In Far Tortuga, Matthiessen blends poetic form with the novel to create a hybrid whose form helps to tell the story of the crew of the schooner Lillias Eden and their search for the elusive green turtles. The story is one familiar to readers of tales of the sea: people against the elements. Raib Avers, the captain of the decrepit turtle-fishing boat, is determined to prove that he is the best captain alive in the Caribbean; his driving will endangers the lives of his entire crew and is strongly reminiscent of perhaps the most famous sailor, Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab of Moby Dick (1851). Like Ahab, Captain Avers is angry, compelled, and reckless with the lives of those who work alongside him. His desire to find the turtles is responsible not only for his own death but also for those of all but one of his crew.
Hoping to use the money earned from a good haul to refit his boat, Avers sets out without a chronometer, life jackets, fire extinguishers, or a radio capable of calling for help. The boat and crew are doomed from the start. The crew seems typical of such a story: a drunk, a stowaway, a stranger, a malcontent, and so on. Captain Avers is determined that his plans will succeed despite the fears of his crew. In the end, piracy, shipwreck, and the death of all but one person are what occur. Critics liken Matthiessen not only to Melville but also to Joseph Conrad, who is famous for his brutally pessimistic stories of men who go to sea.
Far Tortuga resembles Matthiessen’s other work in that it, too, is about the people of a dying culture. The book demonstrates Matthiessen’s careful observations and understanding of the area about which he writes: In 1967, he spent an extensive period of time sailing with the turtle fishermen of the Grand Caymans. Far Tortuga describes these people’s way of...
(The entire section is 764 words.)