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Notable new books

Jan 1, 2003

Passage to Juneau Sea and Its Meaning

by Jonathan Raban

In his previous books Jonathan Raban has taken us wandering through Arabia, cruising down the Mississippi, and sailing around England. In his latest effort he guides us through the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, aboard his cruising sailboat.Raban is not an entirely easy companion. He is far too smart and very sure of what he knows. Aboard a small boat that can get oppressive, which might be why he voyages alone. Arguing a subject with Raban would likely be an exercise in futilitythat is if one wanted to win the argumentbut if one just wanted to learn, then Jonathan Raban is a great source of information.

Spliced together in this tale are the journals of George Vancouver, who made this same trip in the 18th century; the writing of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who studied the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest; as well as a whole melange of other writers that Raban freely draws upon as he winds his way through the passage.

This is a long trip, feeling at times like a windward slog through gray weather. His brilliance is exhausting and his cross-references almost too numerous, and when the passage is finally complete, one is relieved to take leave of the boat. But there is something else going on that compels the reader to return to the story, drawn back to it like sailors who have forgotten the torment of a particular passage, discovering, after a little time, that what they had experienced was truly memorable.

For information call 800-793-2665; 434 pages; $26.50.