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Voyage to the North Star: A Novel Paperback – October 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (October 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786707992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786707997
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Boden understood suddenly that his reluctant fascination with Schenck came from the man's deliberate heedlessness, in all things, to obstacles that would be so apparent to others."

Will Boden, the hero of Peter Nichols's Voyage to the North Star, is not the only one fascinated by this reckless and flamboyant millionaire. After all, New York circa 1932 is short on opulence, and Carl Schenck's sexy yachts and publicity stunts are front-page news. Rich from his invention of a manure mover, Schenck is determined to thumb his nose at the old-money fops who have lost everything in the depression. On top of that, his taste for Teddy Roosevelt-inspired danger verges on madness. When an African big-game hunt proves too tame, he decides to take an ill-prepared yacht to the Arctic to shoot seals, caribou, polar bears, walruses, whales--whatever offers the most kicks. (He also plans to dynamite his way through the icebergs.)

Boden, a disgraced sea captain, has spent enough time in Arctic waters to know they are no place for a luxury yacht. But ever since he lost his ship (due to an overcautious maneuver), his personal life has been crumbling. An old salt named Moyle convinces him that a return to the Arctic, even with Schenck, would be preferable to suicide.

He laughed again, and then let himself think of what it was like up there: the beautiful severity; the wildflowers coming up through the tundra desolation; the drunk-seeming blaze of the northern lights. Above all, the ice: the fantastic bergs, some of them the size of Central Park; the rivers and deltas of glacial ice so big and so slowed in time's aspic that his own brief mortal concerns fell away to insignificance until he felt washed clean.
Boden signs on as a stoker, but it soon becomes apparent that the Lodestar is in need of his knowledge of the powerful, sublime elements of the far north--the ice floes, bent-light optical illusions, ferocious bears, deadly cold, and obfuscating fog. It also needs someone to stand up to an owner who will risk the lives of everyone on board for a trophy rack of antlers or for the thrill of firing a harpoon needlessly into an iceberg. Nichols's self-assured first novel cruises at high speed, with plenty of grip-your-chair action. And as with icebergs, the crashes between characters draw their strength from what lurks beneath the surface. --John Ponyicsanyi --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This is a first novel by the author of Sea Change, an account of his solo voyage across the Atlantic, and here, too, Nichols writes of the sea and ships with great feeling and accuracy. With his lean but telling style, he is as convincing on seafaring, navigation and weather as Hemingway is on big game hunting or bullfighting. His protagonist is Will Boden, a skilled seaman down on his luck in depression-era New York. In a moment of ill judgment, he once abandoned the ship he was captaining, and is now reduced to scraping a living, literally, on the waterfront. Along comes Carl Schenck, a wealthy industrialist who wants to ape his idol, Teddy Roosevelt, as a big game hunter, but fears it's all been done. He hits upon the notion to take the beautiful luxury yacht he has just acquired up into the Arctic to hunt for seal, bear, whatever he can find, and among the motley crew he assembles, including a skipper who is a fake British naval officer, is poor Will. Thus begins an adventure yarn alternately scary and hilarious, as Schenck takes ludicrous risks, the weather closes in and the ill-starred expedition begins to fall apart. Nichols shows an amazingly practiced hand for a fledgling novelist as he moves his large and vividly sketched cast through an ever more threatening series of disasters. The crowning event, brought on by Schenck himself, does stretch credulity, but otherwise the narrative tension is tight as a wire hawser, and Nichols's eye for the natural beauty and terrors of the icy North unerring. Only a rather perfunctory windup, which snatches dire defeat from the jaws of seeming victory, disappoints slightly. Still, this is an utterly gripping read, a tale that says a great deal about the mystique of men and the sea even as it entertains. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Peter Nichols is the author of the international bestsellers "A Voyage for Madmen" and "Evolution's Captain" and three other books of fiction, memoir, and non-fiction. He spent ten years at sea working as a professional captain and has taught creative writing at Georgetown University. NYU in Paris, and Bowdoin College. He divides his time between Europe and the United States.

"Not an unswerving literary trajectory. I've wanted to write - and to be a writer - since childhood. In my 20s I worked at writerly jobs in advertising and journalism while I wrote two unpublished novels. Then I stepped aboard a friend's yacht and my life swung away toward boats and the sea for a decade. I became, in turn, a boat bum, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed commercial captain, and a proficient navigator with sextant. Then the leaky 27-foot, engineless wooden sailboat that had been my home for 5 years, in which I'd twice crossed the Atlantic, sank near the end of my third crossing (I was alone). But I had found a subject.
I was rescued and crawled ashore in Los Angeles where, naturally, I began writing screenplays. I was fatally encouraged: I found agents and made a little money, but never saw my screenplays (they were full of leaky projects and rootless characters) turned into films. Unhappy with my screenwriting career (and my non-writing career of many jobs, including being a 'ship wrangler' in Borneo for a bad pirate movie), I fled LA to a shack in Northern California where I wrote what became a memoir of my years afloat and the twinned sinkings of my boat and first marriage (Sea Change). In the next ten years I published a novel and three more books of non-fiction - all about not so much the sea and sailors, but fringe characters who have retreated to the water's edge and have nowhere else to go.
Being published changed everything. I went fairly quickly from being a yachtie, shepherd, carpenter, ship wrangler with literary delusions to a visiting professor of creative writing at some good colleges. I've been fortunate to have wonderful students. I love teaching because I can tell young writers what it took me decades to learn - simply, that yes, you can, if you really believe in yourself and don't give up. I dreamed of becoming a writer and I became one. And if I did it, they can too."

PN, 2013

Customer Reviews

In short, I'd rather walk the plank!!!
Alexander S. Coen
In this case, the author would have done well to simply erase the final couple of chapters and leave us hanging, rather than hanging us with so flat an ending.
Andy O'Hara
This book took forever to start, the word is Prologue not Prolong.
Candelario Henry Galvan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Sharp (sharp@jet.es) on October 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Voyage to the North Star is an adventure story written at a deep heartfelt level. Nichols's epic story of sailor Will Boden chasing his dreams on a whcko yacht in the arctic goes just as deep. And, with a crew of tragic, lucky and unlucky misfits who all seem wonderfully real and well-drawn, I was taken all the way with them. It's a wild ride. The descriptions of the fogbound arctic seas and tundra landscape are terrific. A great read for the armchair adventurer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Grey W. Satterfield Jr. on November 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a thoughtful book by a man who both loves and understands the sea -- and its risks. Peter Nichols tells a deeply ironic but beautiful story of a wild adventure in the northern reaches of the Atlantic on and around Baffin Island, which is north of Labrador and west of Greenland. In some ways Nichols seems too enamoured with death. Nevertheless, his tale is both exciting and moving and demonstrates a deep understanding of the sea, ships, and the men who sail them. Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Nichols is a writer who does not intrude upon the telling of his tale. And oh, what a story he tells. The prose is quiet, yet powerful, capable of provoking a visceral response in the reader. More than a good read; an experience for the reader.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
At least I enjoyed the first half of this book. The story moves along nicely, and some of the characters are quite interesting- leading man WIll Boden, Moyle, the taciturn old salt, and Gar Chamberlain, a young kid out to see the world. But others are as flat as comic-book villains- like nouveau riche industrialist and white hunter wanna'-be Carl Shenck, or Percival, the stuffy and stern English sea captain with a dark secret.
As the lavishly appointed "Lodestar" ventures into the arctic north, the tale grows increasingly wild. Ernest Shackleton meets "Heart of Darkness". I challenge the reader to locate another book in which death comes in the forms of polar bear attack, serial killer, and harpooning by an Eskimo lynch mob. What a mess; I mean, a serial killer! ... I felt the novel really lost its focus.
In the sprit of being constructive, I feel that any of the following books would pose a superior alternative for the reader interested in Arctic voyages: - Christoph Ransmayr's "The Terrors of Ice and Darkness" - Sebastian Junger's popular title, "The Perfect Storm" (fishing on the Grand Banks, close enough) - Barry Lopez, "Arctic Dreams" (not much sailing, but excellent, worth reading for the chapters on Narwhals and Polar Bears alone) - Alfred Lansing, "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" (which takes place in the Antarctic, but it's as harrowing a tale as you'll ever find, and entirely true)
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a sailor myself, I can tell you that Peter Nichols knows his stuff. He weaves a good yarn and keeps you reading. His portrayal of both Schenk and Boden was exciting and believable. (I am also a professional novelist and critique manuscripts regularly.) However, the book ends in such hopelessness and for no good reason that I actually slammed the book down in . . . well, hopelessness---so disgusted that I'd just wasted my valuable time. I guess I'm just the old-fashioned type and want a ray of hope in this world of gloom and doom.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For 332 pages Peter Nichols takes us on a rare and beautiful, then at times horrifying adventure during which we get very well acquainted with about eight characters. Boden, Shred and Moyle were men I had to admire, and for all the right reasons.

Nichols made sure we would despise the wealthy and despicable Schenk - accidentally rich during the depression of the thirties, and wildly amused as so many of the old-guard wealthy went down in financial flames. Nichols made certain we would loathe Schenk's harlot of a daughter Harriett, the quietly brutal Joey and that detestable Captain Percival. The harrowing story was well told - credibly told by a man who knows the sea and ships - and it looked like we were on a voyage that HAD to have a rewarding ending.

And so it went, until the final two pages, where Nichols sticks a knife in our guts, seemingly gleeful over our duplicity, our trust in him. An act of savagery by Joey two-thirds into the story ultimately leads to the revengeful killing of our heroes Boden and Moyle just when it looks like they're going to get rewarded for their strength of character and grit displayed throughout the adventure, and for their heroism toward the end that saves the others from certain doom. Then in the book's Epilogue, he gives another twist to that knife in our bellies. He describes how the characters he led us to hate live even more happily ever after, and more prosperously. All, that is, except Joey, who would have been only a bit player if his acts were not of such disastrous consequences.

What in the world was Peter Nichols thinking of? If writers stray so foolishly, don't editors today dissuade them - especially new writers like Nichols - from such folly? If they can't dissuade, they can make demands.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
There was a time in this country when self-made millionaires were almost given the status of diety, so great was the chasm between the moneyed classes and the common man circa 1932. Carl Schenck is just such a millionaire, a braggart intent upon the collection of successful "kills" to document his arrogance. He takes his fully staffed custom-made luxury yacht to the Arctic in search of indigenous big game. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, the party also includes a sea captain in disgrace, Boden, who signs on as a stoker. Against the stark beauty of the ice floes, such excesses are reached by Schenck as to disgust even the avid hunter. Boden, who loves the harsh beauty of the Arctic and respects the inherent dangers, is forced to witness atrocity after atrocity, as Schenck falls victim to a blood lust that endangers everyone. Boden finds himself unable to help his crewmates who are sacrificed along the way in Schenck's pursuit of bloody prowess. There is constant collision between good and evil, as Boden realizes his folly in joining the ship's crew on this voyage. Shenck, true to form, never has a clue.
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