Bibliophile reviews The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

Year published: 1956
Genre: Non-fiction: Memoir, travel
Setting & time: Aboard ship and shore leaves in the UK and Australia; 1938-9

The Story:
In 1938, 19 year old Newby gave up his job as a clerk and signed on for a round trip as an apprentice seaman aboard the freighter Moshulu, one of the last sailing ships that plied the grain route between Britain and Australia. His descriptions of the excitement and hardships of shipboard life make for wonderful reading, and a documentary of a lifestyle that was soon to be extinct. The 1938-9 season was, according to Newby, the last time a fleet of sailing ships vied with one another for the fastest passage from Australia to Britain. After the Second World War was over, the fleet had broken up, many of the ships were destroyed, and ships with engines had mostly taken over the cargo routes.

Eric Newby had a wonderful way with words and this first book is no exception. He had the ability to make the things he wrote about come alive for the reader.
The only thing that marred the reading of this adventure story for me was all the technical descriptions of sails, masts, ropes, etc. and the techniques employed in their use. Although some of the terms are explained, I soon got lost amid all the technicalities, but it didn’t really matter, because those passages were never too long and I always had some idea of what was happening.

I was delighted to discover through Wikipedia that Moshulu is still afloat and serving as a floating restaurant in Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, USA.

Rating: 4+ stars.


Monique said…
I like these kinds of adventure stories. One of my favorites is by Peter Steele called The Man Who Mapped the Arctic. It's about the life of George Back, who, well, mapped the Arctic.

The other is a newer book, Trading in Memories by Barbara Hodgson.

It's about her travels around the world collecting bits of found art and ephemera. The way Newby has a way with words, Hodgson has a way with images. Check out the site, her photos are really great.

Cheers, Monique

Popular Posts