The Wreck of the Barque Stefano Off the North West Cape of Australia in 1875

Gustave Rathe, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $17 (136p) ISBN 978-0-374-38585-9
A true story of shipwreck and rescue, this remarkable narrative relates the ordeal of first-time author Rathe's grandfather, Miho Baccich, who, as a teenage Croatian sailor, was rescued by naked aborigines after his ship sank off Australia's desolate northwestern coast in October 1875. Baccich watched eight fellow survivors succumb to madness and starvation, until only he and shipmate Ivan Jurich were left. Driven to cannibalism, the two were finally adopted by a nomadic aboriginal band, and joined their rescuers' relentless search for food. Initially fearful of these ``barbarians,'' Baccich grew impressed with their innumerable acts of kindness, gentle ways and harmony with nature. He and Jurich were rescued by an English cutter in April 1876. Their story--first set down by a Jesuit scholar that year, and here fleshed out with new source material gathered by Rathe, who recasts the tale in crystalline modern prose--is a marvelous Conradian journey into the heart of darkness, a haunting parable on race relations and a challenge to our preconceptions about ``civilized'' versus ``primitive'' behavior. In an epilogue, Rathe tracks the fates of Jurich, who was murdered by the Nazis, and of Baccich, who settled in New Orleans. Embellished by sketches, maps and photographs (many in color), this memorable adventure story combines high drama and insight into the human condition. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1992
Release date: 08/01/1992
Genre: Nonfiction
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