Sunday, March 6, 2011




Yes, that's an S.O.S. signal typed up there. Why? Because I'm drowning, caught in a whirlpool that is We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen.

It's okay, though, because I'm enjoying the tidal wave that's crashing over...

Enough with the cheesy metaphor. I can't keep that up any longer.

It's a fantastic book.

We, the Drowned was translated from the original Danish, and it's a mesmerizing read. It details the life and times of the seaside village of Marstal, where every young man grows up to be a sailor. The main character is Albert Madsen, whose father disappeared in an Australian port, never to be heard from again.

Or so you think.

The story follows Albert through his elementary school days, to his first experience as a cabin boy, and on to his first experience on an American merchant ship, run by a murderous first mate.

He grows old, unmarried, and without children, and foretells the Great War through the dreams that terrorize him every night.

Okay, so that last sentence doesn't make me want to read it, but that's neither here nor there.

This is a seriously wonderful book.

The critics have been raving, too, so I'm not the only lunatic on board (pun intended). They've compared it to The Old Man and the Sea, Moby-Dick, and The Odyssey, among others. They're wrong, though, because We, the Drowned is a million times more entertaining and - I'm going to use this word again - compelling.

I overuse "compelling" when reviewing books. I know. It's like parentheses and dash marks. I'm not ashamed (Hint: I am).

Unlike the other books cited by reviewers, this one doesn't get lost in the jargon of ships: you don't need to know what a jib-sail is, or a mizzenmast, or what have you. The foc's'le is talked about a lot (that's forecastle to you and me), and the galley, but that's about it. If you know what the stern is, you're ready to go. There aren't four pages of ship descriptions, followed by the sailors talking about the glories of coffee, and then six more pages of ship descriptions (You hear me Moby-Dick? Yeah, Starbuck, that's you I'm talking about!).

There are plenty of interesting events, like the first one mentioned in the book: Laurids Madsen (Albert's dad) is caught on a ship that explodes. He is blown into the air, and when he reaches the height of the main mast, he sees Saint Peter... who promptly moons him, thus signifying to Laurids that his time is not up on this earth, and he sends him back down to the deck, where he lands unharmed on his feet.

Saint Peter moons somebody, guys! You have to read it, just for that!

If you have $28 to fork over (I don't, but that's neither here nor there), then I suggest buying it. You won't regret it.

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