Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rowing to Alaska by Wayne McLennan

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 239 pages
# Publisher: Granta Books, 2005
# Price: $14.00
# ISBN: 1862077878

During those inbetween times when I am unable to travel myself (woe is me), then I travel on a vehicle of words - and oh, how satisfactory is this one! McLennan is new to writing, or so he claims at the opening of this book, but I struggle to believe it. He tells of moving to Estonia with his Dutch wife (she surely has courage to marry such a wanderlusting man), a writer, and when he struggles with boredom, she encourages him to put his snappy stories to the written page - and this is the result.

If he's not practiced, he certainly is gifted. A comparison made by a Granta reviewer (under the publisher's umbrella, but I'm not arguing) to Hemingway is not unwarranted. McLennan's travel stories are filled to bursting with male bravado, much like Papa's, and he knows how to write spare when needed, spiced when it serves, lavish when the story requires it. Rowing is nearly impossible to put down, if only to eye the road oneself.

McLennan comes from Australia, but calls the world, the road, his home. The title story is probably my personal favorite, if only because good-sized chunks of my own wanderlusting heart still reside in Alaska, haunted by my own memories which he so well brought to life again. It is a tale of two men rowing 1,000 miles from Seattle to Alaska, and if the author wasn't sworn to lifelong adventure seeking before then, he was by the time he completed this journey.

McLennan writes (in no particular order, in 15 travel essays) about a long list of improbable jobs (bank clerk, gold panner, boat skipper, bartender, wild pig hunter) and places he has experienced by full immersion: Australia, Costa Rica, Pacific Northwest, Nicarauga, London, France, Spain, Estonia. His rich language brings to life great adventure without arrogance (well, maybe a little, in his belt notching adventures with the opposite gender), not sparing himself or anyone else in his path an honest and colorful appraisal. He takes on dangerous expeditions as if it never occurred to him not to do so, not a question or hesitancy in his mind, and travel becomes his rites of passage into finding purpose outside the routine everyday too many rest of us accept.

Rowing to Alaska itches beneath the skin and hammers in the heart for anyone who wants something more out of life - in either the living of it or even just the reading about it.

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