They Call Me Jake by Pedro Abreu

They Call Me Jake

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A young sailor tells a meandering tale of his voyages around the world in this debut novel.

Jacob Smith, a Welsh-born Australian, relates how, after getting in trouble with the law as a teenager, he was forced to get a job on a cargo ship. From there, his stories follow one another like waves on the seashore. He sails to Panama and has sex with several prostitutes at a bar; then he gets stuck in South Carolina for a while because of a union workers’ strike, and learns about the American Civil War. In New York City, he watches a baseball game, has sex with more prostitutes, and has his fortune told by a Romanian palm reader. He then celebrates his 21st birthday with lots of debauchery in Haifa, Israel. Later, he almost marries an Argentinian girl, attends college in London, and joins a kibbutz, or collective farm, in Israel. Through it all, he continually hops between ships and gets fired from multiple jobs for reasons such as missing work and bringing prostitutes onboard; slowly, however, he works his way up to higher nautical ranks. Along the way, he’s careful to give readers a brief history and cultural lesson on every place he visits. These passages make it clear the author did his research, and for readers who haven’t traveled extensively, this novel could serve as a brief, educational guidebook to other cultures and continents. But as a story, it seems as aimless and meandering as its young protagonist. It has no clear plot, and neither Jake nor any of the other characters have any personalities beyond their intense likings for sex, drugs, and alcohol. None of Jake’s remarkable experiences change him in any way, and there’s nothing to connect his adventures except the ships on which he reaches them. The book stops abruptly at the beginning of a new voyage with the words, “But that’s another bunch of stories…” Although some of the tales in this book are exciting by themselves, they don’t add up to a compelling narrative.

An unfocused seafaring tale.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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