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To the White Sea (Delta World War II Library) Paperback – September 1, 1994
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From Library Journal
- James Dudley, Copiague, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
More About the Author
Born in 1923 in Buckhead, Georgia, Dickey spent a year at Clemson University before enlisting in World War II. As a member of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron, Dickey flew more than 100 combat missions in the Pacific Theater, and it was during this time that he began to experiment with poetry. After the war, he finished his degree at Vanderbilt University. Although he started writing poetry in 1947, Dickey did not become a full-time poet until thirteen years later.
After earning a master's degree in 1950, he taught and lectured for six years, but when some of his poems were construed to be obscene, he decided to forsake academic life for the advertising business. "I thought if my chosen profession, teaching, was going to fall out to be that sort of situation," he said in Conversations with Writers, "I'd rather go for the buck...I figured that the kind of thing that an advertising writer would be able to write, I could do with the little finger of the left hand, and they were getting paid good dough for it. I happened to have been right."
Writing ad copy for much of the 1950s, Dickey secured a place for himself in the world of advertising and business. However, after the publication of his first book, Into the Stone, and Other Poems (1960), Dickey left his career to devote himself to poetry.
"There could have been no more unpromising enterprise or means of earning a livelihood than that of being an American poet," he admitted in Conversations with Writers. "It's different now. They're still having a relatively rocky road, but it ain't like it was..." Dickey's emotional attachment to his craft surfaced early in his writing career. "I came to poetry with no particular qualifications," he recounted in Howard Nemerov's Poets on Poetry. "I had begun to suspect, however, that there is a poet--or a kind of poet--buried in every human being like Ariel in his tree, and that the people whom we are pleased to call poets are only those who have felt the need and contrived the means to release this spirit from its prison."
In Poets on Poetry, Dickey admitted that he considered style subordinate to the spirit of poetry, the "individually imaginative" vision of the poet. Dickey recalled that the subject matter of his early poems came from the principal incidents of his life, "those times when I felt most strongly and was most aware of the intense reality of the objects and people I moved among. But despite the many autobiographical allusions, Dickey's work often assimilates, even as it reports, the experiences of others. In poems like "Drinking from a Helmet" and "The Firebombing," Dickey's self-conscious speaker is often transfigured into a sort of visionary observer, fully aware of his own perspective and the fleeting nature of the event, however catastrophic.
Extreme conditions permeate Dickey's work. "To make a radical simplification," wrote Monroe K. Spears in Dionysus and the City: Modernism in Twentieth-Century Poetry, "the central impulse of Dickey's poetry may be said to be that of identifying with human or other creatures in moments of ultimate confrontation, of violence and truth. A good example is [the poem] 'Falling,' which imagines the thoughts and feelings of an airline stewardess, accidentally swept through an emergency door, as she falls thousands of feet to her death" in a field in Kansas.
Many of Dickey's poems also explore the perspective of non-human creatures such as horses, dogs, deer, bees, and hybrid animal forms. Such poems attempt to fuse human and nature into a transcendental vision of wholeness. As Benjamin DeMott wrote in the Saturday Review, "A first-rate Dickey poem breathes the energy of the world, and testifies to the poet's capacity for rising out of...habitual, half-lived life."
Dickey's acclaimed novel Deliverance (1970) continues and extends the preoccupations central to his verse. Exposing the primitive urges at work in even "civilized" men, the novel tells the story of four Atlanta suburbanites on a back-to-nature canoe trip that turns into a terrifying test of survival. Dickey, who made a number of canoe and bow-hunting trips in the wilds of northern Georgia, told Walter Clemons in the New York Times Book Review that much of the story was suggested by incidents that had happened to him or that he had heard about through friends. All those experiences, according to Dickey, shared the feeling of excitement and fear that "comes from being in an unprotected situation where the safeties of law and what we call civilization don't apply..."
Much more than a violent adventure tale, Deliverance is a novel of initiation. As a result of their experience, the two men who survive come to a realization of the natural savagery of man in nature, said C. Hines Edwards in Critique. "In three days they have retraced the course of human development and have found in the natural state not the romantic ideal of beauty in nature coupled with brotherhood among men but beauty in nature coupled with the necessity to kill men, coolly and in the course of things." In line with this view, Samuels and other critics noted that Deliverance alludes to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Still other critics made comparisons to Hemingway and even Homer. Dickey wrote the script for the blockbuster movie of the same name, and even made a cameo appearance.
In addition to Deliverance, Dickey also wrote criticism, including the National Book Award-nominated Sorties (1971), a collection of journals and essays, and published a retelling of several biblical stories, God's Images: The Bible, a New Vision (1977). He also wrote Jericho: The South Beheld (1974), an exploration of the American South. "Like Whitman or [Mark] Twain," said Michael Dirda in the Washington Post Book World, "Dickey seems in a characteristic American tradition, ever ready to light out for new territories."
Dickey's next novels Alnilam (1987) and To the White Sea (1993) were not as well-received as Deliverance, though Dickey alleged he spent thirty-six years working on the former. Largely viewed as a "poet's novel," Alnilam did not fare well critically. However, in his final novel, To the White Sea, Dickey returned to the themes of survival and primitivism. As with Alnilam, critics praised Dickey's poetic style, even as it clouded the plot. "Dickey takes language as far as it will go and sometimes overdoes it," remarked John Melmoth in the Times Literary Supplement, who added that "some of the writing has an eerie brilliance."
Dickey died of a lung ailment early in 1997. Critical appreciation of his work focused on both his interest in primitivism and the use he made of his Southern background. Reviewing two posthumous volumes, Crux: The Letters of James Dickey (1999) and The James Dickey Reader (1999), in the New York Times Book Review, J. D. McClatchy noted that "by the time Dickey died in 1997, at the age of 73, his public had thinned out...His writing, with its lust for excess, its fascination with guts and grit, blood and soul, had long since grown bloated and undisciplined."
Though praising Dickey's early work, McClatchy contended that the publishers of his letters had "done him a disservice" in presenting letters without context that seemed to present Dickey as a self-serving careerist and hypocrite. Though considered a major figure of American poetry, Dickey was also criticized for his pursuit of celebrity and out-sized public persona. Bronwen Dickey, the poet's daughter by a second marriage, offered a countering view of Dickey in Newsweek. She noted that his was "not the greatness of the writer but the greatness of the father and the teacher."
Despite some critical reappraisal, Dickey's reputation as a major American poet seems assured. In a 1981 Writer's Yearbook interview, Dickey elaborated on his devotion to verse: "Poetry is, I think, the highest medium that mankind has ever come up with. It's language itself, which is a miraculous medium which makes everything else that man has ever done possible." -- This biographical sketch is adapted from one originally published by The Poetry Foundation.
Top Customer Reviews
The basic story is that of a WWII bomber crewman shot down over Tokyo immediately prior to the great firebomb raids of Spring 1945. He is utterly alone on a hostile foreign island, likely listed as missing, presumed dead, with the book's opening pages promising a superior adventure as our protagonist struggles to stay alive and eventually repatriate. But, as the story matures and we gradually learn more about Muldrow, we see that repatriation has been only a fleeting inspiration. Mudrow has been freed, and he pushes north toward a place that is much more imagined than real.
As he struggles north Muldrow changes from serviceman to fugitive, from survivor to predator, from endangered hero to questionable protagonist to a perplexing and difficult-to-like principal character. To my reading, Muldrow is an unpredictable, dangerous psychotic, with only the regimen and discipline of societal interaction and military service having kept him in check during brief periods of his life. When in his element, out in the wilderness relying only upon himself, he is a nation unto himself, free to make any choice which suits his needs and his whims. We see it in the flashbacks to Alaska, and we see it in his maniacal odyssey to Hokkaido and the White Sea, and to a mental and physical place which of course does not exist.
In the end where does Muldrow go? This is as debatable as the nature of his character, the origins of his actions and thoughts, and his motivations.Read more ›
I liked the book enough to want to go back and read more of Dickey's other works...
As has already been said, it is a novel of an aviator shot down during a WWII bombing raid over Tokyo, and his story of survival. The novel has a single narrative and a single voice (the protagonist's), and no chapters. One story-line, one voice, and one long chapter has the potential for tedium, yet I found the novel to be gripping and excellent.
Dickey's character doesn't really tell you what is happening to him, but relies on an indirectness to tell the tale. You don't so much get the action, rather you get the effect. You don't read the words of this novel; you just sort of take in the pages.
As the story unfolds, the character's traits, flaws, and past transgressions seep out. It is a novel way to get to know a character. While this book moved slowly at time, and wasn't the war novel I thought it was, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it. I read Deliverance long ago, and am glad I finally read this novel.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
James Dickey came up with a very clever idea in "To the White Sea" and put it together very cunningly. Read morePublished 3 months ago by keetmom
Chilling! Dickey lulls you into a dream state with long meditative passages on the majesty of nature at its most pristine and brutal so he can stick a thin blade into your gut. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Johnny Canal
Good for a cheerful pick-me-up. Muldrow is a laugh riot as he carves and stabs his way across a burning Japan. Read morePublished 16 months ago by W. Collins
I think that so many readers have robbed themselves of experiencing the true and subtle brilliance of James Dickey's writing by only paying attention to "Deliverance". Read morePublished 22 months ago by Forest Barrett
I ordered this book for my book club to donate to the library based on the request of a speaker for our club. A quick scan when it arri. Read morePublished on November 16, 2013 by KY READER
Marksman competing with fighter pilots. Birdman caught on the ground. Refugee and hunted. Predator but on the run. Read morePublished on October 17, 2013 by Amazon Customer
The Coen brothers--makers of one of my favorite movies, Miller's Crossing--are making a movie out of this book so I thought I'd read it. Read morePublished on June 21, 2013 by Sean Murphy
This is not Deliverance, if you've read the book or watched the movie. But I've often wondered about this scenario, and in fact this addressed it quite nicely. Read morePublished on May 4, 2013 by TruxtonSpangler