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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
First Voyage is an historical fiction novel written by Anthony Palmiotti. The world was still struggling back to its feet as the final death throes of the Great Depression dragged on, and Patrick Welch felt for the tired, older longshoreman whose back was bowed under the heavy weight of the sacks he was moving, as he also did for those longshoremen who didn’t get selected for work that day and would go home hungry. He had all his belongings in his sea bag and was dressed in his newly purchased clothing for his first day aboard the Arrow as the ship’s third mate. As he asked for directions in the bustling confusion of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, he could hear the muttered undertones about the Arrow and its skipper, but Patrick was feeling good about his career path. The battered-looking and somewhat churlish Captain Van Metre chuckled as he perused Patrick’s license and papers, which detailed his graduation from the school ship and six months experience as an AB, but he still directed his new third mate to locate the chief mate who would he said would find him work. They would be embarking soon for Brazil, and Van Metre hinted that it could be a long swim if things did not work out. Setting off began with the intricate process conducted between the battered old Hog Islander and the tug that set the ship’s nose in the right direction. Then as the ship pulled away from the basin and the fresh ocean breezes began to sweep away the smells of shore, each crewman felt that sense of excitement, of renewal. As Patrick gazed awestruck at the multitude of stars that night, he knew there was no place he’d rather be at that moment. And in the morning, gazing upon the untold expanses of sea and sky, he knew he was somewhere he had never been before, and it was good.
Anthony Palmiotti’s historical novel, First Voyage, takes the reader on that first voyage along with Third Mate Patrick Welch, and it is a grand and glorious experience. Palmiotti’s own experiences as a licensed merchant marine officer and maritime educator give this book such immediacy and tension. I was continually impressed by how involved I was getting in the everyday tasks and responsibilities of Patrick and the rest of the crew. The characters in this book are larger than life as the reader sees how the crew becomes bound together into a family of sorts, one wherein sacrifice and loyalty are instinctive and natural, as seen when the Arrow is beset by a storm. From the captain to the mates and the rest of the crew, the reader becomes privy to each of their thoughts and aspirations as well as falling vicariously into their familiar and familial roles on this ship that becomes their world. As it’s 1938, the drums of war are beating yet again in Europe, and as they are bound for Hamburg, Patrick and the crew are caught up in the chaos, violence and hatred that would come to be known as Kristallnacht. The author’s focus on the genesis of and spirit that would somehow foment the ugliness, fear and inborn hatred of the other is crystal sharp and perceptive.
There’s so much to admire about this grand, rousing beast of a novel. It’s a modern day maritime novel that will make most readers wish they had gone to sea, as well as being a poignant and powerful coming of age novel. The Holocaust and the worsening plight of Jews during Hitler’s regime is masterfully addressed. Add to that First Voyage’s rightful claim as a first-rate historical novel, and you’ve got one of the best books of the year as far as I can see. Palmiotti’s writing is translucent and lyrical at times, but always highly accessible and, like a siren’s call, quite irresistible. First Voyage is a most impressive debut novel, and it’s most highly recommended.