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To the White Sea

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  691 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
Award-winning and best-selling author James Dickey returns with the heart-stopping story of Muldrow, an American tail gunner who parachutesfrom his burning airplane into Tokyo in the final months of World War II. Fleeing the chaotic,ruined city, he instinctively travels north toward a frozen, desolate sanctuary he is certain will assure this survival--and freedom. Making h ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 1st 1994 by Delta (first published 1993)
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Feb 05, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I’m not sure how to rate James Dickey’s novel, To the White Sea. As a piece of writing, it’s much better than I thought it would be, since the book was written toward the end of Dickey’s hard living life. However, the human factor – unless you want to identify with the Japanese victims in the novel (as tangential as they are, a very real option)– is about zero. Muldow, who is virtually the only character in the novel, since it's told in the first person, is a B-29 gunner who is shot down over To ...more
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
Forget "Call me Ishmael." Here's a hook for you:

"We are going to bring it to him," the Colonel said with satisfaction. A lot more than usual. "Fire. This is what you've got to look forward to. This is what he's got to look forward to." He leaned into it, from the heels, you could say. I sat and waited, looking straight ahead. "We're going to bring it to him." He looked down the rows of us, but I didn't watch him do it; all this was like before. "To the enemy, you know. Up yonder, friends. Up yon
Sep 17, 2007 Jacob rated it it was amazing
To the White Sea contains one of the most uncompromising narratives and most unilaterally driven protagonists every committed to paper.

Muldrow, a WWII gunner, shot down over Tokyo, does whatever is necessary to survive; he is a man apart, thrown into a foreign land, with a different language, culture, and ideology.

The novel, almost devoid of dialogue, is a first person narrative of madness, encapsulated in the thoughts of one man. Lyrical, akin to a tone poem (being singularly possessed), that
Chet Brown
Mar 23, 2015 Chet Brown rated it really liked it
Whoosh! Opens the parachute, and falling down like a bowling ball to war. This book to me gave me a lot of lessons and good tips such as having patience in a frantic time. As Muldrow, the main character, falls from his plane into Tokyo he comes across many challenges. He is just trying to stay alive! Without giving away the whole story I can say it comes down to the last bullet. When i read the books summary I immediately wanted to read it. I was so excited to see what really happens to Muldrow. ...more
Jan 26, 2016 Nate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review #32 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"

There's a certain soft spot I have for hard lives. Like many young men who were forced to do book reports, I picked up Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Truthfully that book has probably been better to me in memory. It is kind of a wonderful introduction to books of a "survivalist" genre that I've found myself liking more and more since.

To The White Sea is a more violent and adult continuation of that genre. I imagine, like many others, I came to this b
Bret Bartlett
May 14, 2015 Bret Bartlett rated it really liked it
To The White Sea is a very different sort of book centered during WWII. The protagonist, Muldrow, having grown up in Alaska with only his father, has spent most of his life isolated, and in so has become a practiced observer. Focusing on land and color, Dickey uses him to draw out detailed and passive observations on the world around him, but using only simple language a boy from Alaska would know. The book is many things at once, an outsiders look at the culture in Tokyo, a view on what becomes ...more
George Nicholis
Read in 2009.

In the early 2000's, the Coen Brothers were supposed to adapt this book into a silent film starring Brad Pitt. I was super excited at the notion of a Coen-directed lyrical drama set during WW2, but then of course the project collapsed and it all went to hell. I finally picked up the book last year and gave it a read. And I'm glad I did - it's a fantastic, harsh story filled with some of the most fluid prose I've ever read. There is maybe three lines of dialogue in the entire book, a
Alex Norcross
Jun 18, 2009 Alex Norcross rated it liked it
This is another book that I listened to on a tape while driving. The novel tells the story of an American bomber gunner shot down over Tokyo during World War II. For the most part, its a gripping narrative, especially the first (I'm guessing here) hundred pages or so. The novel kind of reminds me of Hatchet by Gary Paulson and similar manly-man stories by authors like Hemingway and McCarthy. However, like these other manly-man writers, I feel that Dickey fumbles when it comes to revealing depth ...more
Nov 13, 2009 Marlene rated it did not like it
I tried, I really tried to make it through this book. It's written in first person and the guy, to me, is like a robot. No feeling, no emotion, constantly likening himself to animals. He grew up in Alaska, in the wilderness, and studied the animals; how they stalked, how they survived. He goes into the service and becomes a tail gunner in WWII. The plane is shot down and he parachutes into Tokyo. This was the first unrealistic part for me. There seems to be a lot of time while the plane is going ...more
Kent Bradford
I rated it a 2.5 in actuality. I wouldn't put it in the same category with Unbroken even though both deal with downed pilots and their Japanese adversaries. The writing style used by this author reveals the pilots's psychie and previous cultural experiences as he deals with different situations while on the ground in Japan. Although the style somewhat interesting, it did become the main focus of the 275 pages and thus a bit tedious for this reader.
May 03, 2014 Rowena rated it really liked it
I have just finished reading this about 5 minutes are my thoughts, for what they are worth.
I found the cadence of the first-person narrative a little hard to read easily, I thought it to be a little stunted compared to 'usual' patterns of speech. However, once I read a few pages I found myself more comfortable.
What can be more thrilling than being shot down over enemy territory with only your wits and previous experience to keep you alive?! This was a page-turner. I was rooting for th
Stacy Bearse
Nov 29, 2015 Stacy Bearse rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This gem sat on my bookshelf unread for more than 20 years. What a surprise when I picked it up last week and discovered a very unique, strongly written novel. The plot of the World War II story focuses on a US airman who parachutes to relative safety after his plane is shot down over Tokyo. This is a story about survival, and the vile, amoral actions that are sometimes required to endure. The novel is written in the first person, with all the jargon of the WWII GI, which is viewed as vulgar and ...more
Jim H
Feb 11, 2014 Jim H rated it really liked it
James Dickey did not write a lot of novels but when he did he wanted to create works that might ring eternal. Like Deliverance, his best known novel, this is elemental, visceral, violent, powerfully beautiful and resonant. I've read a lot and I think Dickey ranks in the top ten best writers in American history, despite his very short resume of fiction.
Dec 23, 2015 Mark rated it it was amazing
Read it and you'll never look at down filled winter coats the same again.
Dawn Van Ness
Sep 12, 2014 Dawn Van Ness rated it liked it
It will make you cringe and want to look away when this survivalist claws his way across and island of Japan. He is a predator, at one with the Lynx, but just when you might not be able to take another harsh, violent act, Dickey gives you a scene that is thought provoking, contrasting your civilized revulsion against other cruelties. When he lets you go, you might even see something that is ugly as beautiful - and there is where you start pondering. I knew he was taking the reader somewhere thou ...more
Feb 23, 2014 Greg rated it really liked it
Very strange book. I read this because I heard the Cohen brothers wanted to adapt this to film. I thought Deliverance was a great book (also by Dickey), so I gave this one a try. It's about a WW2 bomber crew member being shot down over Tokyo during the fire raids and attempting to work his way to the northern island. Dickey develops the character in detail through progressive chapters, and his past becomes clear towards the end of the book, which makes all his previous actions make sense. Defini ...more
May 26, 2016 William rated it liked it
This was a difficult book to read except in short stretches. Full of introspective self absorption passages that were fairly profound but difficult to take for too very long. The main character was not very humane. He was quick to kill people who only marginally qualified as enemy combatants. I liked the journey through the Japanese wild countryside, and the comparison with Northern Alaska. The main character was definitely an incredible survivalist and most of what he did was credible but not a ...more
Ben Laussade
Jun 17, 2016 Ben Laussade rated it liked it
Recommends it for: stabbers
The more I think about this book, the more I appreciate it. Ultrasymbolism is the name of the game. So is reverse anthropomorphism and a dash of hyper-atavism.

Blue-beyond-blue, stark red, endless white play leading roles here. So do fisher martens, rabbits and bears. So do blood and shit, stabbing and beating.

The book gets three stars because it just wasn't very enjoyable. It is very ponderable, but gets a little ponderous toward the middle. The point of the book is that the main character lacks
May 17, 2014 Larry rated it liked it
Sergeant Muldrow, tail-gunner on a B-29 in the last stages of the war against Japan, parachutes into Tokyo when his plane is shot down. It is the day before the big fire-bombing raid on Tokyo, and Muldrow uses it to his advantage. He uses the total chaos of the fire-bombing raid to get out of the city, killing several Japanese civilians along the way. He is uniquely suited for survival due to his rearing on the north face of the Brooks Range in ALaska. His father was a loner and a trapper, and M ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Rob rated it liked it
I can't help but compare this book with another one that almost has the same setting: American soldier is down behind enemy lines, with nobody to depend on but themselves in order to survive. To do so, they must descend to living and thinking like a savage and journey, with a single-minded determination toward a destination that promises salvation. That was The Last of the Breed, by Louis L'Amour. Louis L'Amour's premise is that a civilized man, when confronted with a choice between brutality an ...more
Jun 17, 2016 Ben rated it liked it
Recommends it for: stabbers
The more I think about this book, the more I appreciate it. Ultrasymbolism is the name of the game. So is reverse anthropomorphism and a dash of hyper-atavism.

Blue-beyond-blue, stark red, endless white play leading roles here. So do fisher martens, rabbits and bears. So do blood and shit, stabbing and beating.

The book gets three stars because it just wasn't very enjoyable. It is very ponderable, but gets a little ponderous toward the middle. The point of the book is that the main character lacks
Sep 26, 2010 DoctorM rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What shall we say? Cormac McCarthy in the Kanto? Yes--- I like that. Beautifully written, powerful, great set pieces and landscapes with sudden eruptions of savage violence.

Simple enough plot, of course. An American B-29 crewman is shot down over Tokyo in March 1945, during the great fire raids on the city. He escapes north, seeking safety, seeking to avoid the fate--- beheading ---meted out to captured B-29 aircrew. He's Alaska-born, raised as a hunter and a trapper, and he has a lifetime of su
Gregory Epps
Jun 20, 2015 Gregory Epps rated it really liked it
An incredibly written tale by a renowned poet who wrote only three novels over his long career. The first novel was Deliverance and the last was To The White Sea. Written in a uniquely voiced First Person, we see a Heart of Darkness journey during the World War II bombing of Tokyo as the primal protagonist (who is also the antagonist) undertakes an hypnotic, overland odyssey in a land where everyone is his enemy and all elements are turned against him. The mystical finale is a mind-blower.
Toby McMillen
Jan 09, 2010 Toby McMillen rated it liked it
I have very mixed feelings on this one. The main character is a hard guy to connect with (due to some fairly--without revealing too much of the story--anti-social tendencies, to say the least), but he does have a whole lot of the 'call-of-the-wild' about him as well. The story itself, the airman downed in Tokyo in WWII and trying to survive, is extremely compelling; it was the main reason that I got the book.
The writing is spectacularly clean and tidy, and very precise. I have since learn
Jan 27, 2010 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By the author of Deliverance. Set in Japan during WWII, it’s the story of a downed flyer as he makes his way from Tokyo where he was shot down to the northern end of Hokkaido. Muldrow is a tail gunner and before the Air Force he lived with his father in the interior of Alaska, Just the two of them in the wilderness. He grew up at home in the wild and snowy mountains, hunting and running trap lines. Winter was his special time and home and his escape to the north was in search of the cold and sno ...more
Nov 15, 2014 Timothy rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
For a while I thought this was going to be a five-star experience. The description of the firebombing of Tokyo was really immersive, and the main character was mysterious and unsettling. Dickey partially unravels some of his secrets, but I never fully understood him. More to the point, the plot just meanders through most of the book, and some of the episodes seemed silly to me.

It struck me as a book that was supposed to be carried by the writer's poetic sensibilities, and certainly a lot of the
Joel Lee
Sep 30, 2014 Joel Lee rated it really liked it
The Cohen Brothers almost made this into a Brad Pitt movie years back, and it would have been an almost silent film. A WWII pilot crash lands in Japan and must make his way across the country and evade capture. What makes the book great though is Dickey's focus on the main character's relationship with the natural world and character's slow slide toward madness. Truly original work.
Mar 10, 2016 Daniel rated it it was amazing
This is our American Robinson Crusoe, a successor to Walden, Moby-Dick, and "Big Two-Hearted River," and a novel with the most original voice since True Grit. Every page has at least one satisfying or arresting turn-of-phrase. It’s thrilling, disturbing, provoking, beautiful, suspenseful—everything a novel should be. I can’t do it justice, nor can I remember a time in recent memory when I was so awestruck by a novelist's performance. This one will stay with me for a long time.
Feb 03, 2016 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: modern-fiction
Simply put, imagine this: combine Survivor Man with a very scaled back Rambo and you get Muldrow - the person this story is about.

In To The White Sea, author James Dickey gives us the narrative survival story of Muldrow who is an American B-29 tail gunner. His bomber is shot down and he parachutes from the crashing plane over Tokyo after it was just bombed. Using his wit and his survival skills he learned from his father living in Alaska, Muldrow makes his through Japan. Always north. To the Whi
Doug Haddaway
Jun 01, 2011 Doug Haddaway rated it liked it
I heard about this book while reading a screen writing magazine and since I usually like WWII stories I borrowed it from the library. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was written by James Dickey of Deliverance fame. The book starts off well enough, but quickly starts to drag on and on and on. Overall I liked the story, but feel it could have been shortened and still have been equally effective.
The story is about an American airman who is shot down over Japan, he survives in a very host
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James Dickey's "To the White Sea"--What did I just read? 2 7 Oct 17, 2014 11:56PM  
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Dickey was born in Atlanta, Georgia. After serving as a pilot in the Second World War, he attended Vanderbilt University. Having earned an MA in 1950, Dickey returned to military duty in the Korean War, serving with the US Air Force. Upon return to civilian life Dickey taught at Rice University in Texas and then at the University of Florida. From 1955 to 1961, he worked for advertising agencies in ...more
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