Magazine article The Spectator

A Smooth Passage

Magazine article The Spectator

A Smooth Passage

Article excerpt


by Jonathan Raban

Picador, £20, pp. 604,

ISBN 9780330375511

Jonathan Raban left Britain and moved to Seattle in 1990, when he was 47. He sold his Volkswagen on his way to Heathrow airport.

He bought a Dodge with Washington state plates the next day, and in this second-hand car he would, over the years, travel through and write about his new country. 'The Pacific Northwest continues to be a magnet - the strongest regional magnet in the country, I would guess - for hopefuls and newlifers of every imaginable cast, ' Raban wrote in the summer of 1993, in a piece that's now republished in Driving Home:

It feels like the last surviving corner of the United States to be widely promoted . . . as the one green spot in the moral sand-waste of the world. People like to think of themselves as undergoing not mere relocation but fullblown resurrection here in the smoke- and cholesterol-free city of Seattle, where eternal life is thought to be a viable alternative to two packs a day.

In Driving Home , you can follow Raban's progress: in 1990, he was an immigrant living with his new American wife in a rented apartment with furniture bought at garage sales.

Two decades later and Raban has more than simply settled in. He is a much sought after writer and commentator on the American political scene. There are pieces on George Bush and the war on terror, and how that campaign was pursued on the American domestic front. There are pieces on Bill Clinton and Obama. There are several on sailing, one of Raban's major and constant preoccupations.

Raban had owned a boat when he lived in Britain, which he moored on the Blackwater estuary in Essex. He bought another boat in Seattle, a 35-foot ketch.

Raban wrote in 1998:

The move took me from shallow to deep water;

from sandbars and swatchways, where the echo-sounder dickers around the 10-foot mark, even in the middle of a buoyed channel, to the abyssal inland sea that stretches from Puget Sound to Glacier Bay in south-east Alaska.

Here, the echo-chamber searches in vain for an answering rebound from the dark sea-floor, where the giant bedroom-eyed Octopus dolfeine reclines on its soft bed of silt.

What ought to be said is that Raban hardly left Britain a failure. Unlike some of the people he writes about, Seattle - home of the original Skid Row - was not his last chance saloon. …

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