THE HARD WAY AROUND by Geoffrey Wolff


The Passages of Joshua Slocum
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An exhilarating depiction of the adventurer, shipbuilder and writer Joshua Slocum, who spent nearly his entire life at sea and was the first man to sail solo across  the globe.

It's tough to gauge which accomplishment merits more admiration—that Slocum left home at age 16 to start a heralded career as a deepwater captain or that in the twilight of life, he transformed a decaying sloop into a snug, fast vessel in which he sailed around the planet. Both require unimaginable stamina, courage, intelligence and love, and Slocum had plenty, as recounted in dynamic detail by Wolff (The Edge of Maine, 2005, etc.). Amid the steam revolution, Slocum held unrelenting loyalty to sailing ships, despite the frequent challenges and setbacks he and his family faced while traveling great distances to deliver cargo. On his honeymoon, he was forced to build a rescue boat from his own shipwreck. As a captain aboard the Northern Light, he faced mutiny, and on the Liberdade, smallpox. Throughout, towering storms and touchy international relations made each voyage extremely difficult. Slocum didn’t attempt a life on land until 1889, but he felt emotionally distant from both the culture and his second wife—this was an unsurprisingly brief period in which he spent most of his time rebuilding an old wreck given to him by an acquaintance. Literally and figuratively, the author writes, “when Slocum found himself in a fix he would boat-build his escape.” By 1895, the sloop was reborn as the resplendent Spray, ready for the ocean and equipped (somewhat unbelievably) with the ability to self-sail. This boat took Slocum on his three-year solo trip around the world, a feat unrivalled for more than 25 years afterward. Wolff explores both the global political atmosphere of the time and Slocum's complicated emotional state during inconceivable periods of isolation. The author frequently lauds Slocum's autobiographical works—especially Sailing Alone Around the World (1899)—describing his writing as fresh-voiced and richly nuanced, and he quotes from these publications to add context to the narrative.

A rewarding tale of life on the high seas.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4342-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2010


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