Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Sea Captain's Wife: “Apples, mermaids, pansies, seashells...”

...are woven into the rug that Azuba's Grammy makes for her to take on her first voyage aboard her husband's ship Traveller. She wants Azuba to remember her home overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Growing up in 1860s New Brunswick, Azuba, daughter of a shipwright, dreams of adventure and then one day it finds her – or does it? At a dance Azuba falls in love with tall, rugged, blue-eyed Nathaniel, captain of the sea-going vessel Traveller. When they marry Azuba believes she will go to sea with her husband but he has other ideas. He prefers that she stay safely at home to raise their children and await his return – every few years.

The Sea Captain's Wife” by Beth Powling is one of the most purely gorgeous books I have ever read. The story, of Azabu, her longing for adventure, her struggle to understand her fierce sea captain husband, and to cope with his world once she is admitted to it, is a gripping story. What distinguishes it from any other tale of its kind is the seamless blending of the harsh realities of a life at sea with the timeless, homely rhythms of a woman's life. Through all the drama and challenge of rounding Cape Horn, being becalmed with supplies dwindling, and being attacked by pirates, Azuba's life – even lived in the saloon of her husband's ship – is still a woman's life. Quilting, sewing, making pies, teaching her children, tending the chickens, pregnancy, cooking preserves, struggling to understand this mysterious creature she is married to are daily parts of life for Azuba. Much as they were for many women of her time.

I have to say I loved this book and often found myself in tears at both the story and the beauty of the language. Although I would have liked a little more description of some of the more exotic ports they visited, this was more than compensated for by the passages about their life at sea. Some were harsh and painful, others were dreamy and evocative. The chapters while they were sailing from South Africa to Hong Kong were delicious.

But for me the most purely lovely part of the books were the last few chapters. The writing is just beautiful – tender, heart-breaking, exquisite. For all the drama of the years at sea returning home to gardens, sewing, gathering blackberries for jam, take care of babies, laying elders to rest. I couldn't stop crying and smiling at the same time. This is a beautiful, tender love story about an enigmatic man, challenging children, caring family, and the woman who loved them all. I highly recommend it. 

Thanks for reading. 

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