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Waxwings
JONATHAN RABAN

Waxwings by Jonathan Raban
19 reviews (2003) (288p)
Amazon.com Best Books

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Book Description
From the best-selling author of Passage to Juneau—"Raban at his best," wrote Ian McEwan—an unsettling, tender, and always surprising novel set in Seattle at the turn of the millennium, when the high-tech Gold Rush threatens to overwhelm the actual world with its myriad virtual alternatives.

Two immigrants, though, are drawn here by more traditional versions of the American Dream. For Tom Janeway—a Hungarian-born Englishman—it is the wife and son he thought he'd never have. For an illegal alien—Chick, as he comes to call himself—it is the land of opportunity he'd imagined back in Fujian province. Given the overheated service economy, mutual need introduces the writer–professor–NPR-commentator to this enterprising handyman, and each soon finds himself strangely dependent on the other. Because meanwhile, all around them, people are busily charting futures that are obscure to, or exclude, anyone else.

Waxwings masterfully depicts the social realities of a boomtown in flux, as well as the illusions that distract its inhabitants from the most basic human impulse: to create a place we can call home. This is what Chick dreams of achieving, and what Tom must suddenly struggle to preserve. As the NASDAQ index spirals upward, street riots break out, a terrorist is arrested, a child disappears, a jetliner goes down—and the city, rimmed with feral countryside, begins to emerge in its true colors.

The Washington Post proclaimed of Foreign Land that "Jonathan Raban's achievements in this novel are nothing short of awesome," and with Waxwings—exquisitely written and hugely entertaining—he demonstrates more powerfully than ever before that he "invests his characters with such freshness and warmth, writes prose of such Wordsworth-like beauty, and does it all with such effortless mastery that he takes the reader's breath away."


Amazon.com Review
Jonathan Raban's Waxwings is a canticle for the late 1990s told through the intertwined lives of several Seattlites. In the novel, the city becomes a microcosm of America at the turn of the millennium, and Raban's characters--all in some way tragic "tourists" in the world--are rendered with a compassion that redeems their personal failings.

Thomas Janeway is a British novelist and professor of literature at the University of Washington whose life is coming apart in his adopted home. He deeply loves his four-year-old son, Finn, but his wife, Beth, is caught up in the dot-com explosion, and the couple has grown apart. As Seattle erupts in the WTO riots and terrorist plots, Janeway's life crumbles around him. His wife leaves him, his house becomes a shambles of half-completed reconstruction, and his son is caught fighting in school. When he becomes a "person of interest" in the abduction and possible murder of a local girl, he is put on leave with pay from the university. Yet, Raban does not let Janeway--or any of his characters--wallow in self-pity. They all try to move forward with life, and even Janeway "the suspect" finds sympathetic allies in surprising places.

At one point in the novel, Janeway lectures his students on the "generosity" of V.S. Pritchett, saying that the writer believed "in a general redistribution of verbal wealth, in taking good lines from the haves, and giving them to the have-nots." This "liberal realism" also characterizes Raban's work. Raban treats all of his characters, from Janeway to Finn, with patience and balance. He fully inhabits each and tells fragments of the story from the perspective of Beth, Tom, Finn, and even Tom's illegal-immigrant contractor, Chick. One narrative infuses another, lending the novel a Dickensian universality. Together the disparate voices perfectly capture the particulars of a place, Seattle, at a unique moment in American history. --Patrick O'Kelley


Other Award Winning Books by Jonathan Raban
Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings by Jonathan Raban
54 reviews (1999) (448p) (Amazon) (ALA Non)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban
46 reviews (1997) (p) (NYTimes Non) (ALA Non)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
OLD GLORY by Jonathan Raban
20 reviews (1981) (416p) (NYTimes Non)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Jonathan Raban Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 2  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 2  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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