Post 57: Corsair by Tim Severin

CoverTim Severin is perhaps best known for his attempts to recreate ancient voyages and journeys. He began in 1961 by following the path of Marco Polo on motorbike, before adding a slightly more traditional twist to later journeys by using authentic forms of transport. In 1976 he followed the alleged voyage of St Brendan and sailed from Ireland to North America in a replica of a currach (an old celtic craft made of a wooden frame covered in animal hides). There were others too: imitating Sinbad in an arabic Dhow, various Greek heroes in a Bronze Age galley. This sort of bold reenactment usually falls somewhere between serious history and stuff like the History Channel’s Deadliest Warrior, but it is interesting, entertaining and, more to the point, is not really what I’m going to talk about in this post.

Alongside all this, Tim Severin has begun to write historical fiction with a series on 11th century Vikings and one on 17th century barbary pirates. Corsair (the opening book in this latter series) works well enough as a stand alone tale, telling the story of 17 year old Hector Lynch from a small village in County Cork, Ireland. Lynch is the son of a minor Protestant* noble father and a Catholic spanish mother who is captured, along with his sister Elizabeth, by Barbary pirates in a raid on his village. As the corsairs leave the coast of Ireland their boats are scattered and the siblings are separated. The search for his sister then provides the great motivation for young Hector throughout the rest of the book.

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Post 19: Pirates of Barbary

This book by Adrian Tinniswood (published by Vintage in 2010) tells the story of Barbary piracy, drawing heavily from a huge variety of sources. The book does generally follow a historical narrative from the sixteenth century up to the early nineteenth, but it does so as a series of snippets, or vignettes if I’m being fancy, on different topics, events or characters. There is a consistently light, entertaining tone to the book but at times it can also come across as a patchwork of material, loosely connected together. That’s not to say that the book wanders off topic too much – the title promises Barbary pirates and that’s pretty much what you get!

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