Friday, January 30, 2009
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
The daughter of a tyrannical father, Una leaves the violent Kentucky frontier for the peace of a New England lighthouse island, where she simultaneously falls in love with two young men. Disguised as a boy, she earns a berth on a whaling ship where she encounters the power of nature, death, and madness, and gets her first glimpse of Captain Ahab. As Naslund portrays Una's love for the tragically driven ahab, she magnificently renders a real, living marriage and offers a new perspective on the American experience. Excerpt from book cover.
My Review: When I finished this book I just stared at the page for awhile, then dropped it in my lap and exclaimed "That is a Good Book." I sit to review a beautifully written, intensely detailed novel and can only come up with fragments of sentences to describe it. If is full of some of the hardest life situations imaginable, yet it was uplifting. And solemn. And fun.
I'll let Newsday speak with their review "Naslund has quilted a life for her heroine that meticulously stitches together many of the important issues of the period, including slavery, women's rights, and the crisis of religious belief." And I'll echo another reviewer who called this "a great American novel." Confidently, the author wrote in the time and style of Emerson, Whitman and Hawthorne with a story and language that was poetic, lyrical, descriptive, compelling, heartbreaking, inspiring.
The author gives us a character who grows up through the story telling. It is not a historical fiction with obvious "historical figure-dropping". Instead of expecting a history lesson I gasped in recognition each time such a person arrived, anxious to see how they naturally intersected with Una's life.
This is not a quick or easy read. The book is thick, the pages big and the words poetic. It is also emotional, though luckily with pauses in the action that made it possible for me put it down and savor what I'd read (and go to bed). Even in the last few chapters there were surpises and heartbreaks but finishing it was an utter delight.
My rating: 5 stars, should be a classic.
If I could sum up this book in one sentance: A novel that argues that the gentler sex is the stronger.