I came to read The Sea Runners on suggestion from my dear old Uncle Bill. He seemed to like it and heartily recommended it to me. Upon reading it, I came to realize why it appealed to him, but personally though it was a little beyond my tastes (my uncle likes historical fiction because he says that he likes to learn something while he's reading).
This book, written by Ivan Doig, is based on true events, as documented in the book's afterword. It chronicles the escape of four Swedish men, (Melander, Karlsson, Braaf, and Wennberg) from a Russian labor camp in mid-1800s Alaska, and their voyage by canoe to Astoria, Oregon. They must brave hostile Kolosh Indians, savage storms, and a generally inhospitable environment. Not all of the party will make it to their destination, and their trusty maps and stolen supplies won't be able to see them through the whole way, but the only things they have to guide them there is hope, skill, and plain old gumption.
The Sea Runners is quite unlike any book I have ever read. Its prose is immensely poetic, being more like an epic poem than prose at all. That said, it's still fairly easy to understand what's going on, even if I had to reread some sentences once or twice to understand what was going on, but that happens with a lot of books I read. I'd say that it's a beautifully written book, but I came in expecting an epic adventure story, not a poetical work. Granted, the story is epic and adventurous enough, just not quite as much as I'd like.
I liked how Doig was able to individualize the four protagonists. You've go the daring, charismatic Melander, the strong, silent hunter Karlsson, the wily thief Braaf, and the grumpy blacksmith Wennberg. All of them get their chance to shine, each standing out as their own person. They all have a strong aura of likeability, and are all decidedly human.
Unfortunately, this is a far from perfect book. I have issues with the dialogue, for one thing. It might be the contrast of the "normal" dialogue against the lyrical prose, but for some reason the dialogue just didn't come across well for me. Without effective dialogue, a crucial means of portraying the characters is lost, and without the characters, you've effectively crippled one of the two legs that every story needs to stand, the other being plot. I'd also like to take some time to point out the presence of some severe swearing in this book. There's also implications of some sexual content, but nothing graphic. In addition, there's a little bit of violence.
Overall, I found The Sea Runners to be a bit artsy for my taste. It is far more literate that what I'm used to, but if you have a college level vocabulary, then you might like it. Of course, due to it's exhibition of far lower class vocabulary, I can only recommend this book for readers fifteen and up on the common sense scale. Is it a good book? Yes. Is it an enjoyable book? For me, I'm afraid that the answer is, "Not really."
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