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The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship

The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship

by Chaney Kwak

Narrated by Keong Sim

Unabridged — 3 hours, 33 minutes

Chaney Kwak
The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship

The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship

by Chaney Kwak

Narrated by Keong Sim

Unabridged — 3 hours, 33 minutes

Chaney Kwak

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In March 2019, the Viking Sky cruise ship was struck by a bomb cyclone in the North Atlantic. Rocked by fifty-foot swells and forty-knot gales, the ship lost power and began to drift straight toward the notoriously dangerous Hustadvika coast in Norway. This is the suspenseful, harrowing, funny, touching story by one passenger who contemplated death aboard that ship.

Chaney Kwak is a travel writer used to all sorts of mishaps on the road, but this is a first even for him: trapped on the battered cruise ship, he stuffs his passport into his underwear just in case his body has to be identified. As the massive cruise ship sways in surging waves, Kwak holds on and watches news of the impending disaster unfold on Twitter, where the ship's nearly 1,400 passengers are showered with “thoughts and prayers.” Kwak uses his twenty-seven hours aboard the teetering ship to examine his family history, maritime tragedies, and the failing relationship back on shore with a man he's loved for nearly two decades: the Viking Sky, he realizes, may not be the only sinking ship he needs to escape.

The Passenger takes listeners on an unforgettable journey from the Norwegian coast to the South China Sea, from post-WWII Korea to pandemic-struck San Francisco. Kwak weaves his personal experience into events spanning decades and continents to explore the serendipity and the relationships that move us.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Beautifully written and astutely observed. This is a marvelous book.”
Washington Post

“Titanic clarity and humor that’s as dark as it is dry.”
Travel + Leisure

“For fans of The Perfect Storm, In the Heart of the Sea, and Bill Bryson on his sassiest days.”
Afar Travel Magazine and Guide

“Readers may want to purchase several copies: one to keep, highlight and reread, and others to give to friends. It matters not a whit if one loves cruises, hates cruises, is a never-cruiser or a wanna-be cruiser. Simply put, if you’re looking for a great read, look no further than The Passenger.”
San Francisco Examiner

“A must-read….good luck putting this page-turner down. You’ll never step on a cruise ship again without recalling this action-packed tale—if you ever step on a cruise ship again…”
Men’s Journal

“A gripping adventure tale…a solemn reminder not to wait until we might be dying to think hard about life.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Passenger flies beyond the classifications of memoir, travel reportage, and marine history to something more intense, wry, and personal.”

 “Thoughtful, exciting, and often hilarious.”
The New York Post

“Writing with a tender honesty about not only his situation but that of the entire group . . . Chaney offers a riveting read from start to finish.”

“It's a sobering read for anyone associated with the cruise industry.”
Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly

“This powerful memoir about making tough choices and finding new directions will appeal to a variety of travel readers.”
Library Journal

“In The Passenger, Chaney Kwak debuts with the ultimate freelancer revenge story: What do you do when the cruise ship you are covering on assignment starts to sink? The result is a gripping story of survival, capitalism, maritime history―nothing less than a very modern adventure, and an instant classic of travel writing.”
―Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

“The memoir of a travel writer on assignment aboard a sinking cruise ship…..A down-to-earth, relatable examination of career and life choices.”

The Passenger, with its bare-bones honesty and dry, cynical humor, reveals that when all is said and done, it’s the little things that matter: small acts of courage and kindness, words of love, and gratitude for the gift of another day.“
Foreword Reviews, starred review

“Chaney Kwak’s The Passenger is an unflinching debut about the calamity of survival. Kwak speaks through the silent archives of history―from thousands of Koreans who died at sea to the maritime disasters across the globe. With incendiary humor and transcendent clarity, Kwak exhumes the crisis of our haunted relationships and goes beyond the headlines in every scrolling smartphone to demand a greater understanding of being alive.“
―E. J. Koh, author of The Magical Language of Others

“A cruise gone terribly wrong frees a veteran travel writer to tell the truth―and Chaney Kwak, mordant and urbane, makes the most of the opportunity.”
―Ted Conover, author of Newjack, Pulitzer Prize finalist

“If I were aboard a ship in trouble, I’d want no other travel companion than Chaney Kwak. Down to earth, funny, irreverent, vulnerable, candid, The Passenger is wise in the way of the best books in that it subverts all the expected tropes of its narrative. Along the way it thinks about so much―migration, race, art, class, work, relationships―and by its final pages, it’s no longer the story of just one person, but a song of interconnectedness, a realization of all the other lives that make one's little time on earth possible. On top of that, it’s a total page turner, a rare joy of a book. I want to read it again.”
―Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World

“Chaney Kwak’s The Passenger somehow, in one slim volume, manages to do it all: in this hybrid of investigative journalism and travel writing, personal and familial memoir, Kwak chronicles―with searing wit―his long hours aboard a sinking Viking cruise ship, veering from his family’s history in post-WWII Korea to the history of successful lifeboat deployments, all against the backdrop of his own failing relationship. Kwak observes human beings with a precise, compassionate eye, moving from poignancy as he contemplates his place in the universe to biting social commentary aimed at the Twitter-storm of armchair storm chasers hoping to capitalize on his doom. I loved this book. It left me longing, guiltily, for Kwak’s next misadventure.”
―Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction

Library Journal


In March 2019, Korean American travel writer Kwak survived the capsizing of the MV Viking Sky off Norway's western coast. Kwak's fluid and evocative prose provides a gripping, moment-by-moment account of his 27-hour ordeal among nearly 1,400 cruise ship passengers and crew. After several hundred elderly or infirm passengers were painstakingly evacuated by helicopter, Kwak and 400 other passengers remained on the ship until it was tugged to Molde, Norway. Interspersed throughout are interesting and poignant stories about Kwak's family and loved ones, and the ship's front of house/back of house crew members, entertainers, and rescuers. The narrative is punctuated with historical tidbits about other ship disasters (RMS Titanic, Costa Concordia, and HMS Barham, for example). One long day onboard the MV Viking Sky changes Kwak's life in more ways than one, and prepares him for the uncertainties of pandemic living, he says, because he has found value in being "alone, in the company of others." VERDICT This powerful memoir about making tough choices and finding new directions will appeal to a variety of travel readers.—Elizabeth Connor, Daniel Lib., The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina, Charleston

Kirkus Reviews

The memoir of a travel writer on assignment aboard a sinking cruise ship.

During a storm on March 23, 2019, the Viking Sky suffered engine failure and began drifting toward the jagged shore of Norway. While facing death and hoping to be rescued, Kwak took an inventory of his life and wished for “any normalcy” he could find. With a mix of candor and cynicism, the author details his family’s history and his estranged relationship with his German partner of 16 years. Kwak also laments having to soothe them while he was involved in a major crisis. Having become disillusioned with his career, the author shares a history of cruise ship disasters, and he comments on the hypocrisy and hierarchy of cruise ships, particularly those that cater to the wealthy, noting how crew members cheerily tidied up and attempted to entertain the passengers while they were on the verge of capsizing. Checking the news, he was also disturbed by social media reporting on his cruise ship’s predicament in real time as well as disgusted with the notion of his documenting the disaster for the sake of an assignment. He then becomes philosophical regarding the randomness of fate. Making a comparison between the state of the ship and his life, he writes, “what you see isn’t always the truth. The staff can keep buffing the surface, but everything is breaking down beyond the skin of this capsule.” Around 27 hours after the ordeal began, the ship was able to dock in Norway with the assistance of tugboats. At this point, Kwak expresses gratitude for a second chance and decides it’s time to make significant changes in his personal life. The author goes on to share the changes he made after returning to San Francisco as well as details from his interviews with the ship's crew and rescue workers.

A down-to-earth, relatable examination of career and life choices.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940176059625
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Edition description: Unabridged

Customer Reviews