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The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston
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The Navigator of New York

by Wayne Johnston

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In The Navigator of New York, Wayne Johnston weaves fictional characters and events into the race to reach the North Pole early in the 20th century. Given how closely much of that chapter in polar exploration verged on the fraudulently imaginary, there is much room for Johnston to maneuver in this arena. The highlight of the book for me was Johnston's vibrant depiction of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New York at the turn of the century. Although his protagonist is humorlessly earnest and the plot is implausibly baroque, it all works reasonably well because, honestly, anything looks good against this race for the North Pole. The expeditions to the South Pole seem to provide a much richer vein from which to mine inspiration, with a great example being The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge, a book that arouses great empathy for these flawed explorers. In contrast, the race for the North Pole was essentially a sordid affair, featuring the vile Robert Peary and the icky Frederick Cook. It is a murky and disheartening business that seems to spawn books more along the line of Give Me My Father's Body. I was dismayed when I discovered that Frederick Cook would play a central role in this novel, sensing that our hero, not to mention the reader, was about to get "played" over the course of the next few hundred pages. This turned out to be not far from the truth. Given how prone Cook and Peary were to spinning their own fictions about themselves and their exploits, I did take some pleasure in Johnston having created his own fictional events in which these explorers come off looking so very shabby. Poetic justice I calls it. ( )
  maritimer | Jul 14, 2011 |
Good book by a good writer. ( )
1 vote charlie68 | Jun 8, 2009 |
Fictionalization of the story of Cook's quest for the North Pole based around the story of a young Newfoundland boy and his adventure from outpost to New York. The historical fiction part of the book is excellent, the plot is contrived... well written, bad plot. ( )
  piefuchs | Nov 12, 2006 |
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In 1881, Aunt Daphne said, not long after my first birthday, my father told the family that he had signed on with the Hopedale Mission, which was run by Moravians to improve the lives of Eskimos in Labrador.
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As a child in St John's, orphan Devlin Stead lives with his taciturn Uncle Edward and his benevolent Aunt Daphne. He grows up an outcast and a loner, until one day his uncle hands him an extraordinary letter from the explorer Dr. Frederick Cook - the first of a series of letters that will change everything he ever thought he knew about himself. Devlin sails to New York to become Dr. Cook's protégé. There he falls in love with a young woman with an astonishing connection to his birth mother. Eventually he accompanies Cook on his epic race to reach the Pole before his arch-rival, Lieutenant Robert Peary. A classic upon publication, The Navigator of New York is a masterful reinvention of the historical novel.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067697533X, Paperback)

Devlin Stead grows up an outcast and loner, until one day his uncle hands him an extraordinary letter from the explorer Dr Frederick Cook. Devlin sails to New York to become Dr Cook's protege. Eventually he accompanies Cook on his epic race to reach the Pole before his arch-rival, Lieutenant Robert Peary. New York Times Book Review: "Polar exploration - with its incredible hardships, its months of freezing isolation, darkness and despair - makes an irresistible metaphor for a lonely and uncertain childhood... It is in 'the North' where johnston shines... 'There was no time in this place where all meridians met,' as Devlin rhapsodizes - a young man finally embarking on his terrifying, heady journey into life."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:52 -0400)

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