Epic. An overused word. And yet, I can’t think of another one to use here. Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is Epic.
More than 700 pages, this story follows the life of Una, a child in Kentucky in the early 1800’s enduring a childhood with an abusive father who rants bible verses and cannot show love to her. At age 12 Una is sent to live with her aunt and uncle who are lighthouse keepers on an island in New England. Her second life unfolds on the island with a loving family and an education, yet she yearns for something more. Something she can’t imagine but knows is out there. She begins to understand her future has more in store for her when two young men, Kit and Giles, arrive on the island.
My favorite part of the novel begins when Una takes her life into her own hands and adventure ensues. The third life of Una is a remarkable journey when she masquerades as a boy and stows away on board a whaling vessel out of Nantucket. The nerve of this young girl to pull this off! I was enraptured in this tale of life and death on the high sea. And there is a lot of death. A dangerous business is whaling and Una (known as a boy as Ulysses) experiences everything onboard from suicide, drowning, sickness, fierce storms and eventually cannibalism. I couldn’t stop reading.
BUT I had to stop reading because it took me forever to get this far in the book, and my three-week library loan of the kindle edition was up. Argh! I had to go back on the waiting list to finish the story. Six weeks went by before I was able to once again join Una’s odyssey.
Una finds herself saved (more than once) from death, is married (more than twice) in life and experiences the loss of a child, a mother, dear friends, a husband. She survives poverty and indulges in riches. Her intelligence intrigues her with science and literature and many people pass through her life that inspire and teach her and make her stronger. The author inserts numerous real life authors and scientists into the story that enrich Una’s life and the novel.
She lives her life fully no matter what her current situation is.
But her fourth life, her life as Ahab’s wife is both the happiest and the saddest of her days. For multiple reasons, all of which make the story so bountiful and an amazing read.
I won’t tell how it ends as she begins her fifth life. This remarkable tale is one of my favorite reads in a very long time. It is a very long book, taking a major commitment to read, and worth every minute. It feels like a biography, but it is pure fiction, fun, exciting, beautifully written and of course, Epic.
This book is nearly twenty years old but I had never heard of it. It was recommended to me by someone on Facebook but I can’t remeber who (was it you? Tell me!).
Both my husband and I loved Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star Gazer: A Novel by Sena Jeter Naslund. Five Stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Read last week’s review of The Velvet Hours