Jack Kerouac on Manhattan's lower east side in 1953, eleven years afrter writing The Sea is My Brother. Photograph: Allen Ginsberg/ Allen Ginsberg/CORBIS
Beat generation author Kerouac shows signs of future rebellion in 158-page maritime tale published by Penguin.
By Stephen Bates
The American beat generation author Jack Kerouac is said to have spent just eight days on active service in the US merchant marines on board the SS Dorchester in 1942; but his short stay furnished him with notes for his first novel and, after nearly 70 years, it has now been published for the first time.
The 158-page The Sea is my Brother, a tale of two young men serving on a voyage from Boston to Greenland, has been known about for some time, but is being described by Penguin, its publisher, as “a unique insight into the young Kerouac and the formation of his genius”.
The author himself apparently noted: “It’s a crock [of shit] as literature.”
Literary critics appeared inclined to agree with the author that the text, although showing signs of Kerouac’s future style, is raw and juvenile, as well it might be, given that he was 20 when he wrote it.
The literary critic Stuart Evers said: “It is not a great work of literature. It would never be published today if it wasn’t by Kerouac, but it is fascinating as an insight into him as a writer … He was just jotting down ideas that he would explore with much more gusto in his later work. There is no real narrative, not much happens, but there are flashes of his later work.”
Dawn Ward, the book’s editor, said the novel shows a side of Kerouac not normally seen in his books. The manuscript was discovered in Kerouac’s archive by his brother-in-law.
Ward said: “It was referred to briefly in letters, but nothing that led anyone to believe that there was this really large volume … This book is really quite important as it shows how Jack developed his writing process.”
The novel joins a growing canon of Kerouac’s published works, though it seems unlikely that he ever bothered to lug the manuscript round to publishers, as he did in the 1950s while trying to sell the work for which he is best remembered, On the Road.