The Sea Runners

The Sea Runners

Book - 1982 | 1st ed
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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.
Publisher: New York : Atheneum, 1982
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780689113024
Branch Call Number: x
Characteristics: 279 p. : map ; 22 cm


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Jun 29, 2019

Maybe I didn't give this book enough chance, but I read up until the night of the escape of the four Swedes, indentured servants at Russian New Archangel (Sitka). I read way past the number of pages in Nancy Pearl's formula (if you're over 50, subtract your age from 100; if you can't engage in a book after reading that number of pages, skip it and find a book that does engage you). I couldn't find anything in any of the characters to interest me, so I kept putting the book down and picking up another of Doig's books. So I turned it in unfinished. If I'd given it more time, I might have loved it, as Doig is one of my favorite writers. Even in this one, his descriptions of the natural world, for the characters who had the wherewithal to pay attention to it, were up to Doig's standards. It was the people who weren't.

Dec 01, 2018

An absorbing tale of escape and hardship. The four “sea runners” are rough, quarrelsome and not very likable, but the story is told with such beautiful, luminous, poetic prose (and the observations on nature and history as so well-researched and well-written) that the reader is drawn into the story nonetheless.

Oct 01, 2018

The author explores a different landscape, era, occupation and plot line than his usual Montana/Northwest farm community experience. Set in the Russian controlled Sitka area, 4 very different men find themselves united in an attempt to escape indentured servitude. They steal a native canoe and head south toward Astoria by sea in a barely inhabited Pacific coast and inside passage.
I've enjoyed many of Doig's books but I was leary of such an abrupt change from his usual genre. Nice to say that I was not dissapointed by this one.

SnoIsleLib_JoanG Sep 23, 2017

Anyone who has navigated the waters of Southeast Alaska as I have, will understand why I can say that I felt, while reading this book, as though I was in the sea runners' boat every minute of their long journey! A fantastic read!

CRRL_VirginiaJ Jun 08, 2017

An adventure story and a character study. In 19th-century, Russian-owned Alaska, a party of men escape virtual slavery to try their luck on the open sea.

Jul 05, 2016

Doig really goes all out to write his prose poetically in this one. His turns of phrase, though sometimes hard to follow, are descriptive. Great story, I found it easy to put down and pick back up again.

May 01, 2015

I am about 2/3 through the book. Great read so far. Good yarn. Well researched..


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