Navigating the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans, Jonathan Raban opens himself to experience the river in all her turbulent and unpredictable old glory. Going wherever the current takes him, he joins a coon-hunt in Savana, falls for a girl in St Louis, worships with black Baptists in Memphis and hangs out with the housewives of Pemiscot and the hogking of Dubuque. Through tears of laughter, we are led into the heartland of America – with its hunger and hospitality, its inventive energy and its charming lethargy – and come to know something of its soul. But the journey is as much the story of Raban as it is of the Mississippi. Navigating the dangerous, ever-changing waters in an unsuitably fragile aluminium skiff, he immerses himself as he tries to give shape to the river and the story – finding himself by turns vulnerable, curious, angry and, like all of us, sometimes foolishly in love.
‘Jonathan Raban is one of the world’s greatest living travel writers.’ William Dalrymple
‘The best book of travel ever written by an Englishman about the United States’ Jan Morris, Independent
‘One of the most humane and visionary of all travel writers.’ Jeremy Seal
Old Glory: An American Voyage
Format: 424pp demi pb
Place: America, USA
Born in the middle of the Second World War in 1942, Jonathan Raban was brought up in Norfolk by his mother, who not only taught her son to read, but shared her own delight in writing and good storytelling with him. Jonathan’s relationship with his father, who returned from the war a total stranger and a hero, and went on to be an Anglican clergyman, was much more complex. The tension between this moral martinet and his louche and feckless son seems to have fuelled Raban’s knowing and savagely funny critique of his own British culture, and to have enabled him to escape his homeland with such relish.
Raban read English at the University of Hull and was briefly an academic before launching himself as a freelance writer, becoming part of the brilliant and hard-drinking literary crowd centred around Ian Hamilton’s New Review. A freelance assignment for the BBC, recording Freya Stark barging down the Euphrates, inspired his first travel book, Arabia: Through the Looking Glass (1979). He went on to float down the Mississipi (Old Glory, 1981) and sail round the shores of Britain (Coasting, 1986). For Love and Money (1987) is a searingly honest memoir and a funny and affectionate look at the freelance writing trade, while the journey described in Hunting Mr Heartbreak (1990), into and across America, led him to settle in Seattle. The birth of a daughter confirmed the city as home. While in the States, Raban has written Bad Land (1996), Passage to Juneau (1999) and Driving Home (2011) as well as such fictional works as Waxwings (2003) and Surveillance (2006).