The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel

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In the spring of 1943, during a stint in the Merchant Marine, twenty-one-year old Jack Kerouac set out to write his first novel. Working diligently day and night to complete it by hand, he titled it The Sea Is My Brother. Now, nearly seventy years later, its long-awaited publication provides fascinating details and insight into the early life and development of an American literary icon.

Written seven years before The Town and The City officially launched his writing career, The...

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In the spring of 1943, during a stint in the Merchant Marine, twenty-one-year old Jack Kerouac set out to write his first novel. Working diligently day and night to complete it by hand, he titled it The Sea Is My Brother. Now, nearly seventy years later, its long-awaited publication provides fascinating details and insight into the early life and development of an American literary icon.

Written seven years before The Town and The City officially launched his writing career, The Sea Is My Brother marks a pivotal point in which Kerouac began laying the foundations for his pioneering method and signature style. A clear precursor to such landmark works as On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Visions of Cody, it is an important formative work that bears all the hallmarks of classic Kerouac: the search for spiritual meaning in a materialistic world, spontaneous travel as the true road to freedom, late nights in bars and apartments engaged in intense conversation, the desperate urge to escape from society, and the strange, terrible beauty of loneliness.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Unpublished in North America for nearly 70 years, Kerouac’s first novel, written when he was 21, offers a tantalizing glimpse of the themes and characters that were to become his obsessions. During WWII, Wesley Martin, an itinerant merchant seaman on leave, stumbles around New York, from jazz clubs to the bars near Columbia University, where he meets Everhart, a young assistant professor “with the pasty pallor of a teacher of life.” Over a drunken night, Everhart and his circle of hangers-on fall under the spell of Wesley’s “brooding presence,” after which Everhart takes leave from teaching and enlists with Wesley on his next sea voyage. In an exhilarating sequence that anticipates Kerouac’s best remembered works, Wesley and Everhart bum their way to Boston to join the crew of a freighter bound for Greenland. The most interesting aspect of this work is how, amid the rough-hewn dialogue and formative instinct for motivation, Kerouac’s rhapsodizing about the open road appears as an aspect of his talent fully formed. This section contains some of his first distinctive sentences: “Everhart couldn’t sleep for an hour. He lay on his back and watched the richly clustered stars high above. A cricket chirped not three feet away. The grass was damp, though he could feel its substratum of sunfed warmth.” Unfortunately, after this peak, the young Kerouac couldn’t enliven the confined space of the S.S. Westminster. After this work, the motivations of his beat heroes would be more confidently elliptical. It would be another seven years before Kerouac’s official debut, The Town and the City, and more than a decade until On the Road. While it may not be the Rosetta Stone of the beat movement, the publication of this flawed manuscript will be an event for his admirers. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews, 2/1/12
“A Jack London–esque yarn.”

Publishers Weekly, 1/30/12
“While it may not be the Rosetta Stone of the beat movement, the publication of this flawed manuscript will be an event for [Kerouac’s] admirers.”

Booklist, 3/1/12
“Read this first effort to watch Kerouac learning the ropes.”
Entertainment Weekly, 3/2/12
“You'll see hints of the bebop prose that would later pour out of Kerouac's typewriter so effortlessly.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 3/11/12
“Rarely does talking seem as much like action as it does in The Sea Is My Brother. The characters' words fire the imagination. If they don't move you, to quote Louis Jordan, ‘Jack, you dead’…There is a song inside The Sea Is My Brother, a song for anyone who has ever looked over the horizon and thought, ‘I'm gonna get out of here someday.’”
TampaBayTimes, 3/11/12
“For a glimpse of Kerouac crossing the boundary from boy to man, fans can now turn to his first novel.”
Wall Street Journal, 3/20/12
“[The Sea Is My Brother] offers plenty of disarming insights into who Kerouac was as a person and writer before he slipped behind the mask of Beat Generation Zen-master...The book is enjoyable”, 3/20/12
“The Sea is My Brother is a fascinating read, both in its own right and as part of Kerouac’s canon.”
New YorkPost, 3/18/12
“There are plenty of hints of the Kerouac to come.”
Blurt-Online, 3/12/12 “[The Sea is My Brother] is perhaps the best of the posthumous releases....Could be considered the skeleton that would become gems."

Huffington Post, 3/23/12
“Fans of the On the Road author will be fascinated by the glimpse into Kerouac’s early writing mind.”

January Magazine, 3/22/12
“For his admirers and students of his style, the book is a worthwhile read.”
National Post (Canada), 3/25/12
“A foreshadowing of Kerouac at his best, a kind of sweet, unassuming persona that made his writing very engaging.”

ChicagoReader, 4/13 “I loved Kerouac’s first novel, The Sea Is My Brother…[It] left me with that feeling that life is full of poems, pain, colorful characters, and small moments that matter.”
MilwaukeeShepherd Express, 4/12/12
The Sea is My Brother is chock-full of pathos, anticipation and hurt. Kerouac’s characters, including the small role players, are a perfect blend of real people living real lives. It was a brilliant, youthful performance by the author, years before he changed the pace of literature with On the Road.
ChicagoNew City, 4/16/12
“A captivating preview into the author—and his works—to be…A complete story, romantic, energetic, exuberant and even brash, qualities Kerouac never outgrew.”

CharlestonPost & Courier, 5/27/12
“The fascination, and perhaps the value of this book, is that it presents itself as a clear precursor to the books that followed. Given Kerouac’s subsequent impact, it is an important artifact in the popular literature of the time.”
Key WestNews, 6/10/12 “There is none of the jazzy, hepcat language of his mature novels here, more the mannered, measured words of the immature. Yet this first novel already has the uncanny effect that the reader dwells inside what the writer is singing.”

The New York Times Book Review, 7/1/12
“This ’lost novel’…signals what was to come…Kerouac scholars will be fascinated by this early work”

Kirkus Reviews
A forgotten novel—forgotten, by its author, for a reason—by Beat Generation icon Kerouac. Years before taking to the highway, Kerouac tried his hand at a Jack London–esque yarn. He had all the material he needed out on the open ocean, where he served a short hitch in the Merchant Marine during a dangerous time of prowling wolf packs of Nazi submarines—and it's a sobering thought to realize that Kerouac first tried his hand at a novel fully 70 years ago, back on dry land. The result is a work that, well, reads in many ways as if written 70 years ago ("It was there he'd met that cute little colored girl who belonged to the Young Communists League"). The story concerns a young man, "just above average height, thin, with a hollow countenance notable for its prominence of chin and upper lip muscles, and expressive mouth…and a pair of level, sympathetic eyes"—a young man, that is, very much like the 20-year-old Kerouac—who finds himself on shore leave in New York, and there gets himself in all sorts of whiskey-soaked mischief. Though Kerouac myth has it that he sprang fully formed, like Athena, from America's brow with On the Road, this antedates his masterwork by a full decade, and it shows every sign of being a first book (as when, early on, Kerouac has difficulty deciding whether the narrative is to be in the past or the present tense, mixing both). But the centerpiece of the story is a friendship, sometimes bordering on homoerotic, between two young men in a time of war and social stress, which, of course, would remain Kerouac's grand theme for many books to follow. Not much happens in the book, which, for all its awkwardness, has promising moments. However, readers expecting the exuberance and poetry of the later Kerouac will come away unsatisfied. Of interest primarily to scholars and diehard Kerouackers; general readers ought to head to the far more memorable On the Road, The Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306821806
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition, Expanded Critical Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 473,111
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. The best-known of his many works, On the Road, published in 1957, was an international bestseller. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of forty-seven.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2012

    Rough and Raw but Quintessential

    This was Kerouac's first go at a novel. It was left largely unfinished. But it's rough and raw in all the ways that classic Kerouac should be.

    For a big fan, this book quintessential political, rollicking, and philosophy talking, travel tail. It shows Kerouac's pure intentions with little embellishment. Now, had it been the novel published 14 years later it would have, without doubt, been a literary gem. Kerouac's style was only developing when he wrote this but without the practice On The Road, Big Sur, and The Dharma Bums would never have come to be written with such supreme class, style and honesty that defines Kerouac.

    Also, I'm the first review: How cool is that?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    Read just like a "lost book"!

    Kerouac's lost first novel reads just like that, a first/lost novel. It will become a decade later in his life when he will become the writer that inspired a generation, including Bobby Dylan. He was 21 when he wrote this. Anyways, it was good enough to finish on a cold evening!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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