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I Sailed with Magellan: Stories Paperback – September 9, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Dybek's third work of fiction (his first in over 10 years, after the story collections Childhood and Other Neighborhoods and The Coast of Chicago) comprises 11 elegiac, interlocking stories narrated by Perry Katzek, a young Polish-American growing up on Chicago's racially diverse South Side in the 1950s and 1960s. Although it lacks the narrative momentum of a linear novel, the book offers a powerful, cumulative portrait of the lives of Perry, his family and the people in his neighborhood, where "it seemed that almost every day someone lost teeth at one or another of the corner bars." "Breasts" follows three men with only tenuous connections to Perry, including Joey Ditto, a gangster who keeps getting distracted from making a ruthless hit by the ethereal forms of past lovers. "Blue Boy," which begins as a tale about a sick youngster, ends as a gorgeous contemplation of loss. The strongest stories deal directly with Perry's exploits. In "Orchids," Perry and his friend Stosh try to scheme their way to Mexico by stealing exotic orchids, and in the much-anthologized "We Didn't," Perry and his girlfriend's erotic lakeshore tumbling ("Swimsuits at our ankles, we kicked like swimmers to free our legs") is interrupted by the discovery of a dead body. "I was the D. H. Lawrence of not doing it," Perry reflects, "the voice of all would-be lovers who ached and squirmed." Indeed, all of these beautifully written stories teem with aching recollections. They are lyrical odes to wasted lives, youthful desires, vanishing innocence and the transformative power of memory, which is "the channel by which the past conducts its powerful energy; it's how the past continues to love."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Whenever Perry Katzek's much loved Uncle Lefty takes him up on the roof of his building to see the pigeon coop and the great grid of Chicago, he says, "Welcome to Dreamsville," which could serve as an alternative title for this magical suite of linked stories. In his first book since the unforgettable Coast of Chicago (1990), Dybek writes of his hometown with the poignant realism of Henry Roth, the mythic intensity of Leon Forrest, and the poetic otherworldliness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Eleven perfectly formed and exquisitely sensual tales--each so saturated with personality, event, and revelation they feel like novels--illuminate transforming moments in Perry's life. Imaginative, adventurous, and romantic, Perry falls in love and loses loved ones, witnesses violence and experiences transcendence, while Dybek masterfully and tenderly conjures the edgy ambience of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods and the great divide between the bucolic North Side and the broken-glass-strewn, tavern-spiked industrial South Side, where bravado, musical gifts, and witty repartee are highly valued. Set in a chimerical world of ice and flowers, soul-bruising hard work and sweet dreams, ruthless mobsters and die-hard friends, Dybek's mesmerizing tales coalesce into an epic of survival and spiritual growth that is, by turns, gritty, surreal, hilarious, tragic, and bittersweet. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
No doubt much of it is based on the personal experiences of author Stuart Dybek, who was born in 1942 and grew up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Indeed, much of the book may well be personal memoir draped with but the thinnest of fictional garb. Still, it reads more like a novel (or a collection of inter-related stories) than like a memoir.
Those who are from Chicago and are now between the ages of 55 and 75 might treasure the book just a tad more than the rest of us, inasmuch as it features such places as Twelfth Street Beach, Sportsman's Park, the Rocks, Meigs Field, Douglas Park, the outdoor market on Maxwell Street, the Sanitary Canal, and the Baha'i Temple. (I certainly would treasure any novel half as good about Philadelphia - my hometown - during the same years.) But one need not be from Chicago to find the book special. What it has to say about memory, childhood and youth, and the human condition should speak to most, and especially to males who grew up in an urban, working-class setting.
The book abounds with lovable characters and with sparkling anecdotes. Among the former are Perry's father (whom he and his brother call "Sir" because one night while watching "Leave It to Beaver" he had said how nice it was that Wally and Beaver called their father "Sir"), his uncle Lefty who played the sax and the horses, his best friend Stosh, and his erstwhile girlfriend Laurel Elaine Levanto who left Perry stranded in the Fire Truck Graveyard after the high school prom. Among the anecdotes is this one about Denny "the Fish" Mihala: when the fourth-grade teacher Sister Philomena asked the class, "If birds come in flocks, and fish in schools, what other kinds of groupings can you name?", Denny eagerly answered, "A dozen donuts!"
The motif that struck home with me the most had to do with memory and nostalgia. Here is one such excerpt: "Who knows why certain humble objects - a bike, a sweater, a sled - are salvaged by memory or dream to become emblems of childhood? Childhood, an alternative universe expanding into forgetfulness, where memory rather than matter is the stuff of creation."
I SAILED WITH MAGELLAN is also noteworthy for its writing and craftsmanship. The stories are skillfully interwoven, and there are moments when Dybek's writing is brilliant, such as when he refers to a character gazing up at the nighttime sky, "aware that he was just another speck adrift in stardust on the absolute zero breath of God."
I SAILED WITH MAGELLAN (the title comes from a song Perry's brother Mick sang when they were kids) was published in 2004, which to my way of thinking still makes it contemporary fiction. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction. Maybe I should make a point of reading more, because I SAILED WITH MAGELLAN is first-rate literature. It easily is one of the ten best books I read in 2012.
"I Sailed with Magellan" is a fun, satisfying, often poignant and sometimes hilarious depiction of a lower middle class largely Polish immigrant community in Chicago in the late 1950's and early 1960's. The stories, mix of cultures and voices come across as authentic, engaging and relatable. While I'm just a bit younger than this era I found the family vignettes, angst and conflicts of growing up and the shared friendships and aspirations all rang true.
There is one particularly hysterical story about a high school marching band playing while being lead into what is clearly the wrong neighborhood: Warning not to read that in a library. The Prom date is very funny and the "we didn't do it" not love scene is simply brilliant. Collectively it all portrays Perry Katzik's life and neighborhood which I am assuming is highly autobiographical.
I'd give it 5 stars if the stories came together a bit more. Others may not see that as a weakness. I liked the writing. There are nice jumps in time that work, there are a few overly boyish dialogues that I could have done without but that are nonetheless true to life. I was particularly impressed by Stuart Dybek's story of a talented young female writer where he needs to write in her voice and show her talent while still speaking from Perry's perspective and voice. It worked for me. There was good contrast that left me wondering how do you do that?
Hope others enjoy it!