Thursday, April 17, 2008

Book Review: The Cruise of the Snark

Book Review: The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London

The Cruise of the Snark is the true and hilarious story of Jack London's bumbling attempt to sail from San Francisco and around the world in a seven year journey on his custom built boat "The Snark." To say things didn't go according to plan is an understatement. Though highly entertaining, London's journey never did make it completely around the world. How far did he go? Well I won't spoil it for you, you'll have to read it to find out.

Are you familiar with Jack London (1876-1916)? After Mark Twain, he is perhaps one of America's most famous writers. He wrote such classics as "Call of the Wild," "White Fang, "The Sea Wolf," and hundreds of short stories. His books sold millions of copies and he received over 10,000 letters from fans every year. Jack London was a man who did everything in excess. This included writing, traveling, drinking, gambling, etc. Even though he was a famous author, London lived most of his life attempting to pay off his many debts. Often noted for disciplining himself to write a thousand words a day it should be remembered that he had to - his creditors were always at his door! During his journey on the Snark, London wrote the whole time as way of financing his adventure.

And what an adventure it was! London's trip takes him island hopping through the South Seas and the reader is treated to take on what life in paradise was really like - nearly a hundred years ago. His stories on the perils of navigation are amusing. He was also the first person to ever write about the sport of surfing, a sport he tries himself while in Hawaii. I was touched by the generosity and tribal customs of his new found friends in Tahiti. I also found myself amazed at the riskiness of his adventures as he nonchalantly describes being on boat that is floundering on a reef with a contingent of murderous islanders in canoes waiting to attack them if they can't rescue themselves. All of this is delivered in London's whimsical and self-deprecating style that makes you smile and see the humor in all situations whether he is feasting or suffering.

The best parts of this book are the humor and his cultural portraits of island worlds that we shall never have the opportunity to experience as he did. London also reflects nobly on the Leper Colony at Molokai and his friend, "The Natural Man" who "goes native" and by doing so saves his life and his soul. For those not into sailing, some of struggles with learning this art may bore you (it did a bit for me) but I would not let this dissuade me from rereading the book. This was my second read of it and I enjoyed it more the second time. Strikingly honest at times, this is a fine adventure told by a master story teller. I rate it 4 ninja stars out of 5.

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