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Old Glory : A Voyage Down the Mississippi by…
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Old Glory : A Voyage Down the Mississippi (original 1981; edition 1998)

by Jonathan Raban

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448723,394 (3.95)23
Member:an_eternalstudent
Title:Old Glory : A Voyage Down the Mississippi
Authors:Jonathan Raban
Info:Vintage (1998), Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:mississippi river, travel

Work details

Old Glory : A Voyage Down the Mississippi by Jonathan Raban (1981)

  1. 10
    River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: While these two journey are opposite in compass headings (Least Heat Moon from East to West and Raban from North to South) they share the sheer joy of the trips and the awesome detailing and description of places and peoples.
  2. 00
    Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin (SilentInAWay)
  3. 00
    Coming down the Seine by Robert Gibbings (John_Vaughan)
  4. 00
    Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (John_Vaughan)
  5. 00
    Shantyboat: A River Way of Life by Harlan Hubbard (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Although in seperate periods in time, both these river trip narratives share a joyous commonality of excitement and awe of the river.
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» See also 23 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

It's obviously no coincidence that Raban gives the young woman he lives with for a few weeks in St Louis the name "Sally" - this is first and foremost a book about the author's long fascination with Huckleberry Finn and its narrator's ability to slip away from sivilising influences in the nick of time. Raban might be disappointed by the detail of the 1979 America he finds in his journey down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to the Louisiana swamps, but he never loses his fascination for the scale of the country and the possbilities for lighting out that it offers.

The river itself is a major character throughout the book - it's striking how much, here as in his other travel books, Raban has to say about water. There are paragraphs and paragraphs of description of how the water looks and sounds, and how it moves under different conditions. Eddies, swirls, risers, chutes, confluences, washes, waves, reflections, bubbles - you name it, he finds something to say about it. Oddly enough, most authors of books on rivers and the sea only tend to make rather fleeting references to the element they are travelling on, but in Raban it is always present. Even when he's on land and merely catches a glimpse of the river in the distance, he takes the trouble to tell us something about what the water is doing.

When he's not writing about the water, he also has some pretty interesting things to say about the towns and cities he stops in, and the people he meets there. Speech and its quirks apparently matter a lot - he takes a lot of trouble capturing the eccentricities in the way people talk to him and using them to make his characters come alive. This sometimes comes over as a little bit too Mark-Twainish, but he's usually careful to avoid sounding like a patronising Englishman making fun of simple Americans (except when he catches himself acting just like the patronising Englishman and indulges in a bit of self-mockery). He perhaps isn't quite sufficiently aware of how much he succumbs to the Huck Finn temptation to search out the oddest characters in every place he visits, but as this is one of the most entertaining aspects of the book, we needn't complain about that too much.

There's a lot of America going on in the margins of the story - it's the autumn of 1979 and many of those he talks to are busy with the Iran hostage crisis and the run-up to the Reagan-Carter election. The apparently irreversible decline of the inner city, the parallel loss of the economic relevance of riverside small towns, and the growth of fake history tarted up for the benefit of short-term tourists are all recurrent topics. There's a nice irony in his finding the most vapid example of the last of these in Hannibal, where a local businessman points out to him that the whole tacky Mark Twain souvenir business is irrelevant to the economy of the town, which really depends on a massive grain-processing plant. In Memphis, he spends some time with the campaign team of a black mayoral candidate (Judge Otis Higgs), trying to make sense of relations between races in the modern South. Needless to say, he doesn't find any easy answers to that question, but what he does have to say sounds sensible. ( )
  thorold | May 11, 2017 |
This multi-award winning book, see Raban take a 16 foot motorboat down the Mississippi River. Along the way, Raban travels from pub to pub and church to church in search of the Mississippi that he longed for as a young child in England reading Huckleberry Finn.

Like the river, I found this book gained momentum towards the end with his insights around race relations and politics in the deep south. Even though it's 30 years after being published, the book still has a timeless quality about it. While 'Passage to Jeneau' is celebrated, I think this is a much, much better piece of writing. ( )
1 vote kenno82 | Jan 18, 2014 |
Great "outsider" look at 1970s Middle America self-consciously placed in the existing canon of the Mississippi... Raban walks a wonderful balance between accessibility and erudition.
( )
  Cedric_Rose | Aug 20, 2013 |
Very enjoyable. A good contrast to William Least Heat Moon's River Horse (who went UP the Missouri amongst other rivers). ( )
  Polaris- | Jan 24, 2011 |
Out of all Raban's wonderful travelogues, this remains my favourite. His account of a journey down almost the entire Mississippi is fascinating. The power of the river, the generosity and kindness of the people he meets along the way, and the places he sees make for a riveting tale. ( )
  Welshwoman | Jan 5, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
''Old Glory'' remains more successful than 99 percent of the books about America since de Tocqueville's ''Democracy in America.'' Back in his pedagogue period, writing technical criticism about ''Huckleberry Finn,'' Mr. Raban put his finger on what gives that book its special vividness. It is the narrator's freedom from the need to dominate his material. ''Huck submits himself to the sights and sounds around him,'' wrote Teacher Raban. The sentence applies exactly to Drifter Raban, floating through the heart of America, hearing and recording its manifold beat.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Noel Perrin (Jul 13, 1981)
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375701001, Paperback)

"It is as big and depthless as the sky itself. You can see the curve of the earth on its surface as it stretches away for miles to the far shore." So begins Old Glory, in which Jonathan Raban recounts his eye-opening descent of the Mississippi River in a 16-foot aluminum motorboat. As the English author explains, his obsession with the subject began with Huckleberry Finn, which he first read as a 7-year-old. And in fact, his opening sentences refer as much to the imaginary river as to the real one, which turns out to be less bucolic than Raban expected. Three miles upstream from Oquawka, Illinois, he's nearly pulverized by a towboat. Later on, the intrepid voyager only just manages to escape a treacherous whirlpool near St. Louis, calming himself afterwards with a generous dose of tobacco and Valium.

True, when Raban isn't cheating death he encounters some stunning terrain, which he describes in no-less-stunning prose. Yet Old Glory is much, much more than a travelogue. It is also a brilliant interrogation of the American psyche, in the tradition of De Tocqueville and Crevecoeur. And ultimately, Raban tells us a great deal about the very phenomenon of travel, with all its rigors and rewards, and its peculiar, metaphysical dislocations: "Riding the river, I had seen myself as a sincere traveler, thinking of my voyage not as a holiday but as a scale model of a life. It was different from life in one essential: I would survive it to give an account of its end."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:36 -0400)

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