978-0-679-44262-2 / 9780679442622

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings





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About the book:

Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau is a pure delight, even for the most dedicated landlubbers. On April Fool's Day 1993, Raban set sail in his 35-foot ketch from "virtual reality" Seattle to travel the 1,000 or so miles up the often turbulent and tricky Inside Passage to Alaska. Despite describing himself as "a timid, weedy, cerebral type, never more out of my element than when I'm at sea", he nevertheless "meant to go fishing for reflections and come back with a glittering haul." And glittering this is, for Raban writes with such vivid acuity and witty iconoclasm about charted and uncharted waters, actual, historical, anthropological, natural and personal--and much else besides. His constants as he threads his course through the fretwork of islands, narrows and passes are tracing Captain Vancouver's 1792 voyage in the Discovery; the Northwest Indians' tenacious relation to the sea that dominated their lives and was mirrored in their art; Edmund Burke's 1757 theory of the sublime (terror was the most necessary ingredient) and the consequent, ecstatic recording of the coastal landscape (not by Vancouver, who found it dull and gloomy, but by his snobbish young upper-class officers); Raban's father's death and its aftermath which interrupted his voyage; and, of course, the sea itself with its six basic movements: pitch, roll, yaw, heave, surge, and sway.

Every page offers rewarding observations and colourful commentary: on the death of the great fisheries, the new tourism, a rereading of Shelley and Marcus Aurelius, bird flight, the rigours of outpost life, and even indeed the origins of "nookie." All of this makes for an utterly engaging, generously questing, scholarly and richly pleasurable work. -- Ruth Petrie

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