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Jonathan Raban, Adventurous Literary Traveler, Dies at 80


Reviewing “Bad Land,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in The Latest York Times: “What makes the book so memorable, in truth, is Mr. Raban’s imaginative reach. He recaptures the hope, in addition to the pure narrative momentum, of the approaching of settlers in eastern Montana within the early twentieth century, and he arrays it against their subsequent fate.”

“Bad Land” won the 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.

In “Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings” (1999), Mr. Raban sailed from Seattle to Alaska along the complicated coastal route called the Inside Passage. It turned out to be an advanced personal journey, as well, one which found him bruised by the top of his marriage to Jean Lenihan and the illness of his father, which interrupted the seafaring and prompted Mr. Raban to fly to England to be with him as he died.

Mr. Raban feared the ocean, where he often found himself, but he was fascinated enough to seek out solace in it.

“I fear the brushfire crackle of the breaking wave,” he wrote, “because it topples into foam; the inward suck of the tidal whirlpool; the loom of an enormous ocean swell, sinister and dark, in windless calm; the rip, the eddy, the race; the sheer abyssal depth of the water, as one floats, like a trustful beetle planting its feet on the surface tension. Rationalism deserts me at sea.”

Yet, he continued, “When other people count sheep, or reach for the Halcion bottle, I make imaginary voyages — where the ocean is all the time flippantly brushed by a wind of not more than 15 knots, the visibility all the time good, and my boat never greater than an hour from the closest protected anchorage.”

“Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings” chronicled Mr. Raban’s voyage from Seattle to Alaska along the Inside Passage in addition to his difficult personal journey.

Jonathan Mark Hamilton Priaulx Raban was born on June 14, 1942, in Norfolk, England, to the Rev. Peter and Monica (Sandison) Raban and raised in vicarages. His father was an Anglican clergyman, and his mother wrote romantic short stories for girls’s magazines before her marriage, enabling her to purchase a black Austin 7 automotive with the cash, Mr. Raban told Granta.

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