The Passenger:

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

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

In March 2019, the Viking Sky cruise ship was struck by a bomb cyclone in the North Atlantic. Rocked by 60-foot swells and 87-mile-per-hour 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 cruise 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 readers for 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—perfect for readers who love to discover world travel through the eyes of a perceptive and humorous observer.

CRITICAL PRAISE

“One of the Best Beach Reads for Summer 2021. Titanic clarity and humor that’s as dark as it is dry.”
Travel + Leisure

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

“In this short memoir, Kwak does a lot of things, and he does them all well…a gripping adventure tale…a solemn reminder not to wait until we might be dying to think hard about life.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

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

“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.”
Booklist

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)

“With a mix of candor and cynicism… A down-to-earth, relatable examination of career and life choices.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A mix of memoir, travelogue, and will-they-survive cliff-hangers…Kwak recounts his time at sea in harrowing (and often hilarious) detail…. What makes this story stand out above other disaster fare is Kwak’s voice…”
Afar

“I was captivated by this little book…I loved Kwak’s sense of humour most of all, it kept me afloat, and I sailed through the book smoothly from start to finish.”
—Peter Loughran, Avocado Diaries  

ADVANCE  PRAISE

“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

“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)

“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

“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 After the Parade and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction

 

Chaney Kwak has been traversing the globe for more than a decade to write about food and travel. His work appears regularly in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as magazines such as Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, and Travel + Leisure. Mr. Kwak teaches nonfiction writing at the Stanford Continuing Studies program and lives in San Francisco.