‘The Fish and Rice Chronicles: My Extraordinary Adventures in Palau and Micronesia’ is a memoir penned by PG Bryan. It recounts his experiences in the western Pacific country, where he spent three years (1967-1970) as a Peace Corps volunteer.
After devastating breakup with his girlfriend, Patrick decides to join the Peace Corps; to get away, forget about Gail, and perhaps do something good for others.
Working in a foreign country takes some getting used to, especially when one is thrown into a completely different culture. Patrick needs to familiarize himself not only with the place, but also with a distinct lifestyle of the local people. Fortunately, he does that very quickly and soon starts to enjoy his adventure. In between his Peace Corps duties, he spends time with newly-met friends; splashes around in the ocean in the company of sharks, crocodiles, and sea snakes; or goes on fishing expeditions with none other than Lee Marvin.
This classic travelogue-cum-memoir is a very… peculiar (for lack of a better word) read. I can tell you right off the bat that it surely won’t be to everyone’s liking. Why? Let me explain.
PG Bryan wrote a truly fascinating account of his Peace Corps years in Palau. Fascinating and extremely – with a capital E – detailed. This is not one of those fast-paced narratives that are hard to put down once you start reading. This book drags on and on and on. After a few pages you start noticing that the author is a meticulous type of a guy – he records everything and leaves out nothing. Because, why not?
So every step he took is documented and commented on. You know where and when he was fishing. Of course, you also know what equipment he used. And how he got from point A to point B. And if he caught anything or not.
But you don’t really know what Palauan culture is like. PG Bryan doesn’t write a lot about that. There are a few interesting facts and anecdotes that you will probably be delighted to read, but only a few – and that’s a real shame.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Palau is not present in the book at all. It is. In the author’s vivid descriptions. The details of scenery he shares with the reader are – without any exaggeration – quite mind-blowing. He paints with the words so skillfully you feel as if you were right there standing next to him in blazing heat, looking at the lagoon, and dreaming of the forest shade. Or in a boat wiping salt water from your eyes. Or on a tiny, uninhabited, picture-perfect island wandering aimlessly along the white sand beach. Palau comes to life on every single page and it’s beautiful, enchanting, thoroughly irresistible.
In between those wonderful descriptions are PG Bryan’s musings on his Peace Corps service. They are often too long and loaded with unnecessary parts, but nevertheless you read them with a dose of curiosity. Especially when the author writes about all the trials and tribulations he encountered along the way. From not speaking the language, to having to adjust to a foreign culture, to experiencing a massive culture shock in his native California – he recounts everything with disarming honesty, emotion, and not infrequently self-deprecating humour, which makes you want to listen to what he has to say.
‘The Fish and Rice Chronicles’ is a good book. It’s not phenomenal, but it’s definitely worth your attention. If you like Peace Corps memoirs, or if you are interested in Palau, Micronesia, Oceania, you will surely enjoy it. Just bear in mind that… Oh, never mind. Read it and judge for yourself.