Reviewing “Bad Land,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in The New York Times: “What makes the book so memorable, in fact, is Mr. Raban’s imaginative reach. He recaptures the hope, as well as the pure narrative momentum, of the coming of settlers in eastern Montana in the early 20th 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 a complicated personal journey, as well, one that found him bruised by the end 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 sea, where he often found himself, but he was fascinated enough to find solace in it.
“I fear the brushfire crackle of the breaking wave,” he wrote, “as it topples into foam; the inward suck of the tidal whirlpool; the loom of a big 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 sea is always lightly brushed by a wind of no more than 15 knots, the visibility always good, and my boat never more than an hour from the nearest safe anchorage.”
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 women’s magazines before her marriage, enabling her to buy a black Austin 7 car with the money, Mr. Raban told Granta.