The Rising Sun: Being a True Account of the Voyage of the Great Ship of That Name, the Author's Adventures in the Wastes of the New Wo

Douglas Galbraith, Author
Douglas Galbraith, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-87113-781-4
Paperback - 535 pages - 978-0-8021-3864-4
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Evocative of the cadences of Herman Melville, Galbraith's impressive historical fiction debut charts the voyage of The Rising Sun and its four sister ships setting out from Scotland in 1698 intent on establishing a colony in Darien, later known as Panama. The colonists' mission, envisioned and orchestrated by William Paterson, founder of the Bank of England and trader of dubious background, is to secure a stronghold abroad, allowing the Scots to compete economically with the English, Spanish and Dutch. Ostensibly the journal recollections of the ship's superintendent of cargoes, Roderick Mackenzie, the meticulously detailed, briskly narrated tale proceeds beyond potentially dry recitations of the number of hammock hooks and cordage on board to often poetic reveries about the amount of sail needed to ""blow a nation's hopes half way across the world and over its insane edge."" This so-called Darien Scheme failed, but Galbraith brings it all to vivid, absorbing life--whether he is describing the ravages of yellow fever or the oozing thickets of jungle the men must clear with machetes. With a sure and often comic hand, Galbraith engages the reader with characters like the self-absorbed, opportunistic Paterson; Mackenzie's dull-witted assistant, Mister Shipp; or Mackenzie himself, a young man who matures quickly via hardship and hard living. Although details of weather and diet occasionally slow the pace, Galbraith redeems himself in moments of poignant humanity: ""I drank his health, drank it again and then just drank."" Some observations approach the Melvillean mode, as when the colonists, reduced for long periods to eating nothing but biscuits and green beef, feast on creamy whale blubber and a ""gluttonous hush settles over the colony."" Though long, this swift tale is never long-winded. (Feb.)
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