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Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings Paperback – November 7, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Later Printing edition (November 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776147
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you love sailing, the Northwest, NW Coast Indian art, or Raban's other travel books, you've got to get this one. Leave it to a Brit--especially this shrewd, funny Brit--to see things here that others have missed, and to put them all into perspective with warm, witty prose. His observations about NW Coast Indian art, in particular, are uncanny. I've studied NW Coast Indian art for years, and I've rarely encountered better, more insightful writing about it. Raban describes in lush detail how the images and techniques of NW Coast Indian art are intimately connected with life on the water--an insight that seemingly no one has written about before, not even the great scholars Bill Holm, Bill Reid, and Hilary Stewart. For my money, this is the book of the year about the Pacific Northwest, and one of the best ever. Its only serious rivals recently are Raban's other fine Northwest-related books, "Hunting Mr. Heartbreak" and "Bad Land."
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike several fine reviewers here at Amazon.com, I have not previously been exposed to the work of J Raban. As is often my style, I bought the book blind, being interested in the geographical setting of the story. I had half expected to immerse myself in a lengthy, technical and somewhat drowsy account of a sailing voyage conducted in the throes of a midlife crisis. I was very pleasantly surprised to find my preconceptions unraveled within the first three chapters. Raban writes with a depth and sincerity which belies his rather simple (and refreshing) use of narrative. The story of one man's journey on a surprisingly deep and sometimes threatening sea (right here in North America no less) becomes vital when wedded to the parallel journey Raban shares with us of his own changes and demons. The references to George Vancouver skillfully drew atmosphere over the skeleton of what, in a lesser author's pen, would have become a brittle tale of --on this day, I sailed to here-- gruel. Raban does a wonderful job of weaving a cohesive story from divergent threads including events relating to his actual sailing, his father, Northwest Native history and bloody ol' Captain Van. For 450 pages I had trouble putting this book down, and one morning woke up in Ketchikan... until my alarm clock rudely reminded me I was still in Orange County. Yes, it is a personal story, to the point of causing me to feel a little voyeuristic in places. I heartily recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary book by a master of the surgical mot juste, a work of vivid imagination, of chilling insight and wisdom, of seafaring history and lore so vivid that you can almost taste the salt, containing within its pages, almost incidentally, poignant evocations of two of life's most crushing passages: the loss of a parent, and the dissolution of a marriage. Until I read "Passage to Juneau," I considered Graham Greene's "Journey Without Maps" to stand alone in the genre, with "The Lawless Roads" not far behind. Raban's work measures up in every respect.
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Format: Hardcover
As in his earlier "Coasting", Raban weaves his inner and outer journeys in his classic self-revelatory style. His portrayal of Vancouver's struggles makes a great sub-plot. His descriptive powers zero right in. I've never read a better passage on the fundamental difference between the US and Canada. Raban evokes the spirit of the place and the people in ways that are surprising for just one trip North. His passages about his relationship with his father and daughter Julia are heartfelt and moving. Having spent some years in Southeast Alaska in the early 70's working on the water, it's great to read something other than the typical gushing travel writer's fiction. Raban gives us a very personal glimpse into a unique world. Ranks with McPhee's "Coming into the Country" and Edward Hoagland's "Notes from the Century Before" as one of the best books about the Alaskan experience as well as a very personal voyage of discovery.
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Format: Hardcover
For those interested in the Inside Passage and the shore of the Northwest (West for Canadians), this book is worth the read. It is chuck full of the ocean's hydrology, the native cultures that used to exist, their disappearance, and the history of the white man's first incursion in these waters. Raban's sharp eye gives the reader an outstanding sense of place. However, the book too often digresses into the evolution of English literature and then into Raban himself. He leaves the boat and then takes a tack all the way to England, to his father's funeral, his father's experiences, and his relationship with his father. He could have recounted how the ghost of his father may have visited him during his Passage to Juneau, but the chapter-long digressions are a bit too self-indulgent for a readership ostensibly interested in the Inside Passage and the oceans.
The end of the book is also a bit desultory, making the return trip to Seattle in a matter of a few pages. Better to have skipped the attempt altogether and ended it with the drama that met him in Juneau.
Passage to Juneau is a good book written by a master of the language. A little stronger editing would have made it a great work.
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