O'Pinions & O'Bservations O' O'Bscure O'Briania

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The Road to Samarkand

Date: Tue, 16 Sep 1997 16:37:29 +0100
From: johnsen@chemmail.chem.fsu.edu (Russell Johnsen)

I have just finished reading "The Road To Samarcand" one of O'Brian's early novels presumably written for juveniles. I would be most interested in hearing the reaction of others to this work. It was republished in 1976 by the White Lion Publishers Ltd. The first edition has a copyright date of 1954 and was published by Rupert Davis-Hart. I find that there are hints of the O'Brian sense of humor and love for language but little else to remind one of his more familiar works. It is mentioned not at all in most lists of the author's works but is listed without comment in "Patrick O'Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography" .

Russell H.Johnsen
30* 27' N.
84* 18' W.

Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 12:20:14 -0700
From: Susan Wenger

There is another Patrick O'Brian book. It really exists. I had the joy to read it, through the kindness of list librarian Greg Hill, who obtained it through inter-library loan and loaned it to me. May God plant a flower on his head! My library had been unable to locate it through ILL, for no reason: if it helps lissuns, the book I had came from the Miami-Dade Public Library.

"The Road to Samarcand," by Patrick O'Brian White Lion Publishers Ltd., London: 1976: first published in Great Britain by Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954.

It is a completely different style of writing from the others, even from the Russ books. It is most definitely written for a juvenile audience, in juvenile vocabulary and sentence structure.

Page 1:

"The Wanderer ran faster with the freshening of the breeze; her bows cut into the choppy sea, throwing white hissing spray into the sunlight. The schooner was carrying every stitch of canvas that she could spread, and she was so close into the wind that the boy at the wheel kept glancing up at the sails, watching for them to shiver and spill the breeze; but they remained taut and full, and presently his attention wandered. His gaze went up past the dazzling white triangles of the sails to the great albatross above them.

How does it manage to keep up without moving its wings?" he wondered, craning over to the left to see it more clearly. "It has never ---"

This book was completely different from any of Patrick O'Brian's other books - I was fascinated, spellbound. I think it must have been a very early work that just didn't get published until 1954. He seems to have had trouble with writing dialogue - it was stilted, unnatural. He tried to denote different nationalities with a formulaic structure such as dropping articles when a Chinaman spoke, or saying "bayn" or "ban" when a Swede talked (the way Killick says "which"), but I rather think he overdid it. Killick doesn't start every single sentence with "which," even though he used that structure habitually. There was a lot of "he said, he replied" and a lot of "do not" where "don't" would have sounded more natural. I'm glad POB improved his technical skills! The storyline was great - a potboiler adventure, very enjoyable. Clearly intended for a younger audience, but "The Golden Ocean" and "The Unknown Shore" were also, and I thought they showed better writing technique.

There was a precursor to the character we love as Maturin - an elderly bumbling archaeologist (who can be deadly when necessary), who serves to explain what the reader needs to know about archaeology or the geography of the silk road or the history of the Mongols. There was a precursor to the lapsus lingui we love in the series, as, for example, when the archaeologist thought of a man he met as "a speechless clock" which elaborates into "a dumb cluck" with a lengthy explanation of how he decided speechless clock was what was really meant. There was "not a minute to lose," there was humor, there was naval adventure, there was nautical terminology transposed to land situations.

I guess this was the LEAST well-written of POB's books, but a wonderful, amazing, fascinating read!

- Susan
"Who wishes to be a meagre sailorman if he can be a learned and enter the government service? Why, in time you might be an official and never do anything for remainder of earthly existence. You could grow long fingernails, and become obese and dignified. " -
Patrick O'Brian

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