Frederick Douglass

Enjoy Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Whilst book shopping in London, I came across a new-to-me book by Colum McCann. I enjoyed Let the Great World Spin, and a cursory glance at the book jacket enticed me to buy Transatlantic. I love Ireland and have a special connection to Belfast, so the description of the book appealed very much. The first chapter focuses on the first 2 man flight across the Atlantic and intrigued me very much. This introduced the character of Lilly and Lottie who then become the threads for the rest of the book.

One section imagines what it was like for Frederick Douglass to live in Ireland during the famine. Based on true events, this section contained my favorite passage:

He paused a moment, then stepped from the side of the lectern as if to show the full extent of himself. His polished shoes, his dark trousers, his jacket trimmed at the waist. His skin was lighter than she recalled. He spread his arms wide, allowed a silence. When the true history of the anti-slavery cause shall be written, women will occupy a large space in its pages. He spoke as if he were saying it for the first time, that he had just found these words in the last few steps across the stage, low now, almost a whisper, a secret to be imparted. The cause of the slave has been peculiarly Woman’s cause. Immediately there was a stir around the room. A stout lady stood and applauded. Several other women followed. There was a shout from a man in the front seat, thrusting a book in the air. Send the nigger home! A scuffle broke out. A flail of arms and legs. The protester was escorted out. Four women left alongside the man. Douglass held his hands in the air and extended the white of his palms. A hush descended. When a great truth gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. She could see an orchestra in him, a whole range of instruments and sound. His voice was loud and booming. It is bound to go on until it becomes the thought of the world. He paced the stage. In and out of a pool of light. His shoes clicking on the wooden floorboards. Such a truth is a woman’s right to equal liberty with man. She was born with it. It was hers before she comprehended it. The rational basis for proper government lies in the female soul. Lily could feel the grip of her daughter’s hand, growing tighter now with each moment. There were motes of dust round Douglass in the air, animate and twirling: it seemed as if the dusty itself might constitute something.

Quote from Transatlantic by Colum McCann p 185 writing of Frederick Douglass