3 + 1 Books about the ocean: 3 works of fiction + 1 work of nonfiction on a particular subject

DSC00276Every culture has depicted and described the ocean in art and literature; the ocean is the setting for many classic and unforgettable stories. Mysterious, calm, bountiful or foreboding, the ocean can be portrayed in countless ways. In many works of literature, the ocean takes on the force of a character in the story and is often crucial to the plot.


1. Tai-Pan, James Clavell

taipanThe ocean as travel, discovery & conquest

James Clavell’s Tai-Pan, book 2 of the Asian Saga, describes the transformation of Hong Kong from an isolated island into a hub of 19th century British trade in Asia. The main character of the novel is Dirk Struan, sea captain and head of the largest private trading company in Asia. The novel opens as the British seize Hong Kong after the first Opium War. A larger than life character, Struan is first and foremost a sailor, and much of his success has to do with his knowledge of the ocean, trade routes, and the weather.

2. “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen


Illustration by Anton Lomaev

Illustration by Anton Lomaev (Photo credit: sofi01)

The magical ocean

Technically not a “book” but a short story, “The Little Mermaid” encapsulates the magical vision of a kingdom at the bottom of the ocean, complete with a castle and coral gardens. The description of life under the sea is extraordinary. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, however, is not quite as happy as Disney version. The sea witch’s house and her captives are much scarier and all in all, much more complicated and profound—pun intended. Well worth the read, and available free here (pdf.)

3. Jaws, Peter Bencheley

JawsThe super scary ocean

Inspiring the blockbuster movie that still makes us afraid to go in the water, Jaws is a thrilling read. The novel was inspired by the true story of  a series of shark attacks along the New Jersey coast in 1916, where five attacks over 12 days resulted in the death of four of the victims. Published in 1974 and remaining on the bestseller list for over 44 weeks, Jaws is as creepy today as it was almost 40 years ago.

+1. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Gabriel García Márquez

First edition cover 1986. Note the size of raf...

First edition cover 1986. Note the size of raft, shape and material (cork covered in canvas with an open webbed bottom). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vast ocean

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor was first published in installments in a local newspaper in 1955 and then in book form in 1970. Causing a scandal in Colombia when it was first published, the book chronicles the real-life experience Luis Alejandro Velasco, a 20-year old member of the Colombian Navy. Written in the first person from Velasco’s point of view, the narrator describes how he managed to survive for 10 days in the Caribbean Sea after he was swept into the water along with seven other crewmembers. Velasco was the only survivor, swept off the destroyer Caldas as the crew tried to dump contraband that was stowed on the boat for its trip home. Contradicting the official version of events, where the deaths of the other crewmembers were blamed on a storm, Velasco’s story was highly controversial.

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