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The Sea Captain's Wife [Deckle Edge] [Paperback]

Beth Powning
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 30 2010

Growing up on the Bay of Fundy, Azuba Galloway dreams of going to sea. She watches magnificent ships slowly making their way into Whelan’s Cove, the sense of exoticism bursting from their holds along with foreign goods.
As a young woman, Azuba marries a seasoned merchant sea captain, Nathaniel Bradstock. Unwilling to have him away at sea for most of their married life, and anxious to see far shores, she extracts a promise that he will take her with him. But Azuba becomes pregnant soon after they marry and Nathaniel knows too well the perils of life on a ship. He reneges on his promise and refuses to allow Azuba to join him.
When Nathaniel leaves on his journey, Azuba desperately misses her husband. Days turn into weeks and months – voyages can take two, three years before the ship and crew return home. Despite her loneliness, Azuba becomes a strong, independent woman, caring for her child and her home. With her parents and beloved grandmother nearby, she settles into a life of quietude and predictability, all the while yearning to be by her husband’s side aboard his ship.
Her loneliness eventually propels her into a friendship with the local vicar, Reverend Simon Walton. He is a quiet, kind and contemplative man, and Azuba takes comfort and enjoyment in their increasingly intimate friendship. One afternoon, despite her misgivings, Azuba goes on a picnic with the vicar and becomes trapped by the tide. When they return home the next morning, Azuba and Reverend Walton have become a topic of gossip.
When Nathaniel returns home he is enraged by her impropriety. Reluctantly he decides to take Azuba and their young daughter, Carrie, with him on his next voyage. Mother and child are loaded from a rowboat and hauled onto the weather deck along with barrels of coal and crates of chickens. Nathaniel has drawn a line across the deck. “You’ll never again cross that line,” he instructs Azuba.

It is October 1862. It will be three years before Azuba sees the shores of Whelan’s Cove again. Aboard Traveller, the small family visits places Azuba dreamed she would one day see: London, San Francisco and exotic countries in Europe.
But she also experiences the terror that can come during a life at sea: a harrowing passage around Cape Horn, half-starvation while listlessly floating in the doldrums, and a stop at the Chincha Islands to pick up a load of guano, where she witnesses a mass suicide by slaves. She begins to question her decision to join her husband, particularly when she realizes there is “no way to erase horror from a child’s memory.”

Misery follows misfortune and Azuba feels alone in a male world, surrounded by the splendour and the terror of the open sea. The voyage tests not only her already precarious marriage, but everything Azuba believes in.
With a sure hand, Beth Powning captures life aboard a sailing ship – ferocious storms, the impossibly isolated ports of call, the gruelling daily routine – and shows how love evolves even in the most extreme circumstances.
The Sea Captain’s Wife is an awe-inspiring tour that captures the vigour of life in the last days of the Age of Sail and gives us an unforgettable young heroine who shows compassion, courage and love while under incredible duress.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

Beth Powning’s second novel is the affecting and engaging story of a young woman seeking her place in the world – a place away from the loneliness and boredom of a small Canadian village.

Azuba is the young wife of Nathaniel, an older man who captains the Traveller, a commercial ship. The couple originally planned to travel together, but when Azuba becomes pregnant, Nathaniel realizes he cannot jeopardize his wife’s safety or that of his unborn child by taking her aboard his ship.

The primary action begins in 1861, five years into the couple’s marriage. Azuba, pregnant again, suffers a miscarriage while her husband is at sea, and finds comfort and understanding in her friendship with a local minister. Upon Nathaniel’s return, rumours of an affair between Azuba and the minister are swirling, and as a result he feels compelled to take his wife and five-year-old daughter on his next voyage. During that arduous trek around the world, Azuba and her husband begin to rebuild their relationship and in the process explore the dynamics of family and belonging.

Powning’s lyrical prose accentuates the struggles of the characters while smoothly advancing the plot. The descriptive passages paint a clear picture of the historical period while taking care not to wallow in gratuitous details. Unfortunately, the prologue is written in a more formal style than the novel proper, and the epilogue seems like an add-on – both are unnecessary and detract from the narrative’s flow and impact.

Thematically, The Sea Captain’s Wife is about the complexities of relationships – between husband and wife, between extended family members, friends, and society – and about the conflict between work and family. Nathaniel’s decision to have his wife and daughter accompany him allows Powning to effectively explore the consequences of a lack of balance between passion and pragmatism.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“In history and in literature, the sea has always been the realm of men, but Beth Powning reminds us that women were there, too. The Sea Captain’s Wife is both a brilliant and absorbing story of a singular woman’s courageous entry into this alien world and of her growing sense of self-knowledge and strength as she encounters its demands. It is a tale of adventure and adversity, and of the terrors and deep satisfactions of life on the ever-dangerous and unpredictable sea.”
— Derek Lundy, author of Godforsaken Sea and The Way of a Ship

"An exciting story. The Sea Captain’s Wife reveals Powning to be intuitive and reflective, yet self-assured in her mastery of the art of nature writing. She skillfully weaves both a harrowing and touching story about marriage, obligation, and devotion."
Winnipeg Free Press

"An ambitious historical novel rich in adventure."

"The best novel of 2010. . . . A brilliant, absorbing story. . . . Not since Derek Lundy’s The Way of a Ship have I read such powerful descriptions of life in the Age of Sail. . . . Both [Azuba and Nathaniel] are fully fledged characters. . . . And, much like The Hatbox Letters, Powning’s prose never misses a beat."
Owen Sound Sun Times

"Beth Powning has the gift of drawing her readers into a work. The characters in The Sea Captain’s Wife are enduringly memorable. Set in the 1800s, Powning paints scenes of sea life and its pains, fears, wonders, joys and tragedies."
The Coast (Halifax)

"One terrific voyage"
The Globe and Mail 

"An elegant piece of writing"
— National Post

The Sea Captain’s Wife is a terrific tale, fast-moving and expertly told, one which measures, in the author’s phrase, ‘the true size of the world.’ Like The Hatbox Letters, Powning’s second cleverly crafted novel is not to be missed.”
 —Ottawa Citizen
“Powning has a terrific eye for detail, and her dramatic scenes read like a treatment from an action movie. Equal parts character study, travelogue, and action-adventure tale, The Sea Captain’s Wife is a marvellous read.”
— Edmonton Journal

“Powning is an extraordinary writer. . . . Her people are as real as personal friends, neighbours or compelling strangers. . . . The writing rings true to its period without ever sounding like a device. . . . The book is clearly thoroughly researched, yet never reads as written research but as lives fully and panoramically lived.”
— The Globe and Mail

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars History, adventure, love, pirates.... Feb. 22 2010
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Oh, can I tell you how much I loved The Sea Captain's Wife!

Azuba is the daughter of a shipwright in 1860's New Brunswick, Canada. She has grown up around the water and dreams of being a sea captain's wife sailing with her husband around the world. Her dreams seem like they will come true when she marries Nathaniel - a veteran captain. But when she falls pregnant with their first child, he insists she stay on land. But a scandal necessitates Nathaniel reluctantly taking Azuba and their daughter with him on his next voyage. Azuba's dream is at last realized. But is it at the cost of her love and marriage to Nathaniel? What about the physical dangers? Has she put her child in danger or exposed her to the adventure of a lifetime? (This is the kind of adventure I would love!)

I always think I was born in the wrong century and this is the kind of book that greatly appeals to me. Historical - and really, the detail and research that Beth Powning has included in The Sea Captain's Wife was outstanding. I had wonderfully clear pictures of the town, their home, the ship and the ports in my mind as I read.

Azuba is a wonderfully drawn character. Bound by the social mores of her time to do the right thing and be a 'good' wife she still yearns for adventure. Powning skillfully explores Azuba's emotions and feelings as she struggles to balance the two in her life.

The novel is full of adventure as well - storms, exotic ports and what would the high seas be without pirates.

I honestly could not put this one down. A rich tale from an excellent Canadian author.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this book.

When I think of Beth Powning, I think of her beautiful descriptions, especially of nature.
However, in this book, she shows she can bring her descriptive powers to the dark side. While there are lovely descriptions of the heroine Azuba's home on the Bay of Fundy, the author also brings to life the less pleasant aspects of being a captain's wife at sea: seasickness, being tossed around in a boat during storms, rotting maggoty food, the difficulty in maintaining personal hygiene on a boat, near-starvation, pirate attacks, etc.
There are also fascinating tidbits of history and sailing lore.
A great story for anyone, and history buffs will love it. I sure did.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Sea Captain's Wife March 15 2010
No wonder this book is a best seller! It is both an exciting page-turner sea story and a deeply understood love story. It has the makings of a great literary novel.

I'd also love to see it as a Hollywood film!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and beautiful story Feb. 23 2010
Beth Powning has created a compelling story about life and learning about love. Her characters are well developed and believable, her descriptions are beautifully written.

This is a really wonderful historic novel that brings the life of a sea captain's wife and her family to life.
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