THE PATHS OF THE SEA by Pierre Schoendoerffer


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A brooding Passion Play (picking up themes from Joseph Conrad)--set in French Indo-China and infused with the terrifying densities of 20 years of French disengagement and American involvement with the lives of the Indo-Chinese. The principal narrator is Lt. Pierre, a ship's doctor formerly with the naval health service who signs up in the present to make the icy Spitzbergen-to-Newfoundland patrol aboard a devastatingly lonely deep-sea trawler. This harsh run (57 sunless days!) will allow him to mull over the still undigested hideosities of his decades in Indo-China and the story of his unforgettably charismatic friend Willsdorff. What's more, it turns out that the trawler captain--the first of several secondary narrators who echo Conrad's Marlowe--once knew ex-Lt. Willsdorff, the Christ-hero to Dr. Pierre's St. Peter, and the heart of love upon which this long meditation dwells. Pierre recalls how he deserted Willsdorff at Haiphong (while cocks crowed loudly), leaving him to: go on a solo four-month Chinese junk cruise in monsoon season; wind up spending 15 days tied to the tail of a camel as a Bedouin prisoner; plunge neck-deep into ""the Algerian business""; become an opium addict, and much more, with new narrators adding puzzle pieces. There is substantial visceral beauty and power in the accumulating images of Vietnam, mostly of eye-rattling ghastliness, and of this Polar run, where the spray freezes in midair. In sum--too literary by half but full of ravishing moments. (First published in France in 1976 as Le Crabe Tambour--The Drummer Crab.)

Pub Date: March 24th, 1978
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan