Sunday, December 2, 2012

Five top nautical yarns

Herman Wouk's novels include The Caine Mutiny (one of the best books on World War II) and The Winds of War.

His new book is The Lawgiver.

Wouk named five notable nautical yarns for the Wall Street Journal, including:
The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'
by Joseph Conrad (1897)

Nobody, but nobody, could write about storms at sea like Conrad. Nor could anyone drench a plot crackling with action—that of a ferocious struggle for survival—in as much moral complexity as Conrad did in this novel about merchant seamen in a square rigger homeward bound from India. As they round the Cape of Good Hope, a stolid captain stands like a rock in terrifying gales for days, while the sailors' true natures emerge in the ways they help (or don't) a black crewman lying sick with TB in the tossing ship. Jimmy, the black crewman, is, Conrad said, the center of the ship's collective psychology and an impostor of sorts. "We had so far saved him; and it had become a personal matter between us and the sea. We meant to stick to him," the narrator observes. But the men hate Jimmy, too, suspecting him as a malinger, feelings that burdened them with guilt. "But then, what kind of men were we—with our thoughts!" Above and beyond the drama of morality and conscience, the great sea storm rages, buffeting the ship—a terror the reader is made to feel in the bones. Conrad would have been gratified. Through the power of the written word, he wanted, he wrote, "to make you hear, to make you feel," above all, "to make you see. That—and no more and it is everything."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue