Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black Wave by John and Jean Silverwood

The Weekly Geeks are catching up on reviews this week which seems like a good plan to me. I've only got two, so if I write one today and one tomorrow, then I'll have it made. Now to see if it can actually be done. I really must get to it, but first a few side notes. I went on "vacation" this past weekend and it was glorious. I had a swell time, but I'm behind at everything (but it was so worth it), so I'm going to write this book review (it's about time), then I'm going to open up my feed reader and, most likely, cry a little (because of all those unread posts). Oh, and thanks to all of you who commented on the last post, I probably won't get a chance to respond to you all individually, but the "get well soons" were appreciated...and I'm finally getting well, but it certainly wasn't soon by any stretch of the imagination. ;-)

So yeah, book review. The last of my travel memoir trio, at long last. Up next? Something that isn't a travel memoir!

Black Wave is Jean and John Silverwood's chronicle of their decision to take their four children out of their cushy California lives and pursue their lifelong dream of sailing the world. Worried that their children have not learned to really experience life and meet the world head on, the Silverwoods decide that, despite the dangers inherent in sailing long distances, the risk would be worth it to see their family grow together and their children mature in these unique circumstances. On one hand, they were right. On the other, they get much more than they bargained for when their ship wrecked on an isolated coral reef.

Jean's portion of the story alternates a night fraught with terror as the family battles for their lives on the coral reef with flashbacks of their trip up to that point. The recounting of the shipwreck is terrifying, the chronicling of the family's experiences at sea amusing and sometimes heartwarming. However, the interspersing of the two is clumsily done, alternating between tenses and time frames and locales in such a way that it begins to be confusing. Jean's narrative comes to life as she keenly observes her two eldest children coming of age throughout the journey and sees them as their new adult selves on the night of ship wreck. Unfortunately, she occasionally seems to get caught in a trap of trying to describe inherently difficult to describe feelings and situations and failing to do so. These efforts lead to writing that fails to seem genuine and often comes off as overwrought.

John's portion of the story is oddly incongruous with Jean's given their experience of the same events. Instead of weighing in at length on the experience of the trip, he mostly dwells on theories of how the ship came to wreck on this little known stretch of reef and a historical tale of the Julia Ann, a ship that wrecked on the very same reef many years earlier. I found the story of the Julia Ann to be well-written and engaging, with its historical figures coming to life through John's capable writing. John's efforts to return to the theme Jean has begun are also well worth reading as he attempts to identify those qualities in his family members that made it possible for them to survive their harrowing night on the reef.

Overall, I was confused by this book. While its parts are interesting and keep the pages turning, the book as whole just doesn't come together well. Upon reaching the end I was perplexed about what the Silverwoods intended this book to be. Is it a story of their ship wreck? A history of someone else's ship wreck? A contemplation of what caused the ship wreck(s?)? A transcendant tale of a family that truly learned to live life in unusual circumstances whose members grew and matured together and eventually beat the odds because of the lessons they learned throughout the trip? Had the Silverwoods been able to agree on one angle to focus on (ideally, the last), instead of spreading themselves too thin trying to include a little of everything, this book may have been great. As it is, this book's identity crisis undercuts its effectiveness.

The book will be in stores in July.

From what I can tell from Library Thing, my opinion of the book is a bit dissenting, so if any of you have reviewed this book (or do so in the future), I'd love to link to your review. Just leave me a comment with the link.

19 comments:

  1. I am glad you had a nice vacation, Megan. I am looking forward to mine this coming September.

    Its too bad Black Wave wasn't better put together. It sounds like it could have gone in several different directions successfully, if only the authors had followed the same path.

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  2. Yeah, I was a little disappointed that it couldn't quite pick the obvious course ("family transformed by ship journey and wreck") as opposed to spreading out in all directions. It wasn't a bad read, it just wasn't great, and it could have been.

    Are you going someplace fun on vacation? =)

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  3. Yes, I am! My husband and I are going to Hawaii. Kind of a late 10tenth anniversary present to ourselves. I'm really looking forward to it.

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  4. I just finished reading Black Wave and agree completely with your observation that the book as whole just doesn't come together well. The portion written by Jean also drove me a bit nuts... thoughts all over the place and ideas that just did not hit home. Could have been better. By the way, have you read any other such sailing books that were a true page turner AND well-written?

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  5. This book was a great read. I see your point, but I was pleased with the way she weaved the journey together with the story of that night. I was a bit surprised how fast the action started. Having 4 kids myself, around the ages of hers, I could completely relate to every thought she had. There is no way my family would survive at sea, let alone through the ordeal they did! John's section was a true page turner as well, and perhaps better written.

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  6. I just read the 'Jean' portion and I'm put off by her so much that I don't even want to read the rest. Whatever plane of reality she lives on, it's too far removed from mine to even sympathize.

    Also, I feel as though I've just read the 'cover-story' for an insurance scam gone horribly wrong. I don't buy it.

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  7. I just finished reading Black Wave and I loved it! It kept my attention and having a large family myself, I am happy this adventure brought them closer together! I am amazed by all they went through and that John even lived!

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  8. I enjoyed reading the story, although it did take you back and forth quite a bit. My interest comes from the fact that I know John and Jean and their children. There were points in the story that I had to cry just knowing them and their personalities and what they went through. Could it have been better written? Sure. However, this is a great adventure along with a great tragedy and an amazing story to know how this family, each and every member, participated in keeping John alive, working together to survive and coming through this with such grace.

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  9. I just finished "Black Wave". Hmmm. Where to start? As a sailor who has experienced a force 10 to Force 11 gale, I was very interested in that section of the book. As a sailor, again, I was confused by the sailing tactics that John used. Sail should have been dropped earlier, and drougs should have been paid off the stern to slow that boat down.

    As for running onto that reef in good weather, with fully functional GPS, radar, etc. Well that should not have happened.

    But stuff does happen, and it seems that this family did an amazing job of saving all souls. Good for them.

    As for the book, well, It is a way of recouping some losses... after the fact. But John, you might have had no business being out here in the first place! My goodness you had kids out there.

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  10. I've just wrapped up Black Wave and generally enjoyed it. My wife and I are sailors and I can see a bit of her in Jean and a bit of myself in John. I also thought Jean was very open about herself and her feelings and as such, open to criticism. John's account of the Julia Ann was distracting. I wanted to read about their story and feel the focus should have stayed with that.

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  11. I just finished reading the book last night (Jan. 10, 2009). Jean's portrayal was amazing till the last chapter when she jumped to present day and it was like "we're home, that's it to the story." Found that weird.

    John's version, found the whole thing on the Julia Ann/Pond drama odd as well. And I didn't like anything he wrote. And at first I couldn't figure out why there were two book versions with no explanation as to why.

    Interesting story but I didnt like how it was edited.

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  12. Boy, does this book bring back memories. I grew up sailing around the world http://titaniccollector.com/tony.html on a 47 foot Trimaran Lorelei 3, with my brother, sister, mom and dad. I have always wanted to know how to go about writing a book. Can anyone help me? We never ran aground but I also have great stories about pirates, storms lightning strikes, running into a whale in 100 mile an hour wind in the far southern pacific, etc. ssm723@aol.com

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  13. someone asked for other books about boats. My Grandmothers and my own favorite novel is "Sea Trial". It's an exciting thriller set at sea. Not true but it kept me turning pages none-the-less. Check it out.

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  14. They couldve portrayed this epic journey so much better though I did love the book even through all of the jumping around. I really feel connected to the silverwood family and I cant wait to live this adventure with my family someday( hopefully without the reef)

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  15. years ago I read a book by a couple whose boat had been destroyed early in their voyage. They spent months in a life raft before being rescued. The book was in two parts, his diary and her diary. His was mostly: why me, how could this happen, life sucks. Hers was: here's what we ate, here's how I killed it, here's how I kept track of time. Does anybody know the name and/or authors of this book? I lost it and wish I hadn't. The Silverwoods should have read it. They needed to digest their experience a little longer before jumping into writing the book .

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  16. re request for other true sailing stories: ROBIN LEE Graham's book Dove about his solo trip around the world at age 16; true story documented in part by national geographic and then the book was written.

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  17. just finished listenng to the CD and loved it, personally I liked they way they did the story... esp the historical bit about the other ship that wrecked in the same place. no complaints here

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  18. I'm half way reading this now and I'm enjoying the fact that it weaves in and out of the trajedy and past incidents/thoughts rather than just a linear storyline. Makes it so much more interesting and I find it a clever way of suspending the conclusion. I'm contemplating a long distance sailing trip my self from the Carribean to the Pacific Islands so I gladly glean all titbits I can. Here's to real adventure rather than sitting in an armchair!

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