Monthly Archives: August 2014

‘DON’T WALK UNDER THE COCONUTS’ BY ROBERT BORDEN

‘Don’t Walk Under the Coconuts’ is a memoir penned by Robert Borden. It recounts the adventures he and his wife shared while living on the island of Aitutaki.

DON'T WALK UNDER THE COCONUTS

Summary

In order to escape harsh Montana winters, Robert and Mary Lou decide to look for a nice, warm place they could call home during the cold season of the year. So when their friend recommends a small island in the Cooks, they are more than eager to pay a visit.

Delighted with their newly found paradise, the couple starts to enjoy everything it has to offer. Robert devotes himself to fishing in the tranquil waters of the lagoon, while Mary Lou takes pleasure in leisurely strolls by the shore. As they both spend more and more time with the friendly Islanders, they learn how to celebrate their freedom and appreciate the simple things in life. And it turns out that even traversing the roads on a motorcycle can be an unforgettable experience.

Review

It can’t be denied that this is a very pleasant book. Not unusual, not particularly riveting but simply pleasant. It has the ability to transport readers to one of the most wonderful places in the world, so prepare yourself for an amazing and quite emotional journey.

What makes this memoir so exceptional are vivid descriptions. Robert Borden managed to paint a very clear picture of Aitutaki, exposing not only the island’s scenic beauty but also the kindness and warmth of its inhabitants. You feel as if you were actually there – in a boat trying to catch your first barracuda, in the village watching little kids play around, on the beach admiring spectacular red sunsets. And you don’t want to leave, for this place seems to be a true slice of heaven on earth. The author’s words capture the imagination. You get drawn into the story without even noticing. Not because it is a thrilling account of one’s adventures, but because it lets you unwind and relax.

That being said, I should mention that some parts of this book may appear slightly tedious. If Robert Borden could give you a hint what the majority of his narratives are about, I believe he would say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna do some fishing, then we’re gonna do more fishing, and we’re gonna be fishing some more’. Oh yes, there are a lot of fish in this sea of tales! Fortunately, they do not fill the pages to the brim. The author shares his first-hand knowledge, so you get a rare chance to discover the peculiarities of life in the Cook Islands. And you quickly realize that to be truly happy you need much less than you think you need.

As you may (or may not) imagine, Robert Borden is a natural storyteller. His reminiscences are a pleasure to read. They are exceptionally well written and imbued with wit, humour, and great charm. As if that wasn’t enough, there is this incredible epilogue that opens a mind and touches a heart, leaving you filled with emotions.

If you’d like to escape to the place of sheer bliss, this book will get you there. It’s a wonderful memoir, perfect for all those people who want to forget about their problems and just relax. Are you one of them? If yes, do not hesitate to embark on a journey to the Cooks.

Advertisements

‘1969: A YEAR IN TONGA. BOOK 2: VOLUNTEER: SURVIVE OR THRIVE?’ BY ROGER COWELL

‘1969: A Year in Tonga. Book 2: Volunteer: Survive or Thrive?’ is Roger Cowell’s second book. It resumes the story of his adventures in the Kingdom of Tonga, where he once served as a volunteer.

A YEAR IN TONGA 2

Summary

After being given only ten days to acclimatise, Roger begins his work as a teacher in a small primary school in the village of Houma. As he tries to share his knowledge with the children, he realizes that it’s not as simple as it initially appeared. So Roger learns…to teach, to understand the surrounding world, and to be an adult in a foreign culture. Despite his ups and downs, despite misunderstandings and the times of terrible loneliness, he gradually stops being a complete stranger and starts to fit into the close-knit community. He socializes with fellow volunteers, makes new friends, and creates a strong bond with his host family.

Review

This book is quite different from its predecessor. The first volume is a pleasure to read. The beginning of Roger Cowell’s great adventure (this is what you can call a one-year-long sojourn in another country; especially if you are only 18 years old when it happens) fascinates and enthrals to such a degree that you simply don’t want to put the book down. And you think it gets even more interesting as the story unfolds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

To begin with, this volume – which can most kindly be described as mediocre – resembles a traditional journal. It is constructed from the author’s original diary entries and arranged chronologically, so in theory you are given a chance to ‘experience’ life in Tonga day by day and month by month. This would be absolutely wonderful if the narratives weren’t so…dull, brief, and sparse on details. Many of the ‘chapters’ end before they even start. Cowell’s cursoriness results in the stories being extremely sketchy. They appear to be only partially finished and therefore feel incomplete and undeveloped. What is more, quite a few of them recount the same – or almost the same – events and occurrences, thus making the memoir seem very repetitive and monotonous.

As for the Kingdom of Tonga, it is not an overly prominent subject. There are only few decent descriptions and virtually no information concerning the country’s culture, customs, or traditions. Of course, one does not have to write an anthropological analysis of an island society, nevertheless it would be nice to be able to ‘discover’ such faraway land and get to know it from a foreigner’s point of view. However, I shall say that Roger Cowell was a young man at the time of his service, so his lack of observational skills can be fully justified.

On a brighter note, the book doesn’t fail to deliver what a good historical memoir should. It gives you a unique glimpse of the past, bringing back memories and unraveling the secrets of an almost ancient world. This amazing journey is an adventure in itself. And, let me tell you, this is a journey oh-so worth setting out on.

As I don’t want to lie, I won’t say I recommend this book wholeheartedly. True, it serves as a literary time machine, and as such it provides a lot of enjoyment. But overall, it is disappointing. At least in my opinion. You may think otherwise. And this is why I’ll leave the judgement to you.

‘1969: A YEAR IN TONGA. BOOK 1: BECOMING A VOLUNTEER’ BY ROGER COWELL

‘1969: A Year in Tonga. Book 1: Becoming a Volunteer’ is Roger Cowell’s first book dedicated to his one-year-long stay in the Kingdom of Tonga, where he served as a volunteer in the late 1960s.

A YEAR IN TONGA 1

Summary

Interested in other countries and cultures, 17-year-old Roger decides to apply for selection as a school-leaver teacher with New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad. After getting through the interviews and completing the required training, he is prepared to leave his home and spend a year in a foreign land.

Equipped with basic instructions, one bag, and a cricket bat, Roger finally sets out on his adventure. He lands in Tonga, where he is introduced to his host family, and immediately begins the great journey of discovery. He gets to know the many wonders of the kingdom and the way of life of its inhabitants. But most of all, he gets ready to teach.

Review

This is a good book, pure and simple. Roger Cowell definitely knows how to interest readers and grab their attention from the very first sentence. His memoir lets you travel back in time – in a split second you leave the digital world behind and find yourself in the late 1960s, where cell phones are non-existent, immediate deliveries unavailable, and instant communication not yet invented. He managed to revive the old days and, I must say, he did it amazingly well.

Of course, the book is not just a chronicle of the past. It is also the most interesting, the most informative account of one volunteer’s life, which should definitely be read by everyone who considers applying for the service. The author outlines the whole process: from filling in forms and questionnaires to attending interviews and courses to leaving New Zealand and reaching his final destination. You may think such delineations make the story mundane and dull. Well, they don’t. The chapters containing the descriptions are actually quite absorbing; almost as much as the ones documenting Cowell’s arrival and first days in Tonga.

The South Pacific kingdom… I wish I could say the country plays a central role in the story. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. The memoir does provide some insights into the daily life on the islands, but it is more a general overview than a thorough portrayal. The author focuses on his personal experiences, so if he mentions Tonga, it is always in relation to his engagements. Can this be considered a fault? Absolutely not. Roger Cowell was 18 years old at the time of his service; an innocent, young man with a naive eye, lacking in worldly wisdom. And yet, despite the circumstances, he tried to make discoveries and draw conclusions. His cursory observations give you a vague idea of what it means to live in a ‘tropical paradise’; especially if you come from a distant land. Cowell – like most visitors and travellers – had to deal with a certain set of feelings widely known as culture shock. He describes it at great length, helping readers understand this obscure phenomenon.

The book may not be exceptional in terms of literary expression, but it is a really good read. It’s an extremely enthralling, quite thought-provoking account that not only entertains but also teaches and inspires. I am sure you will enjoy it.

GREAT SUMMER READS (2014)

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan, bored with his corporate job, decides to fulfil his dream and cruise the Pacific Ocean. He buys a boat and, together with his friend Figman, begins a great adventure.

After a short stop in Mexico, Bryan sails to French Polynesia, Hawaii, Kiribati, Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia. Along the way he meets a variety of people, both native Islanders and foreign visitors, makes some new friends, and has a lot of fun while discovering the wonders of the Blue Continent.

This is a brilliant story created to entertain readers and give them a little bit of enjoyment. Written with a fantastic sense of humour, it will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. A truly compelling read for one of those lazy summer days!

‘An Afternoon in Summer’ by Kathy Giuffre

Kathy, a single mother of two young boys, decides to spend her sabbatical year researching indigenous art of Rarotonga. Eager to live on a tropical island, she packs her sons and together they set off on a magical adventure.

After arriving in the Cooks, Kathy finds out that they have no place to stay. Her unlikely saviour is Emily, an 82-year-old Maori lady, who offers them a room in her house by the ocean.

This beautiful and heart-warming book is a must-read for every woman who dreams of escaping from reality, forgetting about problems, and decamping to an almost ideal location. It’s a touching story that inspires, evokes emotions, and stirs the soul.

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’ by J. Maarten Troost

At the age of 26, Maarten moves to Kiribati with his girlfriend Sylvia. Soon after arrival, their expectations of a tropical paradise are brutally shattered into pieces. The spectacular corner of the globe turns out to be a polluted, dirty island where one needs to find a way to survive while being ‘surrounded’ by the rhythms of ‘La Macarena’.

Nevertheless, Maarten and Sylvia learn how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and after two years are reluctant to go home.

It seems that only J. Maarten Troost can create such a brilliantly written, humorous story that captures attention and simply doesn’t let go. It is a thoroughly engaging travelogue filled with hilarious anecdotes and some thought-provoking reminiscences that will leave you wondering what’s really important in life.

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ by J. Maarten Troost

Upon returning from Kiribati, Maarten takes a job at the World Bank. His new, buttoned-down life quickly makes him tired. He misses the islands of the South Seas and dreams of another escape. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

As they land in Melanesia, they are eager to immerse themselves in the local culture. They drink kava, get to know the country’s history, and discover the darker side of humanity – cannibalism. Everything seems to be almost peachy until Sylvia gets pregnant and the couple is forced to search for proper medical care. Unable to find it in Vanuatu, they decide to move to Fiji.

Another great story created by Troost. It’s definitely different from his first book, nevertheless it is just as good. It is a comic travelogue-cum-touching memoir, in which the author shares his thoughts and reflections not only on finding paradise but also on discovering the true meaning of ‘home’.

‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ by J. Maarten Troost

Inspired by famous writers, newly sober Maarten decides to come back to his beloved Pasifika in order to retrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s route through the Blue Continent.

Following in the Scottish author’s footsteps, he travels from island to island, taking time to explore all the places he has read about. Somewhere along the way, his adventure turns into an amazing journey of self-discovery.

This book is not as light-hearted and amusing as Troost’s previous works. It’s much more serious; it’s personal and intimate; it’s focused on giving readers valuable insights into the cultures of the South Seas. The author’s style may have matured, but it’s still utterly unique. You will definitely have a lot of fun while reading this fascinating tale!