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The Sea Runners

by Ivan Doig

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3551057,658 (3.81)36
In 1853, four Scandinavian indentured laborers in Russian Alaska steal a canoe and begin to paddle south toward the mouth of the Columbia River, twelve thousand miles away. A tense, shrewdly modulated sea adventure in which a quartet of indentured Scandinavians attempt escape from Russian America (1853 Alaska) in a stolen canoe, a Pacific journey far more rugged "than the plain arithmetic of its miles." Of the four, only one is seaworthy at the start, but each pulls his own as they paddle through snowstorms and dangerous straits, consume their rations and personal reserves. Melander is the beached seaman who conceives the plan and navigates; Karlsson's the quiet, constant mate; Braaf is the camp thief who outfits the voyage (he remains the least developed of the lot). And Wennberg, his trigger "always this close to click," is the bitter, volcanic fourth who muscled in; kept in check by Melander, he adds a blacksmith's strength to the paddling. But Melander is killed in the sole encounter with coastal tribesmen, and Karlsson, Wennberg's chief antagonist, must take over for the fugitive alliance to hold: he alone can read the map. Doig deftly pilots this mismatched crew through a punishing journey to Astoria (Oregon), maintaining a high level of tension, including casual portions of history and geography (as handily as in Winter Brothers), testing the rocky emotional waters of desperate men. The two squabblers nearly attempt a communion, but the moment "quickened past them": the shaky truce resumes. And readers who hailed This House of Sky and Winter Brothers will find this another safe harbor, for Doig continues as a prose writer of exulting originality. (Verbs become nouns, nouns become verbs, and observations resonate: the reserved Karlsson is "A man built smoke-tight.") Distant cousin to Deliverance--the writing is more lyrical, the crew less fiercely manipulated: a polished chronicle of physical and spiritual endurance.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Four men escape their Russian-controlled work camp in a stolen canoe: Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. Courageous, when you consider they started in New Archangel (Sitka), Alaska in the mid-1800s. Herculean, when you add how while paddling their way to Astoria, Oregon they faced rough ocean swells, unrelenting weather, unfamiliar coastal environments, hostile Tlingit Indians, starvation, sheer exhaustion from relentless physical toil, and an instinctual deep distrust of one another. They were not friends before they made their escape. Even though Sea Runners is fictional it is based on a very similar true story of a daring escape. Doig learned of Karl Gronland, Andreas Lyndfast, Karl Wasterholm, and a fourth man who was killed by Indians during the journey. From these actual men sprung the stunning adventure of Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. You could say the sea was a fifth character as Doig's words makes the ocean come alive with emotion. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 29, 2021 |
Over the years I've throughly enjoyed Ivan Doig's books set in Montana, finding them engrossing and comfortable. A departure for me, this book exhibits the exceptional versatility of the masterful writer Ivan Doig truly is. This story comes alive through fully fleshed out characters, human and natural interactions, and especially the uncompromising narrative and dialogue composition, all pulling the reader into the times, place, and characters of the story.

The book blurb hardly does justice to the story. The storyline one might say is as straightforward as a travelogue, but surprising in its brilliant plotting. A brief foreboding in the opening chapter propels the reader through the story setup and deep into the tempest of the journey, seeking a revealing and possible consequences. It's essentially a story about the courage and frailty of life.

As a reader, this is a story that will truly transport you. If you are a writer and haven't read this story to improve your craft, tsk, tsk. ( )
  LGCullens | Jun 1, 2021 |
I just finished this book for the second time, and loved it even better than the first time I read it. Doig's description of the four disparate personalities of the four men is masterful, and his descriptions of the weather, environment, and difficulties equally so. I was really moved by some of the things that happened. Even though some sentences were long or choppy I didn't care; I think they added to the overall feeling of the book. ( )
  Mokihana | Jun 1, 2020 |
I think my brain is on vacation— the writing on this was lovely, but I found the story too slow paced for me right now. Fascinating history, even if it makes for poor red-eye flight reading.
  bookczuk | Sep 25, 2018 |
Review: The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig. 08/23/2017

This was a great sea voyage adventure based on a true story in 1853. The author seemed clear and made sense of the route of the voyage and the interaction between four men and the events that followed. I can tell the research that went into this story and it feels like the author did his homework with all the coastal spots, navigation readings, and organizing. The author gave the reader insight for what Islands were in the midst of their voyage down the Pacific coastline starting at Sitka, Alaska. Back in the 1800’s many of the Islands were not named.

(“The Islands: Baranof, Japonski, Kuiu, Kosciusko, Prince of Wales; The Waterways: Sitka Sound and the Hecate Strait”.)

This a survival story of four men escaping from a Russian-controlled Sitka, Alaska’s work camp in a stolen canoe to face a dreadful journey. Ivan Doig describes in detail their secret preparations and their long adventured paddling an Indian canoe down the Pacific coastline of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington State to Astoria, Oregon where there was an American outpost.

The fierce winter weather held them back some but they managed to get to an opening to an Island for cover and other Islands for some animal to slay because a lot of time they where starving. However, this causes them a battle with Tlingit Indian attacks so sometimes they had to go around an area without being spotted. They were also struggling with exhaustion and their opinionated interaction among themselves.

I enjoyed the voyage, history, survival skills and the four men struggles of the human quest for freedom. ( )
  Juan-banjo | Aug 28, 2017 |
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In 1853, four Scandinavian indentured laborers in Russian Alaska steal a canoe and begin to paddle south toward the mouth of the Columbia River, twelve thousand miles away. A tense, shrewdly modulated sea adventure in which a quartet of indentured Scandinavians attempt escape from Russian America (1853 Alaska) in a stolen canoe, a Pacific journey far more rugged "than the plain arithmetic of its miles." Of the four, only one is seaworthy at the start, but each pulls his own as they paddle through snowstorms and dangerous straits, consume their rations and personal reserves. Melander is the beached seaman who conceives the plan and navigates; Karlsson's the quiet, constant mate; Braaf is the camp thief who outfits the voyage (he remains the least developed of the lot). And Wennberg, his trigger "always this close to click," is the bitter, volcanic fourth who muscled in; kept in check by Melander, he adds a blacksmith's strength to the paddling. But Melander is killed in the sole encounter with coastal tribesmen, and Karlsson, Wennberg's chief antagonist, must take over for the fugitive alliance to hold: he alone can read the map. Doig deftly pilots this mismatched crew through a punishing journey to Astoria (Oregon), maintaining a high level of tension, including casual portions of history and geography (as handily as in Winter Brothers), testing the rocky emotional waters of desperate men. The two squabblers nearly attempt a communion, but the moment "quickened past them": the shaky truce resumes. And readers who hailed This House of Sky and Winter Brothers will find this another safe harbor, for Doig continues as a prose writer of exulting originality. (Verbs become nouns, nouns become verbs, and observations resonate: the reserved Karlsson is "A man built smoke-tight.") Distant cousin to Deliverance--the writing is more lyrical, the crew less fiercely manipulated: a polished chronicle of physical and spiritual endurance.

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