Paul Brogan's Reviews > Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts
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bookshelves: modern-classic

Not being terribly familiar with North America, especially that of the wild days of the late 18th century, just before the American War of Independence, I read this book with an open atlas at my elbow. This enabled me not only to read a ripping and entertaining yarn, or three, of adventures and endurance, but also learn lots about the geography and history of those times. This alone gave me enormous satisfaction.

The title is somewhat deceptive. The Northwest Passage, as I understand it, was the elusive sea-route past Hudson Bay, through the Arctic Ocean, to the Bering Strait, the Northeast Passage being the same route in reverse. By contrast, the eponymous passage of this book is the land route up the Missouri and out through Oregon. Further, while the middle part of the book deals with Major Rogers' obsession with discovering this road, it is not the main focus of the story as much as it is the heroes, villains, wars, and politics of the period.

The first part of the book was my favourite: an epic tale, in the tradition of Tolkien and Shackleton, of a journey through hell and back. The second part puts in perspective the political shenanigans of the British that were later to help trigger the revolt of the American colonists. The third part is a denouement, telling a love story of the first person of the narrative, Langdon Towne, and his finding peace in a troubled continent.

It was not only America that I learned more of, but Americans, too. The idea that the British, as colonial masters, were bumbling idiots is familiar to me. We could tell similar histories here in South Africa, as well as in India and elsewhere. Americans' excessive religiosity, the idea that they were chosen of God, parallels that of the Boers of South Africa in the early 19th century, who also sought to escape the clutches of British despotism and to find their own northeast passage. Freedom continues today, as I see it, to be the touchstone of all things that Americans find precious, and this book explains why better than any other I'd read. I liked it.
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Reading Progress

September 21, 2012 – Started Reading
September 21, 2012 – Shelved
September 29, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 10, 2013 – Shelved as: modern-classic

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Brogan That was a very good synopsis. I don't seem to be able to read anything at the moment, and wonder how on earth you find all the time to do so. But this book sounds really good, althoigh I too would need a map of North America,

message 2: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Great review, thanks for the introduction to this book.

message 3: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Going to buy this book soon to read....esp comes with great recommendation by author Robert Olmsted.....just finished his fabulous book, Coal Black Horse.....with great narrative of the real happening to people during civil war....unbelievable language to make the reader aware of the real happenstance to towns, people and soldiers and their families...use of language done if the best I have ever read....English major at Penn state university, but I changed to teaching all grades 1-8....I enjoyed an interview of Robert Olmsted at Ohio state university on YouTube....esp the emphasis fir writing needs to be on literature in interpretation of what he said....writing is an art not a craft that can necessarily be taught!....

Sharon Ryan I, too, loved the review. I am an American and still needed an atlas at my elbow.

message 5: by Margitte (new)

Margitte A wonderful review!

Paul Brogan Margitte wrote: "A wonderful review!"

You're too kind.

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