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Safe from the Sea Paperback – September 12, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This finely crafted first novel takes place in the wooded areas around a small lake north of Duluth and in the tempestuous waters of Lake Superior. The history of the family at the center of the novel, the Torrs, encompasses both areas and is a prolonged story of resentment and recrimination. When his estranged father asks him for help, Noah Torr travels to the lakeside cabin to find his father dying and determined to reconcile some of the bitterness from the past. This is primarily a study of the lives and relations of the two men and on the calamitous effect that the sinking of the ore ship Ragnarok had on them. The suspense of the tight plot originates less in external action than in the two men’s increasing focus on the disaster in Lake Superior. The third-person narration skillfully interweaves tales of the past with the reality of the present. Give this book to readers of David Guterson and Robert Olmstead, who will be captured by the themes of approaching death and the pain and solace provided by nature. --Ellen Loughran --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A beautiful book—all shipwreck and rescue."—Alyson Hagy

“A rich, satisfying novel about family members who make amends after a lifetime of estrangement.”—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"an estranged father and son find reconciliation in the final week of the father’s life…Geye tackles the subjects of death, dying, and living with admirable insight and courage…Geye engages the complexities of family dynamics skillfully and handles especially well the kind of family grudges and misunderstandings that can cripple relationships for decades, as they do here. Inspiring, wise, and enthusiastically recommended for all readers." —Library Journal

“A reader can just about feel the cold spray of Lake Superior and taste the softness of the lefse…. The best sections of "Safe From the Sea" are the stories Olaf tells, and the questions Noah asks, especially about the tragedy of the Ragnarøk. What we expect from a man vs. nature story is not that man will win, but that man will be wise and valiant, and give it everything he has. Olaf's account of the wreck lives up to the great tradition of adventure storytelling. His pain about the shipwreck is not only survivor's angst, but also specific guilt about a lost shipmate that he has never shared before…. Olaf's last wish presents Noah with a watery physical challenge of his own, and gives the back end of the novel a touch of fairy tale, a la late John Cheever.”—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A finely crafted first novel…Give this book to readers of David Guterson and Robert Olmstead, who will be captured by the themes of approaching death and the pain and solace provided by nature.”—Booklist

"At once a Great Lakes adventure, an ode to a vanished life, and a gorgeous examination of the healing of deep wounds between father and son. This is a tautly written gem."—Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road

“[A] lyric story of familial strife and reconciliation…Geye excels at capturing the importance of life’s seemingly small moments and at cataloging their beauty…Geye shows how relationships—however flawed the participants—can be salvaged and strengthened when people strive to make things work through understanding and the search for and sharing of the truth.”—ForeWord Magazine

“Geye is a skilled and subtle observer. Throughout the book, readers are given an affectionate and perceptive view of roughhewn northern Minnesota, not only its Walden-esque lakes and forests, but also its thrifty and honest people…Geye is a gifted storyteller…Geye might wince to read this, but he could be a first-rate adventure novelist. He also excels in creating characters who are ordinary and exceptional at the same time—high praise for any author. The characters in Safe from the Sea are maturely-crafted; there are no heroes or villains in the book, just good people working through tough issues with grace and good humor.”—The New York Journal of Books

“Besides being a page-turning delight, his book is beautifully written, and the relationship between Noah and Olaf is one of the greatest father and son stories I've ever come across. This is a stunning novel...”–Steve Yarbrough, author of Safe from the Neighbors

"Peter Geye has rendered the Minnesota north shore in all its stark, dangerous beauty, and it is the perfect backdrop for this deeply moving story of conflict and forgiveness. Safe from the Sea is a remarkable debut."—Ron Rash,The Cove

"A deep hearted novel of bitten lives lived out on the cold shore of a ferocious world. In the silence of their existence, the dignity of their bearing, Geye compassionately renders the magnitudes of their despair, endurance and greatness." –Robert Olmstead, author of Coal Black Horse

“I don't know of another novel that better captures that stormy North Atlantic up in Minnesota called Lake Superior than Peter Geye's compelling debut novel, Safe from the Sea. He captures the wildness and the cold and braids those figurative aspects into a tenderly told story of a son and a father who has been anything but tender…a riveting sea tale…memorable.” —Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago

“This is a character-driven story and one that demonstrates the power of memory and the bonds of blood, a story of love and hope.”—bookviews.com

“Peter Geye’s Safe From the Sea, which I’m actually right in the middle of right now, but I can already tell that this is a special book. Lyrical, loaded with compassion for its characters, one of which is this arresting, dangerously alluring coast of Lake Superior. This is a gripping wonder of a book.”—Bruce Machart, author of The Wake of Forgiveness

“What starts out as a simple story of reconciliation soon reveals itself as something much deeper. After receiving an unexpected call from his estranged and ailing father, Noah Torr journeys home to make peace with the former ore boat sailor. When his father finally tells the story of the shipwreck that haunted him for the past thirty-five years, Noah gains valuable insights that allow him to start fresh with his own growing family.”—Northeast Minnesota Book Award citation

“Impressive.”--Inland Seas, Quarterly Journal of the Great Lakes Historical Society

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Unbridled Books; Reprint edition (September 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609530578
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609530570
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Peter Geye's debut novel is one of the best I've read in a long time. Conflict between father and son is nothing new but the reason behind Geye's characters' estrangement is heartbreaking and tragic. Noah's understanding of his father is rooted in his childhood version. He believes that what he knows of his father from growing up with and without him is the truth. And on the surface it is. But there's another side to the story - his father's side. Noah and his father give each other a last gift of truth and understanding - the story of before and after the disaster on Lake Superior. In doing so they are both free to move forward.
Geye's wonderful description of the Lake Superior shore, the ore boat Ragnarøk, and the family cabin pulled me into the novel. He tells a riveting story of not only an epic storm but also of people whose lives were forever changed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peter Geye has created a world with genuine characters and explores the complicated, broken relationship between a man and his father. While the setting of Lake Superior creates an obvious comparison between the strained relationship and the tumultuous sea, the comparison is never overbearing, nor does it take away from the story--rather it offers itself as an additional, vital character. I became one of those "crazy" people you see on the train, laughing out loud on one page and tearing up the next. These characters are real; by the end of the first chapter you KNOW Noah, Natalie, and Olaf...by the end of the book, you know them so well that you've passed the stage where you feel guilty for "intruding on these peoples' lives" to "oh yeah, they're fiction...proceed with the story, please). SAFE FROM THE SEA is a book I'll read again and I'm sure I'll discover even more about these complex characters and their story. This is literary fiction at its best and I truly look forward to more stories from Geye.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Minneapolis born Peter Geye paints a clear picture of the Great Lakes shipping industry on the cold Minnesota north shore in his debut novel, Safe from the Sea. You will feel the frigid sea air whip around your ears, taste the smoked salmon, smell the wood smoke as a father and son reunite after thirty-five years of estrangement. Norwegian immigrant, Olaf, doles out his bitterness and guilt about surviving a shipwreck to his son in small doses as they share everyday tasks like splitting wood and fishing.

Mr. Geye writes touching descriptions. Well-drawn scenes are Noah's discomfiture at following the directions to his father's house, the boyhood memories that flood him as he pokes around his father's shack and Olaf returning childhood mementos to his children. The lack of cell phone reception at his father's home mirrors the strained communication between Noah and his wife, Natalie.

More eloquence permeates what is not said than what is. Although the dialogue is somewhat stagnant and slows the plot, certain parts of the narrative are haunting. Noah visits the maritime museum and views the artifacts and photos from the shipwreck around which the secret of the book lies. Particularly unforgettable is the placard beside a photo identifying the thirty shipmates before they sailed. The voices of the twenty-seven men, who lost their lives when the SS Ragmarok foundered in a gale in 1967, echo through the museum. Stormy Lake Superior provides a perfect metaphor for the ravaged lives of the three survivors who vanished when the ship went down.

Safe from the Sea is about reminiscence, broken familial relationships and reconciliation.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peter Geye's SAFE FROM THE SEA offers just what its lovely, cold cover suggests: a turbulent tale of a father's love; a depiction of the emotional and physical landscapes that divide us from one another, then reunite us once more. Though emotionally difficult, it's a book I savored and found over all too quickly.

From the moment I was introduced to Noah, I felt a strong affinity for him. It was obvious the years had taken their toll -- just as they had on his father, a man I was determined to dislike but ultimately could not. Olaf -- reticent; headstrong; self-sufficient -- isn't accustomed to asking anyone for anything. But in reaching his hand out to Noah, and doing it on his own terms, I felt I could accept and love him. Just like his children do.

In telling the story of the Torr family, Geye chooses each word carefully. Never once did the pacing falter; never once was I weighed down with detail, with too much superfluous information. We're told what it is we need to know. But in reading SAFE FROM THE SEA, it never occurred to me to think about what was missing. All I could do was feel grateful for all I was given.

Like Noah and Natalie's relationship, for example. Loaded down with the stress of trying to start a family, the couple didn't seem to realize that they already had: with each other. Watching their interactions move from strained to tender was very emotional, and I found any dislike I had for Natalie and her perceived selfishness melting away. Despite everything, they understood each other. They longed for each other. It was realistic and heartbreaking and wonderful.

It's been a long time since I found a book that so moved me -- a book I couldn't help talking about with friends and coworkers.
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