Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye

Sometimes a book unexpectedly crosses your path and it turns out to be so incredibly fantastic you can't help suggesting it to everyone that you know. This is such a book for me. You like cookbooks? Read this one! You like mysteries? Read this one! You hate to read? Don't care; read this one! And before we go any further, I should say that this is neither a cookbook nor a mystery. There is no food in it, at least not that I recall. And there is no mystery either. You know from the beginning the outcome of the maritime disaster. But the prose and the atmospheric setting and the characters and just everything are so amazingly wrought that I can't stop raving.

Noah has been estranged from his father for five years when he gets a taciturn call asking him to come and help his father ready the cabin for the winter, no apology, no bridging of the estrangement, no further information. Somehow he knows that he cannot and should not say no despite the fact that Noah and his wife are trying and not succeeding at having a baby which is casting a shadow over their marriage, a shadow that this seperation might not be able to overcome. And yet Olaf's summons must be heeded.

Olaf is dying and while he wants Noah to care for him in his last weeks, he is also looking to atone, not only for being one of only three survivors from the epic shipwreck of the ore freighter Ragnarok, but also for the shipwreck of his life and family. As Noah helps his father shore up the cabin against the heavy, cold northern Minnestoa winter, he also learns the story of the wreck of the Ragnarok, not as the newspapers reported it but from the perspective of his father. And he comes to understand who his father is, the man that he was capable of being, and the reason for the gulf between that idealized, perhaps longed-for father and the actual father of his childhood. Their relationship is gruff and silent and loaded with portents and recrimination and the weeks of shoring up the cabin don't change that. But the depth of emotion and the conflict of father and son is riveting throughout the surreal narration.

Geye's writing in this first novel is superb and even sublime. The inferno raging below the frozen, flexing decks invokes the imagery of Hell and the forsaken, an apt allegory for Olaf's life. It is an exquisite and terrifying picture of the wreck which continues wreaking devastation throughout both Olaf and Noah's lives many years after the actual sinking of the ship. The clipped dialogue and the portrayal of the area is spot on, easily evoking the true to life culture and reverence surrounding shipwrecks found throughout the Great Lakes region. Everything about the novel was captivating to me, from the father-son dynamics to the running of the freighters. And the theme of events, certainly catastrophic events but also simple ones, that forever change lives and relationships is monumental and artfully handled. I can't say it enough: read this book and revel in its beauty.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. I've been on the edge about this book, Kristen. But your review may have just tipped me up, over, and into the gotta-read-this side!

  2. Hm, wow. I have to seriously applaud you for your review. In the meager time I've been blogging, I have never read such an eloquent review before. I'm somewhat jealous - I'm way too lazy to review so thoroughly as you did. And I do have to mention that I'm now curious about this book (which I've never read before), and plan to read it as soon as I can. :)

    I found you via bookblogs, and I'm now a new follower. <3

    Kristina @ Frazzled Book Nommer.

  3. This is the type of situation where it's amazing how subjective reading is. I received an advance of this book and, being from Minnesota myself, I was really looking forward to reading it. But it fell somewhat flat for me and i was disappointed after all the build-up. I am so glad you enjoyed it though! Lovely review. :)

  4. Aready heard enough good things about this one to put it on the wishlist, reviews like this one only succeed in pushing it further up the wanted list. :)

  5. Already heard enough good things about this one, to put it on the wishlist.

    Reviews like this one only succeed in pushing it further up the wanted pile!

  6. I'm really looking forward to reading this one! It sounds so amazing!


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