This novel is written by Colum McCann, a critically acclaimed author who was born in Ireland and now resides in New York City. The story includes elements of historical fiction and family saga. The reader travels back and forth through the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries (not in chronological order), and from Ireland, the United States, and Canada, to explore the thoughts and actions of both historical and fictional individuals.
The historical figures are: Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth century American abolitionist and former slave; John Alcock and Teddy Brown, two British airmen who in 1919 won the contest to be the first to fly from North America to Great Britain or Ireland within 72 hours; and Senator George Mitchell, who was an integral contributor to the peace settlement in Northern Ireland during the late 1990s. These four men are seen to interact with four fictional characters, all women from the same family – great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter – during five different time periods. By the end of the novel, we are impressed by the inner strength of all of the characters as they cope with their own troubles, as well as with the historical “Troubles” of Northern Ireland.