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Java Head

Joseph Hergesheimer

Book Overview: 

Java Head is a novel of the American merchant marine at the beginning of the great clipper ship era. It is laid in Salem, when that city was still a port rich with the traffic of the East Indies; a story of choleric ship masters, charming girls, and an aristocratic Manchu woman in carmine and jades and crusted gold. There is a drama as secret and poisonous as opium, lovely old gardens with lilac trees and green lattices, and elm-shaded streets ending at the harbor with the brigs unloading ivory from Africa and the ships crowding on their topsails for Canton. It is a romantic novel-and yet true-rather than a study of drab manners; there is no purpose in it other than the pleasure to be found in the spectacle of life supported by high courage and made beautiful by women in peacock shawls.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .He grumbled inarticulately, remembering his own exploits in the carrying of sail and record runs under the bluff bows of the Honorable John Company itself. The ebb tide, he thought, returning to William's figure and its amplification by himself. So much that had been good sweeping out to sea never to return….Gerrit long overdue.

Once more he shook himself free of numbing dread; automatically he had fallen back into the passage from the secretary to the hall door. He saw that he had worn threadbare a narrow strip where his feet had so often pressed. It would be necessary for him to see about a fresh case of cheroots soon, primes, too; they needn't try to put him off with the second quality. He was put off a great deal lately; people pretended to be listening to him, and all the time their thoughts were somewhere else, either that or they were merely politely concealing the opinion that he was out of date, of no importance.

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Community Reviews

Curious, this novel by a novelist who has now been entirely forgotten. On the basis of this book, I'd have to say: justly so. It's not that it's a failed book so much as that it just fails to achieve greatness, or even distinction.

I'm not quite sure why. The construction is interesting. It's a portr

Two families of sea-faring captains in Salem, Mass. In 1849.

Working from a list of books I read years ago.

I came across this book after looking over the filmography of Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, who starred in a 1934 film adaptation; it caught my eye due to the story -- an American sailor returns home to 1840s Salem, Mass., with a Chinese wife -- which naturally piqued my interest, given th

From the title, and from having read the author's Wild Oranges, I expected this to be a sea story. I read it because James Thurber commended it to his young daughter to read along with books by authors I like (Wharton, Tarkington) or revere (Cather). The book is set in Salem MA c. 1849 and is about

Java Head homecoming.

This book was written at my Uncle's home in Milton, Ny.... The home named for the book... Java Head.
I had no high expectations of the book, even though I generally enjoy the work of Victorian era authors.
I loved this. It was exciting, down to earth, real, and mesmerizing. Exce

Java Head was nominated for the 1920 Pulitzer Prize, but was ultimately rejected because it wasn't wholesome enough. I can see why a jury from this time period felt that way. The plot struck me as particularly daring, and I was expecting to like it more due to its controversial status, as opposed to

"As much of a shame it is that Java Head didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 1920, it’s even more of a shame that Joseph Hergesheimer’s legacy was cut short. Based on what I’ve read of him, it seems that while he was wildly popular during his heyday in the 1920’s, he had faded into obscurity by the tim