Author: Colum McCann
Price: Rs 399
“Some days he wishes he could empty the chambers of the men, fill the halls with women: the short sharp shock of three thousand two hundred mothers. The ones who picked through the supermarket debris for pieces of their dead husbands. The ones who still laundered their gone son’s bed sheets by hand…They never fought the wars, but they suffered them, blood and bone.”
This is what American Senator George Mitchell feels like doing, frustrated after three years of mediating between the warring Unionists and Republicans of Northern Ireland.
The day Andrew, Mitchell’s son, is born, 61 children are born in Northern Ireland. He decides enough is enough. No more quibbling over commas and full stops. Determined that not another son should fall prey to a bullet, he knocks an absolute simplicity to the peace process, and the historic Good Friday Agreement is signed on April 10, 1998, bringing to an end a violent, bloody phase in the history of Northern Ireland.
Dublin-born writer Colum McCann has many other transatlantic protagonists in his fascinatingly — written novel that criss-crosses several time zones and continents. Comprising three books, TransAtlantic begins in 1919, with two World War I veterans crossing the Atlantic in a primitive, modified bomber, a Vickers Vimy, all wood, linen and wire. They carry with them, from Newfoundland, Canada, a letter of thanks to an early feminist in Ireland, from the daughter of Lily who was an Irishwoman who had left her country in a rat-ridden, cramped ship to fight for Negro rights in America back in 1846.
Lily, a simple housemaid, had been moved by the soul-stirring speeches of Frederick Douglass, an American slave who had been invited by the Irish elite in 1845 to talk about the plight of blacks in America. Lily heard Douglass speak about what it meant to be branded by having another man’s initials burnt into your skin; to be yoked about the neck; to wear an iron bit at the mouth; to feel the lash of the cowhide; to have your ears cropped; to accept, to bend; to disappear. And, unhesitatingly, she boarded a ship to an unknown land.
In Ireland, Douglass, feted by the gentry, drank wine and slept on freshly-laundered pillows. In America, Lily cleaned the wounds and chamber pots of dying soldiers of the American Civil War, including those of her son whom she buried herself. Her son died for the cause that Douglass had espoused.
Douglass returned to America unslaved. A Quaker woman in Ireland bought his freedom. Forty years later, Lily attends one of his meetings in America, on women’s suffrage.
Time goes by… and many years after Lily’s death, another transatlantic journey takes place from Canada to Britain. We are back in the 10th century. Lily’s 56-year-old journalist daughter travels to Swansea with her photographer daughter for the 10th anniversary celebration of the historic transatlantic flight with which the book began. On this trip, Lily’s grand-daughter, Lottie, falls in love with an Irishman whom she marries. The book now shifts focus to the civil war of Northern Ireland. While Lily’s first born had become a martyr to the American Civil War, her great-great-grandson gets shot in the Northern Ireland conflict.
As large, historical forces criss-cross, yet another transatlantic meeting takes place. A simple one, on a tennis court. In the early days of Senator Mitchell’s negotiations he meets a wheelchair bound Lottie, at an All Ireland's Women's Tournament. “Oh we know who you are Senator,” says 90-year-old Lottie when he introduces himself. “We saw you this morning with that awful backhand. We are hoping you are going to sort out this mess for us, Senator.”
And he does. Four months before Lottie dies. He succeeds because he has the faces of a thousand Lotties before him when he goes to the negotiating table, making him overcome all the commas and full-stops. At one point, he wonders, “The British and their words. The Irish and their endless meanings. How did such a small sea ever come between them?”
Poignant, powerful, TransAtlantic takes you through pages of history unfolding through simple lives.