seldom know what echo our actions will find, but our stories will most certainly outlast us." TransAtlantic is a lushly poetic novel and McCann a master of spinning an engaging historical novel.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

I love it when my reading prescience is spot on!  Instructions for a Heatwave showed up in the New York Times Book Review as I was reading it.  Gretta Riordan's husband, Robert, has walked off - gone missing - in the midst of the English drought and heatwave of 1976.  In the opening section of the novel she calls each of her three children home - two from England and one from New York City - to help her deal with the disappearance.  The novel is a character study of sibling rivalry and buried secrets.  I thoroughly enjoyed O'Farrell's storytelling.  That the novel ends in Ireland with the family sitting down to eat freshly baked soda bread makes it even more appealing to me.  Back when I was teaching AP English, we used to talk about novels with central characters who appeared only briefly or not at all.  Robert Riordan is one such character who appears (spoiler) just when I expected him to - on the last page.