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3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  292 ratings  ·  40 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Vintage (first published September 30th 2003)
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Contemporary American Literature
12th out of 25 books — 10 voters
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Community Reviews

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I wasn't sure whether to class it as American or British fiction, but settled on American. While Raban writes within the British tradition, this was written in American, and is very much a novel of America... more specifically, my lovely adopted city of Seattle. I'd never read a novel set predominantly in Seattle before, and Raban writes about it almost rhapsodically, treating it with a reverence and sweetheartedness, even when he's describing the vacuous, emotionally hollow lives of its techies ...more
Marian Deegan
I ran into Waxwings by pure blazing chance while wandering through the library. Raban is a lovely writer, and Waxwings is an empathetically keen commentary on the teetering height of the dot-com era and on the stumbling longings of the human heart.

Waxwings takes place in Seattle, where the high-tech population pushes hard against the boundaries of the Northwest wilderness, oblivious to the feral forces displaced. (My sister in nearby Spokane tells of a suburban neighbor who strolled out to fetch
This follows the lives of several Seattlites in the 1990s, so it's pretty cool if you're from Seattle, but overall it was kind of boring and anti-climatic.
being from seattle, the fact this book is set here doesnt save it. in fact, it only served to make it worse.
Ron Charles
It's easy to be smug in hindsight. The bubble already seems as silly as tulip mania 400 years ago. Who were those foolish Amsterdamers trading entire estates for a single bulb? Imagine investing millions to sell groceries over the Web and send them through the mail! Does anyone know how much a 10-pound bag of potatoes weighs?

As Yale University economist Robert Shiller writes, in Irrational Exuberance, "Human nature continues to be the way it has always been and probably always will be: P
Chick a survivor from a metal container of Chinese immigrants. Some of his experiences are horrendous but his tale is told with humour. Chick has formed his idea of America from the videos he has seen and his survival is due to copying these and the behaviour of the people he meets. Tom (a Hungarian refugee) is the other main character and he has learned about life in the West from traditional American and English novels. Tom and Chick both employ the American tradition of re-inventing themselve ...more
This was the first time I've read anything by Raban and on the basis of this book I will be going back for more - and better prepared this time!

There are no spoilers here, don't worry, but the book - especially its blurb - wrongfooted me. By a third of the way through I was sure I was heading for the dark heart of Seattle so when it ends on a relatively upbeat note (all the major characters get something of what they want, if not all of it) I was really rather surprised.

Raban writes with verve a
A meandering collection of Seattle characters through most of it, tightening around Tom (a writer bearing some resemblance to the author) toward the end, but with a surprisingly meaningful and succinct ending that sneaks up on you. As a Seattleite who moved here just after the tech bubble burst, the descriptions of life here just before (the WTO riots, etc) are enlightening, though many small tells sprinkled throughout the book tell me that the author is not quite as up on the local lingo as a n ...more
Meh. Had me interested for a good bit but then I felt...get on with it and only pushed through to the end because that's the kind of reader I usually am.
A larger than usual group. And we were so eager that we started talking before everyone had sat down. The feelings toward the book were mostly positive, thinking that it was a well-written description of Seattle during the heady dot-com era. It was put forward that it was actually an indictment of greedy Americans, and was written for a British audience, rather than an American one. And Bill called out the symbolism of the final scene, where the flock of waxwings descends on the tree, stripping ...more
This book tracks the emmigrant experience, among other things. The protaginist, who has alienated himself from his ambitious wife, hires a Chinese contractor to repair the house that his wife has just vacated. One of the reasons she has left is that the house has never been repaired, renovated, remodeled or tidied up by her husband. I believe the setting of the novel is Seattle, and the gloom of the weather reflects the gloom our protagonist feels. (I have forgotten his name.) This book compares ...more
Wendy Feltham
Having recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, one way I'm learning about my new surroundings is through literature. Waxwings is a joyful and painful book that tells the tale of one moment in Seattle's recent history. Jonathan Raban moved from England to settle in Seattle, and his description of the dot-com boom and the perspective of two immigrants is fascinating. The flawed characters and the details about Seattle's neighborhoods are very real, and the interwoven elements of the plot and rela ...more
11 March 2015
I first read _Waxwings_ shortly after it came out, and met Raban around the same time (I was volunteering at Seattle's now defunct BookFest).

It's a great story, full of interesting and complex characters. Was fun to read again, I had forgotten much of the story. Also enjoyable because of all the Seattle landmarks mentioned.

Raban lives here, and he had his character refer to the local zoo as "The Woodland Park Zoo". I don't think most locals think of it that way, they think of it as "the zoo".
Mark Dodson
Something about the first 20-30 pages of this wasn’t working for me, and I almost gave up on it. However, once I got a better sense of the characters it did get more interesting. The main 3 or 4 characters, who are mostly quite different, are all stressed and have some tense issues they’re up against. How they deal with each other and these issues is the story. Overall, a decent read. I just had some difficulty in the beginning getting a sense of where it was all going.
An ultimately disappointing book. It is beautifully written around a terrific idea, but it gets lost - quite badly - somewhere in the middle and never recovers. The front half is easily a four, but then it just trudges through to the finish. It's a touch ironic, given one of the main protagonists is a professor/author who is coming up dry for a new book idea/content...

Having said that, I'm going to look for more of his stuff, as the actual writing is terrific.
I really like Raban's characters, and his ability to evoke the Puget Sound region is unmatched. The only other novel I've read by him was 'Surveillance', which had me up until the (incredibly tacked-on) ending. I feared I was getting into another Neal Stephenson-type rushed ending as I neared the end of the novel, but was pleased by the nicely done metaphoric finale.
Rather a strange read and even stranger ending but somehow satisfying. Excellent vocabulary which adds to the pleasure. About new Americans and virtual reality - Web sites and people divorced from reality. About change and adaptation and separation. Takes place in Seattle in 1999. You might want to give it a go.
Hyper-literary, to the extent that I could only catch a fraction of the references. Then, the entire novel seems to conspire to point out the limited use value of arcane literary references. The first 15 pages or so were slow & still feel a bit unnecessary, but the book picked up steam steadily.
Set in contemporary Seattle, reading this book was like touring the city during my college days.

The main character was in many respects like John Banville's main characters in his novels... a man going through a mid-life crisis. Good, but didn't kindle much passion in my breast.
Very good descriptions and depictions of Seattle neighborhoods. Tough subject, but good writing and worth reading. Seattle area writer. Other book, Badlands, is also quite good. He's good at the quirkiness and odd twists and turns of landscapes of all kinds.
I would have given this book 3 1/2 stars -- his writing is so evocative and he really captures a "locals" mindset of Seattle. What it didn't quite do is grab my heart (and I was disappointed in the abrupt ending), but a beautifully written book nonetheless.
I chose this novel for the setting and the era: 1990s Seattle. I had lived in nearby Olympia and was impressed that the book captured the mood of that time. The story and characters were equally impressive.
Champaign Public Library
In 1990’s Seattle, a professor from England struggling to maintain his family relationships becomes entangled with an entrepreneurial undocumented Chinese man and his crew of Mexican workers.
Stephanie Wilson
Loved the local twist ... Author captured, in many ways, the spirit of a Seattlelite. Immigrant point of view was very interesting. I loved the spirit of place I felt all throughout the book.
I found it difficult to empathise with any of the characters. I couldn't finish it. But the Book-It adaptation was fabulous and goes to prove that sometimes theatre can truly transform!
Katharine Grubb
Mar 30, 2009 Katharine Grubb rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Seattle Residents
Recommended to Katharine by: Fern
A good bus read. As a Seattle-ite, it was fun to read about all the places I knew about. Has all the elements of a good read, but not the most amazing book you'll read this year.
Waxwings is an entertaining story, especially if you're fond of Seattle. I've already ordered many more books by Jonathan Raban with the hope of more fun from his fingertips.
Mike Finn
Never read a JR book before and enjoyed the ride. This one is of a Brit living in the US but somehow too many stories crept in and for me lost its focus. I'll try another.
Slow at first, but then I really enjoyed it-- and although I'm not sure why the author ended it the way he did (in terms of the last few paragraphs), somehow, it was just right.
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