Friday, April 29, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  I went to a commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising at Cooper Union in Manhattan recently,  and I was very impressed with how much the labor movement here and abroad has done to improve the lives of workers.  One of the people attending mentioned a beautifully written but horrific new book about working conditions on an Arctic whaling ship.  Are you familiar with this book? 
 Student of the 1916 Rising

Dear Student ,  I too was very impressed with the 1916 Easter Rising commemoration at Cooper Union. The book you mention is a tale of great brutality and poetic beauty: THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire.  Patrick Sumner is a disgraced Irish physician left with few options who enlists as a medic on the Volunteer, a whaling vessel bound for the Arctic- the North Water.  On board is a bloodthirsty, drunken harpooner Henry Drax and a crew of wretched men under the command of the ill-fated Captain Brownlee. Before the journey ends, many are dead and all semblance of civilization destroyed. This book is a carefully crafted mystery with many shocking twists and turns, a chronicle of  the 19th century shipping and whaling trade, an historical perspective on British/ Irish class hostilities, and ultimately an indictment of the cruelty and perversity of humankind. A difficult but very rewarding read!

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