I Sailed with Magellan

Stuart Dybek




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book
A Booklist Editors' Choice
A Chicago Tribune Best Book
An American Library Association Notable Book
Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award

From the prizewinning American author Stuart Dybek comes a major new work of fiction: a novel-in-stories, eleven masterful tales told by a single voice of remarkable narrative power. I Sailed with Magellan depicts various characters of irrepressible vitality amid the stark neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side, where our hero, the restless Perry Katzek, transforms his daily experiences into lush, imaginative adventures.

In each of Dybek's intertwined episodes there is remarkable music. The book's dialogue and descriptive prose both reveal the rhythm of a street culture captured in all its emotional depth and unexpected humor: a man takes his young nephew to a string of taverns, where the boy sings for his uncle's bourbon; a small-time thug is distracted from making a hit by the mysterious reappearance of several ex-girlfriends; two unemployed youths hatch a scheme to finance their road trip to Mexico by selling orchids stolen from the rich side of town; a young couple's amorous beach adventure is interrupted when an unexpected visitor washes ashore. As these poignant chapters unfold with sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic results, Perry Katzek grapples with the exotic possibilities that the world offers him, finding them even beneath the often brutal surface of Chicago life.

Throughout I Sailed with Magellan we rediscover the captivating storytelling, the sharp and spare prose, and the brilliant dramatization of resilient, inventive humanity that mark Dybek's work.


Praise for I Sailed with Magellan

"Dream and memory, humor and pathos, song and silence: At his best Dybek combines these disparate elements in a shimmering web."—Philip Connors, Newsday

"Genius . . . A modern master . . . Dybek is incapable of writing a dull page."—Clarence Brown, The Seattle Times

"Original, operatic, and unexpected . . . An affecting and eccentrically structured coming-of-age narrative."—Karen Karbo, Bookforum

"Enthralling . . . Includes a remarkable lyricism and structural spontaneity that reimagine the tradition [of] the Chicago novel . . . Dybek opens up the life of a working-class urban immigrant family with an emotional complexity and acuity that has few parallels."—Tom Montgomery-Fate, The Boston Globe

"These [connected stories] take on the weight and resonance, and cumulative power, of the best novels."—Mick Cochrane, The Buffalo News

"With I Sailed with Magellan Dybek solidifies his reputation as the rightful heir to [James T.] Farrell's gritty realism; his stories remind us that despite Americans' ambivalence over urban life, exemplified by the flight to suburbs and the Sun Belt, the old brick-and-asphalt city remains a productive crucible of human drama, the place where an open fire hydrant or a sudden thunderstorm can seem as if it might 'drown the innocent and guilty alike.'"—Albert Mobilio, The New York Times Book Review

"It's hard to tell where Nelson Algren leaves off and Stuart Dybek begins—they're a couple of naturals. They each capture the lyricism of Chicago's backstreets: the city behind the billboards. They celebrate our alleys as well as our boulevards. Dybek is, at this moment, our city's blue-collar bard. These eleven lovely stories comprise the Chicago novel of today."—Studs Terkel

"[The book shows] unexpected humor and boundless vitality [as] Dybek's characters navigate their world in search of a new one."—Mark Heineke, Chicago Reader

"A true literary event . . . Not only does Dybek masterfully evoke the intricate, singing web of urban life—the crossing paths and tangled destinies of intimates and strangers; the percussive energy generated by people at work and play; the contrapuntal mix of street action, classroom exchanges, bar talk, domestic banter, and confrontation; the confessions of friends; and lovers' duets—he also aligns the longings and aspirations of his emphatically rendered characters with Chicago's often forbidding, sometimes radiantly beautiful cityscape. The ability to elucidate the complex symbiotic relationship between people and place is part of what makes the fiction of select writers so rich and resonant, so authentic and true. Dybek accomplishes this crucial feat by using music as the connecting tissue between the inner and outer lives of his characters . . . The city is full of surprises, and as Dybek summons up the wonder of the unexpected and the improbable, he achieves a low-key form of magical realism that places him in a constellation of writers that includes Joyce in Dubliners, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Chicago's own Leon Forrest . . . The misadventures and revelations of Dybek's get-under-your-skin characters yield bittersweet tales brilliantly attuned to the confluence of inevitability and chance, natural forces and human folly . . . [These are] spellbinding stories that are, by turns, hilarious, stunning, and tragic, but always deeply moving, genuine, and compassionate."—Chicago Tribune

"[A] beautifully realized novel-in-short-stories . . . The larger pattern in this book, the movement from boy to man, [is] constructed with great intelligence . . . Dybek has long been one of the premier American short story writers, but this book is undoubtedly his best."—Roger Gathman,
qlChicago Sun-Times

"Dybek’s South Side of Chicago is a bleak and luckless landscape . . . But by [this book's] end you'll never want to leave."—Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly

"Dybek is one of America's literary masters, and I Sailed with Magellan is a forceful new demonstration of his extraordinary skills. This book of linked stories is full of nuance and feeling and the voice of working people from a time when our world and horizons were just a little narrower and our connection to those near at hand somehow even more consequential. It is the kind of penetrating, moving book that Dybek consistently writes."—Scott Turow

"These are wonderful stories, shot through with humor, violence, and love. The writing is strong and sure, the characters precisely drawn, the worlds of childhood and adolescence described vividly, and the war-wounded delineated with realistic truth. I Sailed with Magellan is an intense, compelling book."—The Providence Journal

"[This is] a superb cycle of stories—brilliant individually and as a single, whole story of the lives of [the book's] brothers and their larger family. 'Live from Dreamsville' is a Dickensian portrayal of the nightmare world inhabited by children and unsuspected by their elders. Stuart Dybek risks real emotion and achieves language of great beauty. May [this] book receive its due."—Frederick Busch, author of The Night Inspector

"[A] magical suite of linked stories. In his first book since the unforgettable Coast of Chicago (1990), Dybek writes of his hometown with the poignant realism of Henry Roth, the mythic intensity of Leon Forrest, and the poetic otherworldliness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Eleven perfectly formed and exquisitely sensual tales—each so saturated with personality, event, and revelation they feel like novels—illuminate transforming moments in [our hero] Perry's life. Imaginative, adventurous, and romantic, Perry falls in love and loses loved ones, f0 witnesses violence and experiences transcendence, while Dybek masterfully and tenderly conjures the edgy ambience of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods and the great divide between the bucolic North Side and the broken-glass-strewn, tavern-spiked industrial South Side, where bravado, musical gifts, and witty repartee are highly valued. Set in a chimerical world of ice and flowers, soul-bruising hard work and sweet dreams, ruthless mobsters and die-hard friends, Dybek's mesmerizing tales coalesce into an epic of survival and spiritual growth that is, by turns, gritty, surreal, hilarious, tragic, and bittersweet."—Booklist (starred review)

"Steeped deeply in the street culture of Chicago, this latest from Dybek is a novel in the form of connected stories. Here, he proves himself to be adept at gritty South Side reality and coming-of-age comic touches, with wry and noir intermingling. The centerpiece is a novella called 'Breasts' . . . It's a remarkable story, at once ironic, edgy, hard-boiled, sophisticated, and brutal. And it's part of a remarkable novel. Strongly recommended."—Library Journal

"All of these beautifully written stories teem with aching recollections. They are lyrical odes to wasted lives, youthful desires, vanishing innocence, and the transformative power of memory."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Stuart Dybek is the author of two collections of short fiction, The Coast of Chicago and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, as well as a volume of poetry, Brass Knuckles. A professor of English at Western Michigan University, he lives in Kalamazoo.
Read the full excerpt


  • Stuart Dybek

  • Stuart Dybek is also the author of two collections of short fiction, The Coast of Chicago and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, as well as two volumes of poetry, Streets in Their Own Ink and Brass Knuckles. His writing has been frequently anthologized and has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Poetry, The Paris Review, and TriQuarterly. A professor of English at Western Michigan University, he lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  • Stuart Dybek © Jon Randolph




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