Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen

matthiessen-far-tortuga

I always admire the skill of an author who takes a book out of the normal realm of storytelling and tells the story—just tells it like it is—even the bare bones are still complex with the cryptic marrow slyly beguiling; poetry. The mostly circular or wave-like ink markings that indicate the passage of time or weather add a dimension that is more thoughtful than the standard ornaments on offer in book design to indicate breaks in the narrative. I understand in my writer’s soul why Matthiessen said this novel was his favorite—this one has a more personal spirit—personal experience. It’s a very authentic experience reading this book—not everyone is ready for that—or open to it.

It is spare, elegant, lyrical, a zen-like meditation—it made me think a lot about Moby Dick, tho’ a little less complicated—and less word count. I’m in love with this book. I guess it came to me at the right time as I’m feeling that sense of nostalgia for the old ways of doing—the ways that are disappearing—the ways (and the people) that are being forced out to make room for the new, the shiny—the whatever algorithm that is anticipated—like it or not.

The ongoing dialog—composed in musical patois of the Caribbean—unquoted—ranges from quiet mutterings and musings. Shouts and proclamations. Cutting insults and gentle praise. Nature is its own character in the sea, sky—horizon. Storms—calm. The sun and the moon. Clouds and stars. Turtles, stoic—trapped. (There’s no getting away from the brutality of the trade these men are in, I felt sad for the poor creatures.) The sea birds take wing in the sky, and the sharks lurk below the surface. The reefs, the islands, the mangrove, the harbors. The turtlers, sailors, the pirates. Captains. Father, son, grandfather, grandson. Generations. Superstitions. Truths. Tales. History. Rumors. Memories. Landmarks. Legends. The memorials of time long gone, the last of a dying breed—desperation. Joyful, yet horribly sad.

I suppose we all get there some day.

Dis morning sea tryin to tell me something, Speedy. It so old, mon. Make me wonder what I doin way out here in dese reefs, all de days of my life. (sighs) Life has got away from me, some way—I just goin through de motions. P. 255

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