cover image Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

Jonathan Raban / Author Pantheon Books $26.5 (448p) ISBN 978-0

As he recounts fishing a rain jacket he'd mistaken for a corpse out of cold Pacific waters, Raban wryly confesses that ""gallivanting around the world in a small boat is a continuing education in one's limitless capacity for self-delusion."" Sailing up the Inland Passage, the protected waterway that serves as a great nautical freeway between Puget Sound and Alaska, Raban (British expat and chronicler of the American experience) sounds its history in a clever, always curious, yet increasingly morose voice. It's a lengthy journey over vast territory, and Raban struggles to maintain a streamlined narrative. He finds himself at turns landlocked by fog, skimming across water that is incredibly deep, cold and oddly ""greasy,"" intrigued by the ""floating junkyard"" brought by the tide and anchoring at once prosperous timber and fishing communities. In his NBCC Award-winning Bad Land, Raban composed a moving portrait of desert homesteaders in Montana and North Dakota from the intimate stories of several families. Here, although his journey is his narrative vehicle, the subject is definitely Raban himself, as explorer, traveler and man. He keeps the most intimate company with ghosts: his companions include the cruel Captain George Vancouver, who mapped the coast in the 1790s; the shipwrecked poet Shelley; the Indians and settlers who peopled the landscape. He also writes of his daughter and (increasingly estranged) wife, who remain back in Seattle, and of his father, whose illness and death in England interrupt and recast Raban's journey. A compelling meditation courses beneath the surface commotion of the book as Raban seeks solace (and himself) in the movement of the sea with its deadheads, whirlpools, unpredictable tides, submerged mountains and stony shores capped with evergreen wool. First serial to the New Yorker; 9-city author tour. (Nov.)