Jonathan Raban is about to sail alone from Seattle to the Alaskan Panhandle, following an ancient sea route rich in history, riddles, and whirlpools. It's the perfect setting for Raban's prodigious intellect, eloquence, and eye for detail. Passage to Juneau is not a travel thriller; the trip is hazardous, but that's not the point. Instead, Raban takes us on a journey of contemplation, literature, lore, mythology, and science. We learn about the canoe culture of the Northwest Indians; the British ship Discovery, which traveled the same route in 1792; and the physics of waves and turbulence, to name just a few of his far-ranging topics. And, as Raban finds himself in ominously personal waters (his father's illness, his own marriage, the daughter he left behind) it's also a journey of the heart.
Hashing through his family troubles was far less interesting to me (why wouldn't his wife leave him, given the amount of consideration he seems to afford to her and their kid?). I just loved learning what was important and relevant in his library. Maybe that's why we're all here, after all? No wonder I'm a librarian...
This book has great personal value to me, as I have made the same sea trip (in more comfort!). But it is a remarkable book for any reader in its original insights into the culture of the Northwest Indians. Also, for anyone with a practical interest in sailing, it is a delight.
Far from being just another sailing and cruising book, it is an emotional read. My most favorite books from this great author.
I got annoyed at a tendency to look down on his fellow travelers (and just about everyone else he met on the trip) and saw the ending coming a mile away, but although those two flaws took much away from the book, it remained for me very good reading.