‘Land of the Unexpected’ is a memoir penned by Brian D. Smith. It recounts the author’s experiences in Papua New Guinea as an expatriate in the early 1980s.
After seeing a recruitment advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Brian decides to apply for a post as a supervising architect with the government of Papua New Guinea. When he is offered a contract, he takes his wife, daughter, and son and begins a new South Pacific adventure.
In the land of the unexpected Brian travels from province to province helping upgrade the local healthcare facilities. During his three-year-long stay he not only learns what it means to work in the biggest Melanesian country, but also gets a chance to familiarize himself with the local culture.
If I were to sum this book up in just two words, I would say it is interesting and unusual. And because of that, it won’t be to everyone’s liking.
Let me ask you something. Are you interested in the hotels of Papua New Guinea? Do you want to know what your accommodation options are? Do you need information on the views from a particular room? Or the reception hall measurements? Or the door handle colour? Yes? Then this is a perfect read for you.
Few pages in and you can already sense that the book was written by an architect. Brian D. Smith describes all the buildings he visited – hotels, houses, hospitals – in meticulous detail. Everything – from layout to size to the surroundings – is expounded on. Which, on the one hand, is great, because you can really picture all the places in your head. But on the other hand, it makes the account slightly boring and lacking in substance. After all, this is a memoir, not a travel guide. Sure, we want to know what a certain hotel looks like, but we don’t necessarily need all the particulars, do we?
On a brighter note, Brian D. Smith’s book also provides some insights on Papua New Guinea’s history and culture. Although the author doesn’t focus on the local ways of being, he mentions a few custom and practices that you will surely find intriguing. He writes quite a bit about Papuan traditional clothing, and I must say that those parts are indeed very captivating. Just as are those that treat on the country’s past or language. Yes, Brian D. Smith introduces readers to Tok Pisin – he shares different phrases and words, occasionally explaining their origin. It’s a pity – a real pity – that such gems are so sparse throughout the book.
The memoir reads very well. It’s written in simple yet elegant language, with an occasional dose of subtle humour. The descriptions are vivid, and despite being rather lengthy, you don’t feel overwhelmed by the author’s words.
“Land of the Unexpected” is a book you should read if you are going to travel to Papua New Guinea and are in search of a good guide. However, if you simply want to enjoy a good piece of travel literature, this title may not be for you.