Saturday, June 07, 2003

Ahab's Wife

I found a wonderful novel at the Quaker bookstore earlier this week, Ahab's Wife: Or, The Stargazer by Sena Jeter Naslund, and finished reading the 650+ pages last night. I guess the book made quite a sensation when it was published in 1999—New York Times Notable Book of the Year, etc.—but that was back when I was being a diligent student, so I hadn't paid attention. But, wow. Set in the early 1800s, the novel tells the story of a woman briefly mentioned in Moby Dick as the wife of Ahab. So the sea, sky, ships, whaling, islands, and lighthouses are major elements in the story. But there are also the motifs of homesteading—gardening, "putting up" the harvest, quilting, sewing. The novel tackles, as well, some of the social and intellectual issues of that time: slavery; women's rights; Transcendentalism, Quakerism, and Unitarianism. Above all, the novel is about the friendships, loves, tragedies, and joys in the life of a strong, adventurous woman.

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