Ishmael meets Maurice in this seafaring memoir of self-discovery.
While many a wandering youth join the navy to see the world, first-time author Rivellino picks a more genteel vessel for exploration: Norwegian America Line's stately Sagafjord. The memoir centers on Rivellino’s experiences as a 19-year-old shore-excursion assistant on the ship's 98-day Great World Cruise. Though purportedly just slightly fictionalized (in the interest of privacy), the tale contains all the elements of a classic bildungsroman--restless youth, self-awakening, high adventure. In 1973, our protagonist quits college and his suburban Westchester (N.Y.) roots to pursue a romantic dream of life at sea. The voyage does not disappoint--besides detailed accounts of the exotic reaches of both hemispheres, we encounter inclement weather, untimely deaths, class struggles between the ship's staff and crew, a glimpse of Vietnam from the water, and as many sexual epiphanies as traversed time zones. The recurrent theme of seeking a sense of belonging creates an interesting tension for the protagonist and the rest of a shore-excursion staff comprised mostly of gay men. Not to mention a crew that he wishes to befriend but is not allowed to be seen with, and a ship full of wealthy seniors. Witnessing the frail elderly--" 'between eighty and dead' "--as they welcome or are cowed by trips at various ports of call or across the dance floor, inspires the repressed teen to seize the day and act on his budding homosexuality. On the far side of this struggle comes a marked emotional and intellectual maturity that, while earned, is a hair compressed for but a few months at sea. Also, the epilogue, spiked with updates on the ship's many characters, as if all had been created equal, appears contrived, too ready for Hollywood--but ready for Hollywood nonetheless.
An engaging travelogue for all persuasions of the cruising set.