Waxwings: A novel

by Jonathan Raban

Hardcover, 2003

Call number




Pantheon (2003), 288 pages


Jonathan Raban’s powerful novel is set in Seattle in 1999, at the height of its infatuation with the virtual. It’s a place that attracts immigrants. One of these is Tom Janeway, a bookish Hungarian-born Englishman who makes his living commenting on American mores on NPR. Another, who calls himself Chick, is a frenetically industrious illegal alien from China who makes his living any way he can. Through a series of extraordinary but chillingly plausible events, the paths of these newcomers converge. Tom is uprooted from his marriage and must learn to father his endearing eight-year old son part-time. Chick claws his way up from exploited to exploiter. Meanwhile Seattle is troubled by rioting anarchists, vanishing children, and the discovery of an al-Qaeda operative; it is a city on the brink. Savage and tender, visionary and addictively entertaining, Waxwings is a major achievement.… (more)

Media reviews

What he likes doing is blending genres, confounding categories. Fiction, non-fiction, travel, sociology. His first major book, Soft City, mixed journalism with drama, semiotics and literary criticism. Foreign Land itself began as another travel book, a false start at what, the following year,
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became Coasting. What he does, he says, is "what used to be called 'human geography': writing about place - about people's place in place, and their displacement in it". His views, ironic and humane, are always acute; always illuminating. His prose - agile, musky, particular - is a treasure.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member alic
a well-written description of Seattle during the heady dot-com era
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Set very solidly in Seattle, about a guy with an ordinary life who gets falsely accused, and his growing relationship with a Chinese guy fixing his house, and lessening relationship with his wife. Much better than I've made it sound - great characters.
LibraryThing member Gateaupain
Early in the book there is reference to a box that Tom keeps full of scraps that one day he might turn into a novel. I think that this book is from Raban's scrap-box. - Different stories roughly overlapped. The book didn't finish. It just stopped. I didn't really understand the Waxwing reference
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(I'd bought the book for old times sake remembering Pale Fire). I enjoyed the trip of reading it tho'.
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LibraryThing member john.cooper
Is this the definitive book on pre-9/11 Seattle? Of that time just before the 2000 dot.com crash, the years of the first startups and the WTO riots? To one who was there, it sure seems that way. I've never read a book with so many spot-on topical references, all perfectly chosen to act either as
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background color or foreground illustration, whichever is needed; and I've rarely read one whose characters and situations serve so well to make vivid a particular cultural moment. And I should say right away that it's also an easy reading, fun novel, frequently funny in a dry yet somehow warm way, convincing in its plot and fair to its characters. Maybe the fact that it was published in 2003, just a few short years from the time in which it's set, accounts for the vividness and lack of falsifying nostalgia, but it's a rare feat to be so clear-eyed about one's own time, to see accurately without the perspective of distance. Read it if you were there, or if you weren't.
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Booker Prize (Longlist — 2003)




0375410082 / 9780375410086
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