British-born Jonathan Raban sets out on a passage from Seattle to Juneau in a small boat that is more a waterborne writing den, and as usual with the brilliant Raban, this journey becomes a vehicle for history and heart-stopping descriptions that will make readers want to hail him as one of the finest talents who's picked up a pen in the 20th century. The voyage through the Inside Passage from Washington's Puget Sound to Alaska churns up memories and stirs up hidden emotions and Raban dwells on many, including the death of his father and his own role of Daddy to his young daughter, Julia, left behind in Seattle. More than just a personal travelogue, however, Passage to Juneau
deftly weaves in the stories of others before him--from Indians whom white men formerly greeted with baubles set afloat on logs, to Captain Vancouver, who risked mutiny on his ship when he banned visits with prostitutes, some of whom offered their services for bits of scrap metal. Pressed into every page are intimate descriptions of life at sea--the fog-shrouded coasts, the crackly radio that keeps him linked to the mainland, the salty marine air, and the fellow sailors who are likewise drawn by a life of tossing on water. While Raban successfully steers his boat to the desired port, readers ultimately discover that this insightful, talented sage is in fact emotionally in deep water and may not fully be captain of his own life. --Melissa Rossi
From Publishers Weekly
As he recounts fishing a rain jacket he'd mistaken for a corpse out of cold Pacific waters, Raban wryly confesses that "gallivanting around the world in a small boat is a continuing education in one's limitless capacity for self-delusion." Sailing up the Inland Passage, the protected waterway that serves as a great nautical freeway between Puget Sound and Alaska, Raban (British expat and chronicler of the American experience) sounds its history in a clever, always curious, yet increasingly morose voice. It's a lengthy journey over vast territory, and Raban struggles to maintain a streamlined narrative. He finds himself at turns landlocked by fog, skimming across water that is incredibly deep, cold and oddly "greasy," intrigued by the "floating junkyard" brought by the tide and anchoring at once prosperous timber and fishing communities. In his NBCC Award-winning Bad Land, Raban composed a moving portrait of desert homesteaders in Montana and North Dakota from the intimate stories of several families. Here, although his journey is his narrative vehicle, the subject is definitely Raban himself, as explorer, traveler and man. He keeps the most intimate company with ghosts: his companions include the cruel Captain George Vancouver, who mapped the coast in the 1790s; the shipwrecked poet Shelley; the Indians and settlers who peopled the landscape. He also writes of his daughter and (increasingly estranged) wife, who remain back in Seattle, and of his father, whose illness and death in England interrupt and recast Raban's journey. A compelling meditation courses beneath the surface commotion of the book as Raban seeks solace (and himself) in the movement of the sea with its deadheads, whirlpools, unpredictable tides, submerged mountains and stony shores capped with evergreen wool. First serial to the New Yorker; 9-city author tour. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.