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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So you think you know where you are headed?, 29 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Passage To Juneau: A Sea and Its Meaning (Paperback)
This is a beautiful, and sombre story, told by one the finest writers of English prose. If you have no interest in travel writing, could not care less for fulsome travel brochure descriptions of scenery or city, find patronising anecdotes of quaint and quirky locals and their customs annoying then this is the type of travel writing that you may want to read.
Mr Raban sets off from Seattle with the intention of sailing his yatch single handed to Juneau in Alkaska by a route known as the Inside Passage. A serpentine journey round islands,and reefs. There are tricky, dangerous tidal races, half submerged logs,and sudden violent squalls to be avoided. It is a daunting journey for a middle aged man, who readily admits to being a timid, and nervous sailor. He is out of his depth, and he knows it. Hence the description of the actual sailing is one of constant watchfulness, and anxiety. Hazards real and fanciful keep him in a state of permanent neurosis, constantly looking for a sheltered anchorage where he can ride out the storm or calm his nerves.

Mr Raban has taken a keen interest in the history of the native Americans who live on the west coast of America, and his opinions of their culture and development are scholarly, and humane. He is amused by the contemporary view of the Indians as proto-enviromentalists at one with nature, when they patently were not. Also he has taken a keen interest in the activities of the first European explorers and settlers of the region and makes constant references to the voyage of Captain Vancouver along the same route as his own in 1797.
But the real interest and drama lie not in the voyage or the history but with the author. As the voyage progresses Mr Raban emerges as the real story, not merely it's narrator. What we find is a man beset by worry and fretfulness, excited by his adventure but self reproachful for leaving his infant daughter and wife behind. The journey is brought to a jarring halt by the news of his father's illness, then death, and finally by a dreadful personal disaster that lands like a blow upon a bruise which sends him listing forlonly back to Seattle.
This is a story with a simple message, told against a seascape. You can chose your destination, plot your course, and steer as cautiously as you can, but it may do you no good. Unpredictable, and willful forces beset your voyage and you can never be sure where you will make landfall, or worse you may simply disappear beneath the foam.
Mr Raban writes simple,lucid and subtle storytelling at its very best. If you read this book I think you will come from it feeling as if you too have been on a long voyage, and returned to a place you thought you knew well, but are now less sure.
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