Book Reviews of Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer
ISBN-13: 9780688177850
ISBN-10: 0688177859
Publication Date: 10/1/2000
Pages: 688
Rating:
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 228

3.8 stars, based on 228 ratings
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

81 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer on + 71 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 9
I read this book for a class I was taking at university: Gender Studies. One warning: you really should have read Moby Dick before reading this.

As an English major, I could go on and on, but I won't. That sort of textual critique is all well and good for scholars, but not for someone who wants to enjoy a good book

The novel is very well written, lyrical even. Having grown up on the east coast, I can tell that the author did a great deal of research into the habits, social culture, and whaling culture of the time. The problem is that for me it is perhaps a bit too beautiful.

It begins with the main character in labor, about to give birth to her first child. Soon events in her life lead her to begin a reverie in which she returns to her childhood (age 12) and reflects on the events which set her on the patch to her present situation. The book eventually ends up at a point past Ahab's death (I told you that you should have read Moby Dick first!).

During her childhood years, the adult storyteller is adding beautiful, reflective, spiritual, lyrical terms which a child wouldn't know. To me, it felt like there was no growth to the character, there was no change from the child at the beginning to the adult at the end. Always a deep thinker, always somehow able to get what she wanted. It just didn't ring true for me.

Warning: This is a *long* one....668 pages.
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Helpful Score: 7
I certainly liked this better than I liked Moby Dick, but that's not saying a heck of a lot... this book is much better than its inspiration. Una is a heroine who is a unique combination of strength and loner, and her story tells of the sort of life that many of us women wish we could live -- many adventures, many chapters to her life, all different and all rich in their own ways.

Although overly detailed in places, this is one heck of a good read.
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Helpful Score: 5
This book is a wonderful story inspired by the book Moby Dick. You do not need to have read Moby Dick to enjoy this novel, it is a wonderful work of fiction that stands on its own. The writing is superb, and the characters very compelling. A must read for people who enjoy "literary fiction."

AFter reading this book, I also bought "The Sinking of the Whaleship Essex" wish is the true story of a boat sunk by a whale. This true adventure was the inspiration for the idea of Moby Dick. If you enjoy historical fiction, check this one out.

Both Ahabs Wife and the Sinking of the Whaleship Essex are part of my permanent collection.
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Helpful Score: 4
This is a truly wonderful book. You don't have to have read Moby Dick in order to enjoy this book. If you just "Cliff Noted" Moby Dick in high school or even have a general idea of what Moby Dick is all about, that is all you need to know.
The characters are deep, believable and brought vividly to life. The plot keeps you guessing. I could hardly put this book down.
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Helpful Score: 4
It took me about 23 pages into the book before I was comfortable with the author's style of writing. She writes narratively, but poeticly, and once I got in the rhythm of her cadence, so to speak, I was hooked! There a moments that I was literally sobbing or rejoicing along with the character. This book is one of a very rare few that I will keep and read over and over again.
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Helpful Score: 4
I read this book years ago, referred by my Mom. It was fabulous and I still wait for another gripping writing by the same author. It truly puts you in the eyes of Capt Ahabs wife and what the women thru in the era. I actually love it so much, I won't give it up and will read it many more times to come. Enjoy!!
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Helpful Score: 4
For the first time in my reading experience, I really FELT the ocean.
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Helpful Score: 3
Having always been a fan of "Moby Dick", and living near some of the areas portrayed in this novel, I was very interested in reading this book. I'd have to say for the first half I could not put it down - I could picture Nantucket and New Bedford as the author described them during that time period, and I enjoyed that. I sort of lost interest towards the end - it was a good book, but not a great one.
reviewed Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer on
Helpful Score: 3
A long, detailed fictionalised account of the wife of Captain Ahab (the fictional character from Melville's "Moby Dick"). You don't have to have read Moby Dick to enjoy this book.
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Helpful Score: 3
Engaging story of a fascinating heroine. A story of Nantucket, of whaling, of family. Incredibly written. I could not put it down.
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Helpful Score: 3
Very well written with wonderful descriptive language and presence. Dramatic adventure, "The daughter of a tyrannical father, Una leaves the violent Kentucky fronter for the peace of a New England lightouse island, where she...falls in love..."
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Helpful Score: 2
Overwritten and overwrought, though this for me does not automatically condemn the work. I do think there is a great story submerged in this novel. The prose, the intricate layers of meaning, the bewitching details of life in this time, and my love of the Age of Sail led me to finish the book despite its desperate need of a clear-eyed editor. I was well rewarded as in the last quarter of the book are about 100 pages that are exquisite, full of grace and passion. I do believe, though, that the character of Una would have benefited from a perusal of the Mary Sue Litmus Test. As the story progressed, each time Una met yet another person who immediately recognized her as extraordinary/intelligent/beautiful/desirable, the urge to toss this hefty tome out the window grew. The insertion of the famed persons of that era (who, of course, instantly thought Una remarkable) was gimmicky. I heartily disliked the repeated occurrence of Una in dire straits followed quickly by the appearance (in the next scene or even the next paragraph) of exactly whoever was needed to comfort/rescue her: Mother dies, Susan enters eager to care for Una; Kit forsakes her, Ahab is discovered proclaiming his passion for Una from a church tower. There are only so many times this can happen in a story without it becoming contrived.
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Helpful Score: 2
I thought the book ran too long and the writing, inconsistent. I was especially annoyed that the author seemed to try to throw in "sensationalism', much as Made for TV movies do, where it was unnecessary for the story to succeed. In some places, her descriptions were absolutely eloquent; at others, the characters used terms that I'd expect were unfamiliar to the period. It was, of course, infinitely more readable than Moby Dick and has teased me to read In the Heart of the Sea, on which Moby Dick was based.

This is good airplane reading (albeit a heavy tome to carry).
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Helpful Score: 2
This is a long and interesting read.
The author's use of language and descriptions are mesmerizing.
I always looked forward to picking up the book and reading the next chapters.
However, I found that towards the end of the story the plot seemed to thin out and did not hold my attention as much as at the start.
I learned a lot about the life of the intrepid whalers and their brave wives.
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Helpful Score: 2
Ahab's Wife is a novel on a grand scale that can legitimately be called a masterpiece: beautifully written, filled with humanity and wisdom, rich in historical detail, authentic and evocative. Melville's spirit informs every page of her tour de force.

Una Spenser's marriage to Captain Ahab is certainly a crucial element in the narrative of Ahab's Wife, but the story covers vastly more territory. After a spellbinding opening scene, the tale flashes back to Una's childhood in Kentucky; her idyllic adolescence with her aunt and uncle's family at a lighthouse near New Bedford; her adventures disguised as a cabin boy on a whaling ship; her first marriage to a fellow survivor who descends into violent madness; courtship and marriage to Ahab; life as mother and a rich captain's wife in Nantucket; involvement with Frederick Douglass; and a man who is in Nantucket researching his novel about his adventures on her ex-husband's ship.

Ahab's Wife is a breathtaking, magnificent, and uplifting story of one woman's spiritual journey, informed by the spirit of the greatest American novel, but taking it beyond tragedy to redemptive triumph.
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Helpful Score: 2
This was one book I have read in the last few years where I actually felt like the main character was a good friend. A friend I did not want to leave..... or for the book to end.
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Helpful Score: 2
Rich, lyrical writing and an interesting take on a familiar story. After awhile the writing style grew cumbersome (too much of a good thing?), but after a break for some "fluffy reading", I was able to wade through it. It's a great story.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was a fantastic read. I couldn't put it down and was dad to have it end. Makes you think about how people lived in another era.
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Helpful Score: 1
I had previously read "Abundance" by this author and don't recall being overly impressed, but this book was completely captivating. Easily one of my all time reads.
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Helpful Score: 1
A completely riveting book!!! Family drama, romantic adventure and real love in a unique setting. Also wrote Four Spirits
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Helpful Score: 1
Life in 19th century New England as seen through the eyes of Capt. Ahab's wife who thinks like a 20th century California woman. Boring book that just doesn't work.
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Helpful Score: 1
This is one of the best books I have read in ages. It is a remarkable story of l8th century life on Nantucket and a girl who runs away to sea on a whaler. I absolutely could not put it down. The language is so perfect for the l8th century and the descriptions of l8th century life are wonderful. Please read this book. It helps to have read Moby Dick first to get a handle on some of the characters. Genny Sikes
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Helpful Score: 1
I don't usually find novels to be 'thought provoking' but this one certainly is. I'd recommend it to anyone who has a love/hate relationship with the sea, and admires a well written story.
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Helpful Score: 1
This is a wonderful spin-off from Moby Dick, historical fiction with a woman character center stage. Great history aspects about whaling, New Bedford, MA and Nantucket. I loved it.
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Helpful Score: 1
An fictional narrative of the wife of Ahab, the backdrop is the whaling industry of New England and the society on Cape Cod. Wonderful detail without ever being tedious, this is a book for adults, but not anything like a soap opera or romance novel. I loved it and wouldn't part with my copy, but I have two.
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Helpful Score: 1
When, as a student, I was forced to read Melville's Moby Dick, I thought the book was the ultimate in torture. Now, after reading AHAB'S WIFE, I find myself wondering if the novel is still buried in my bookshelves. I may have to read it again!

Sena Jeter Naslund, the author of AHAB'S WIFE, was inspired by a brief passage in Moby Dick and her novel tells the same story of the sea intertwined with a life of a very special woman. The 19th Century was not kind to women, ethnics, the handicapped or the poor. It was a man's world. AHAB'S WIFE tells the story of a little girl growing up in hard times. It is a story of new beginnings and gut wrenching tragedy. This little girl, Una, is allowed to grow up free with her dreams intact. As she comes of age, Una seeks what she wants in the world and in the process, Una learns that life is cruel and unjust. AHAB'S WIFE is a novel about inequality and prejudice. It is also about spirituality and passion. Una is the Tom Sawyer of the Seven Seas! Her tale drifts from the lighthouse she grew up in to the whaler she contrived to sail on. This book is full of fanciful characters including sea captains, runaway slaves, dwarfs, lunatics and eccentric artists. This is a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions. Una is a woman living on the fringes of society. She learns that each time the world takes it also gives back. I loved this book-it is a fantastic tale. There are some shocking revelations, some unexpected twists to a story you thought you knew. I found the book to be entertaining and I have discovered a new heroine. A great way to remove yourself from depressing current events if only for awhile.
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Helpful Score: 1
Putting this book on my bookshelf is making me rather uncomfortable. It is such a good read, such engaging characters, such moving philosophies -- that I feel that I am betraying a dear old friend. I almost hope no one wants it.
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Helpful Score: 1
This novel will touch you in a way that no other story will. "Beautifully written. Lyrical...alluring and wise." Los Angeles Times It is probably one of the very best books I have ever read!
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Helpful Score: 1
This was a fantastic read; Una is so much more than a whaling man's wife. The book,rich in language and imagery, never failed to hold my interest. There are great characters with such believable actions, and great detail which helped me to visualize everything the author was describing or depicting. I would recommend Ahab's Wife to anyone who enjoys reading.
I loved the book.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was a great historical novel. It encompasses a lot of adventures for Ahab's wife from when she is a child to an adult. It is good for one who is interested in sailing or lives in New England. She grows up in the Appalachians. Don't be daunted by the length, there are some exciting stories here.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book was all at once fascinating and yet very frustrating. The story of Una is one of a life fully lived. However, the characters seem to get stuck periodically in their own thoughts and reflections for too long, in language too poetic and elaborate for my attention span, using 10 words when 5 would do.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it heartily.

Please note that English is not my first language, and I don't like Shakespeare for the same reason as above.
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Helpful Score: 1
It is amazing how this book tied into the character Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick". Una Spencer's life is adventurous and thrilling long before she meets Captain Ahab. The first chapter pulls you in and you begin to meet the most wonderful characters you have ever known. I'm so glad the book was 666 pages because each page was something grand to look forward to.
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Helpful Score: 1
I've never read Moby Dick, but after reading Ahab's Wife, I want to.

Naslund's writing is beautiful, lyrical. Her characters, especially Una, are completely realized and interesting. Parts of the story were difficult to get through, but I wanted to keep reading because I was so invested in the story that Una tells. It's a story full of adventure, romance, coming of age, and even some transcendentalism. Very enjoyable!
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Helpful Score: 1
Beautifully written. If you liked 'Red Tent', I predict you'd like this too.
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This is an extremely long book, but listening to it on Audio is both enjoyable and short. I am glad I chose to listen to this before I tried to read my copy. The language and voice of the reader really brings what could be a tedious story to life. The book is full of some long passages where Una expounds on life and love and happiness. Hearing it made it seem more heartfelt and less cheesey.

I am not sure if I will take to time to read the book, but I would listen to this again as it was so enjoyable to hear.
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This book was quite good. I don't remember too much of Moby Dick but this was a good tale of Ahab's wife.And Ishmael appears at the end. Well written. Makes me want to head right to Nantucket.
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This book, set in mid-nineteenth century New England and inspired by Moby Dick, is a fascinating glimpse into the historical events and people of that era. I loved the main character, Una, for her adventurous spirit and unflinching spirit in the face of adversity. Naslund has created a memorable book that sets a high standard for heroines and the fictional history of antebellum America. That said, this book is truly a tome and requires some dedication to finish.
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A very compelling account of the life of Ahab of Moby Dick fame. While the story is well told and interesting to read, I found it pock marked with questionable historical accuracies, especially with regard to the religious beliefs common to New Englanders of that period.

A fascinating "what if..." nonetheless.
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A good story, good history lesson and hard to put down!
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highly recommended ...
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Engaging, and a lot of story for your buck! When I finished I had to go back and read Moby Dick.
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This was a FABULOUS book. I loved following the heroine through her adventures, her misadventures, and her life. Her story had seasons of purity and joy, and then there were the seasons of depravity and horror. Just like a life well lived! I will confess that I skimmed a few small parts of the story, especially when Ahab was talking too much (just like he does in Moby Dick - ha!), but that only heightened my pleasure knowing that I could skim-read parts of it and still be swept along in the tidal wave of the story. Even weeks after I have read it, parts of this book still often come to mind. 5 stars!
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Terrific fictional account of the Essex incident
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I thought this book was boring. Everything was described to minute detail...I just wanted it to get on with the story. I almost quit reading it several times but made myself finish it. It didn't get any better to me. Too much angst!
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Poetic and memorable come to mind to describe this book. The life of Ahab's wife is enchanting at time's and others over come with death and human suffering that no man/woman should be able to come through with their sanity still intact. The writer has woven such a tale with her poetic words that I have saved some for future nurturing for my soul.
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One of my top ten favorite books ever! This author weaves a brilliant tale with insanely unexpected twists & turns. Her main character, Una, feels like a friend as she is telling her character-building life story. A brilliant novel that I could not wait to finish, yet did not want to even end...
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Engrossing at times, slow-moving and dull at others. Generally, a very nice re-working of an over-worked tale.
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A complex and multi-layered story that kept me reading greedily until the final page. Naslund imagines the woman who would marry Moby Dick's Ahab, and gives her a lively history that outshines that of the captain himself. The rich historical detail and honest characters gave the novel great depth.

We meet the title character as a young girl and follow her through her life on the frontier, at a lighthouse keeper's cottage, on a whaling ship and as the wife of the venerable Ahab, but that marriage is only a small part of the story.

The moment I finished the book I wanted to read everything else Naslund had written.
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A long book with many characters that Una the main character comes across. It looked to me that the author put a 20th century woman's way of thinking into the Una 19th century setting. She addresses slavery, and many women's issues. Good book, would recommend if you like a character that is progressive
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Very discussable book for our book group.
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WONDERFUL story of an amazing woman, and her life on and near the sea. LOVED this book.
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Strong female protagonist, gripping account of survival on a lifeboat, and a welcome fleshing-out of Ahab as someone more than a maniac pacing the deck.
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Loved the epic nature of this book. Like a number of recent novels, this uses as its basis a fictional literary figure and builds the story around that. Empathized with the main character, and liked how the opening paragraph told a bit about what would happen and whetted our appetite for the story.
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this is one of the best...maybe the best book i ever read....just beautifully written:)
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The title character is daring and courageous. Author Naslund looks into the darkness of the human heart and reflects hope.
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This is the story of Una, who is sent by her mother to live in a lighthouse in order to protect her from her religion-mad father. Una finds early passion with a sailor, then disguised as a cabin boy runs away to sea. It is the story of a real, loving marriage between Una and Ahab(from Moby Dick)before the white whale takes his leg and he descends in to madness. It is the story of how the widowed Una makes a new life for herself in the company of Margaret Fullers, Frederick Douglas and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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This was one of those books I hated to finish. Now I have to get Moby Dick, as I never read that!
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The dramatic story of Captain Ahab's wife, a fascinating woman hero in her own right. This is a drama you won't soon forget, well written and compelling. Great read. A New York Times Notable Book.
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Fascinating story of a very strong woman who makes her own way and determines her own beliefs.
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I really enjoyed this book. I never made it through the original Moby Dick, but this book really captured me. The story told from the eyes of Captain Ahab's wife is a whole new look at the classic story.
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Beautiful, lyical. I loved every moment of this book.
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I am sorry I have read it because I loved it so. Would love to read it again and I will down the line. Sena Naslund is a wonderful writer. Just finished Abundance and I could not put it down.
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I read it awile back, so I do forget the details, but loved the story! Enjoy sailing the seas!
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I really enjoyed it & highly recomend it.
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I had no idea this book would be this good. Right from the opening sentences, the beauty of her phrases and lyrical descriptions of rising to meet life as it presents itself captured my attention and held me spellbound.in all the places as it unfolds From her early beginnings in the backwoods of America, to growing up on an island lighthouse during our country's whaling era, Una's story unfolds. As it deepens, we are thrown into the deepest depths of life as she faces horrifying times lost at sea and painful personal losses. Yet, always it is Una's uncommon sense bravery and eye for beholding beauty around her, that endears her story to us.
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Great book.
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Ahabs Wife one of the best books I have ever read!
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A wonderful read. I found it very poetic and thought provoking.
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Almost 700 pages, but I couldn't stop reading it. Very good book.

From the opening line -- "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last" -- you will know that you are in the hands of a master storyteller and in the company of a fascinating woman hero. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby-Dick, Sena Jeter Naslund has created an enthralling and compellingly readable saga, spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. At once a family drama, a romantic adventure, and a portrait of a real and loving marriage, Ahab's Wife gives new perspective on the American experience.
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The last paragraph is almost as good as the first. Didn't read anything in between, though.
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Absorbing story about a strong woman.
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This seems like it's a good book, I just couldn't get into it.

A story of the life of Ahab's wife, told from her POV. I hope someone else will enjoy it!
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Took me a bit to get into this book. I don't generally read historical novels. But in the end, it was pretty interesting.
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Finally finished this long massive story of Ahab's wife (666 pages). I've been reading this off and on for the past several weeks concurrently with some other books. This one seemed to take me forever to read -- not that it was boring, I just had to read it in small doses to get the full impact of the novel. Of course, this was the story of Ahab's wife (yes the Ahab from Moby Dick), Una, and what a tale it was! I hate to admit that I have never read MOBY DICK, but maybe this will motivate me to do so.


The story starts out with Una at her mother's cabin in Kentucky during a snow storm, while Ahab is out to sea. While there she gives birth to her first baby, Liberty, who dies before morning. She is assisted by a runaway slave, Susan, while her mother has gone to fetch a doctor resulting in her death in the frozen snow. Then the narrative switches to Una's life as a young girl where she stays at a lighthouse with her aunt and uncle and young cousin, Frannie. Later she decides to go to sea on a whaler dressed as a boy where an ensuing tragedy occurs that was apparently based on the real life events of the whale-ship Essex, the basis for the Moby Dick story. (I read In the Heart of the Sea which details this story several years ago). Una is stranded on a whale boat for several weeks along with some other shipmates and the methods taken to survive haunt Una throughout the rest of her life. She eventually weds Ahab and waits out his encounters with Moby Dick. Along the way she also meets several historic personages including Emerson, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglas, and others. And she gets involved in many of the issue of the day including women's rights, abolition, and transcendentalism.

Overall, I would recommend this one but I did like the first part of the novel better than the last third or so of it. In the last part of the book, it did get a little tedious as Una is waiting on the fate of Ahab and deciding what to do with the rest of her life. And, as I said, the book was long -- I think it could have been cut by a couple of hundred pages to make it flow better.
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Excellent read!
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It didn't speak to my inner woman, beyond the first sentence.
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I tried to read it but it just wasn't my thing.
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This falls into the category of one of the better books that I've read, and I've been reading at least one book constantly for the last 57 years.
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Loved, loved, loved this book. Loved everything about it.
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National Bestseller
A NY Times Notable Book of the Year
One of Time Magazine's Five Best Novels of the Year
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This edition has two ISBN numbers (the other is not valid), and is actually a trade paperback edition