The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston

The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 483 pages, 2002

Genre: Fiction, Historical

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: A group read on one of my Yahoo groups.

Synopsis: The Navigator is a fictionalized account of real characters, Dr Cook and Lt Peary, and their race in the early 1900s to the be the first person to reach the north pole. The twist is that the story is told from the point of view of Devlin Stead, a young man whose father died during an earlier expedition with Cook and Peary. Orphaned, Devlin heads to New York to team up with the mysterious Dr Cook and finds a whole new world away from his sheltered Newfoundland upbringing.

Why you should read this book: This is a well-written book that will draw you in, leaving you wondering “what really happened” in the quest for the top of the world. Johnston portrays a believable account of an alternate view of history through his characters. The vivid depictions of the arctic will have you huddled under your blankets for warmth, while turning pages to discover the hidden deceits, lies, and murders Devlin uncovers.

Why you should avoid this book: Admittedly, if you have a reasonable amount of knowledge about Cook and Peary and their explorations, this book may bother you if you are unwilling to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story, especially as neither Cook nor Peary are portrayed in the most positive light.

Opening paragraph:

In 1881, Aunt Daphne said, not long after my first birthday, my father told the family that he had signed on with the Hopedale Mission, which was run by Moravians to improve the lives of Eskimos in Labrador. His plan, for the next six months, was to travel the coast of Labrador as an outport doctor. He said that no matter what, he would always be an Anglican. But it was his becoming a fool, not a Moravian, that most concerned his family.

Fabulous quotes:

I heard of my father’s death from Aunt Daphne, who let me sleep until my usual hour before waking me. She was crying, and I knew, before she had a chance to tell me, that something had happened to my father. My father, of whom I had one probably false memory and one photograph, was dead, presumed dead, though all Aunt Daphne could bring herself to say was that the Kite had come back without him. Still ‘up there,’ my father was. And perhaps he always would be. I had been certain that one day I would meet him, seek him out.

‘When it was three months since we had seen the sun, his state of mind was such that I doubted he would recover. The weather by then was so bad that even he did not venture out of doors. Redcliffe House was recessed on three sides into a hill, built in a cave-like excavation so that only the front of it was exposed.
‘There was a series of blizzards that lasted for weeks. It seemed impossible that the exposed wall would hold up against the wind. It buckled back and forth like a bedsheet. The door, though it had several layers, each one as thick as the entrance to a dungeon, rattled as though some giant was trying to force his way inside.’

‘We are 160 miles from the pole,’ Dr. Cook told me when he came into our tent from outside one night. ‘If we are at all delayed in getting there, we may not have sufficient supplies to make it back. I do not know what to do.’

Also Recommended: The Fourth Hand by John Irving, Clara Callan by Richard Wright.

Also by this author: The Custodian of Paradise; The Story of Bobby O’Malley; The Time of Their Lives; The Divine Ryans; Human Amusements; The Colony of Unrequited Dreams; Baltimore’s Mansion.

Awards: Governor-General’s Literary Awards: Finalist, 2002; Giller Prize: shortlist, 2002

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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