Sailor Song Study Guide

Sailor Song

Sailor Song by Ken Kesey

Sailor Song is set in the near future in Kuinak, a small fishing town in Alaska. Earth is facing changes in climate and people are now living with the consequences of their environmentally destructive past. Kuinak is one of the last places on Earth that has not yet been impacted and that has managed to keep its natural beauty. The inhabitants live happily, undisturbed by the rest of the world and set in their ways. Among them lives Isaak "Ike" Sallas, the protagonist of the novel. A former eco-terrorist known as "the Bakatcha bandit," Sallas had developed a drug habit and had spent some time in jail. Now in Kuinak, Sallas lives as a simple fisherman, avoiding most people and trying to escape his past. Together with his rasta-influenced friend Emil Greer, Sallas is employed by British shipowner Michael Carmody and Carmody's wife Alice, a Kuinak native.

Life in Kuinak is soon disrupted by the arrival of Foxcorp executive, Nick Levertov, and his filming company who come to film a story about a native girl. The company hopes to involve all the townspeople, and eventually to transform Kuinak into an amusement park. Levertov is the son of Alice Carmody and he has a special interest in Sallas. The two men were cellmates in prison, and Levertov is now seeking revenge against Sallas. Some of the townspeople are easily persuaded by Levertov's promises of quick and easy riches, but Sallas and others are not so easily convinced. Ultimately the question is decided by nature itself as a huge electromagnetic storm arrives and destroys all electronic devices.

Sailor Song is slow-paced with rich character descriptions and details including settings, personalities, accents, and history. The novel also contains comedic elements. Many elements of Sallas' life mirror those of the author, Ken Kesey, who shares an ecological interest, a drug and jail history, and even the loss of a child. The novel's primary themes are anti-capitalist and ecological in nature, and the message is to protect nature and fight against man's baser instincts.

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