Jonathan Raban is probably best known for his travel writing,
although he has also written fiction. This is the first in a
proposed series of three novels set in the Pacific North West of
America. Raban, a British citizen, has always been fascinated by
the United States and the American Dream, or America as an
ideology. In the book he uses his observational skills and wit to
draw a compassionate and humorous portrait of America at the turn
of the millennium. The two main characters in the novel are legal
immigrant Tom Janeway, a Hungarian-born English intellectual, and
illegal alien Chick, who came from China hidden in a container
aboard a freighter. Tom has in sense always been an immigrant. His
parents fled Hungary in 1956, when he was just a toddler, and he
grew up with a feeling of being different in a bleak London suburb.
His Hungarian surname, Szany, became Janeway, just as nameless
Chick is first just a 'chink' then turns it into Chick, and later
acquires a fake ID. And it is not just the names of our
protagonists that are in a flux. People around them change
identities, the city they are in, Seattle, is changing, and peoples
fortunes are in a spin. While the enterprising Chick sees
possibilities and use in what others label junk, and uses hard work
and resourcefulness to draw himself up by the bootstraps, Tom lives
in his head with his literary chums and ideas. He is so
self-absorbed that he does not realize that his dot.com paper
millionaire wife, Beth, is drifting away from him. Toms detachment
from his surroundings soon lands him in serious trouble and the
story becomes a tragic farce. Raban writes with sensitivity and
intelligence, and creates a thoughtful but also an entertaining
novel that is a joy to read. (Kirkus UK)
At the turn of the millennium, two immigrants are drawn to the
United States by their own versions of the American Dream. For Tom
Janeway - a Hungarian-born English intellectual most at home with
his books - it's the family he thought he'd never have. For Chick -
an illegal alien newly escaped from a cargo container - it's the
land of plenty he imagined back in China. But as the stock market
hits a new high, anti-globalist riots break out in the streets, a
terrorist is arrested and a child disappears, the two men's dreams
collide in a way neither could have anticipated. Unjustly accused
of a horrific crime, estranged from his wife and his beloved young
son, Tom's life is rapidly unravelling. Chick, meanwhile, has a
burgeoning business by day but no safe place to lay his bed at
night. For both, the New World proves surprisingly full of old
ways. Waxwings is a masterwork. Exquisitely written, moving, funny
and hugely entertaining, it brilliantly captures the landscape and
life of contemporary America, and it confirms Jonathan Raban as one
of our very finest writers.
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