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Book Review: Shanghaied by David Paul Collins

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None of the numerous coming-of-age memoirs, fictionalized accounts, or nonfiction historical books of sea-going adventures have captured my imagination as magically as David Paul Collins’ novel Shanghaied, based on his own true story as a merchant seaman.

Collins conveys an amazing depth of feeling in his portrayal of protagonist Jack Sligo. Written as a first-person narrative, Shanghaied sees Jack relates the story of his brutal initiation into survival at sea. Spellbound by his Irish grandfather’s tales of adventure, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, and Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, 15-year-old Jack Sligo dreams of traveling around the world as a part of the crew on a cruise ship.

Within days of the end of his sophomore year in high school, Jack quietly slips out of his bedroom to begin a summer adventure that changes his life. The first step in his plan was to register with the International Maritime Union in New York City to get a job on a U.S. cruise ship. Because of Jack’s obvious youth, slight build, lack of experience and the necessary paperwork, he is escorted out (thrown) by the union’s representatives.

Persistent, Jack returns the next day, quietly finds his way to the office of Bernie Callahan, the chief port agent who sent him on a wild goose chase to see a buddy in Mobile. Jack experiences another rejection. His first night in Mobile he finds his way to Nellies Bar where two strangers buy him a powerful drink. Jack’s next memory is waking up on the on a 60,000 ton Liberian merchant ship, the SS Iron Prince, bound for South America.

Jack weaves in stories of real or imagined cannibal Indians along the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela, dozens of seas stories revealing the circumstances that led to how members of the ship’s crew ended up aboard the SS Iron Prince. He tells of his fear when caught in the eye of a ferocious storm at sea, facing hurricane force winds, as the ship and crew sails between Haiti and Cuba. He describes the panic, dangers, and rescue when the ship runs aground in the Orinoco River.

Jack tells of his homesickness, and of the important life lessons learns through his experiences; of how he learns the reality of hate and intolerance and the importance of courage, honesty, and patriotism.

Jack also relates lessons he learns from crew members concerned for his safety:

• Lessons in self-respect
• Lessons about judging others
• Lessons about accepting the will of God
• The call of the sea is never held back by fear.
• No man cheats another more than he cheats himself.

He learns to appreciate more fully the benefits of his personal opportunities, of parents, family, economic benefits, and education. He adjusts to the company of tough sailors left with insecurities as a result of never having the chance to go to school. Collins skillfully introduces broken English, with nuances of German, Tagalog, Norwegian, African, and Cayman Islanders into his dialog.

The inclusion of black and white photos and maps throughout the text and a comprehensive glossary of nautical terms add to the interest level and informative value of the book as a whole.

Shanghaied captured my imagination from the very first page — entertaining and informative — destined to become a classic in the genre of Adventures on the High Seas.

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About Carol Hoyer