Book Review – Barbarian Days – A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

surfing life finnegan
The prose in this book is sublime, pure poetry in places. William Finnegan (author of many other books and columnist at The New Yorker) is a skillful, lyrical writer and his words are a pleasure to read. He is able to take essentially indescribable experiences and bring them to life with beautiful words. He achieves this in such a way that you, as the reader, pretty much experience the events yourself. This book is telepathy at its finest.

In fact, Barbarian Days could be about anything. Even if it were about tiddlywinks, you would be as enchanted by the writing style. In the early chapters I didn’t quite like Mr William Finnegan himself, but as he took me on a number of journeys between Hawaii and California, defended a girlfriend from sharks, worked on the railroad and earned two degrees, I became fascinated. The eminent way in which he wrote about these events compelled me to carry on reading. This turned out to be one of the best memoirs I have read in a while.

I grew to admire the man as he traveled (kind of on an endless winter) and I began to root for him as his life unfolded. I sided with him in his various love affairs, in his fight against tropical diseases, in near drownings in big, gnarly surf and when he risked his life over dangerous, shallow reefs. His experiences included being one of the first ever to surf the *then* snake infested desert island of Tavarua.

william finnegan

William Finnegan not only takes you on a journey of surf discovery, but also on a journey of self discovery.  While the book calls itself A Surfing Life, it is filled with introspection and Finnegan’s search for a meaningful space in life. I mused over Finnegan’s ideas, philosophies and conclusions at length. I particularly enjoyed the section on his months spent surfing and teaching in South Africa during the early 1980’s, and his reflections on those tumultuous times. My copy is looking a bit shabby now, I must admit, as I have read my favorite sections, the beautiful, lyrical passages, over and over, as if they are verses of one great poem. Barbarian Days didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize for nothing. It is an outstanding book.

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Read another review HERE

william finnegan bali

Over 60 now, but William Finnegan is still managing to hold off on a return to a longboard.

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