Tag Archives: Cook Islands

COOK ISLANDS BY RACHEL REEVES

Cook Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Rachel Reeves, the author of ‘Mātini: The Story of Cyclone Martin’, gives her recommendations.

Visit the island of Atiu

I’m partial to the outer island of Atiu, which is where my grandmother comes from. It’s an island of 500 people about 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga. It’s known for spectacular caves and wild pigs and the tumunu, or the local watering hole – a thatched-roof hut where you drink homebrew from a coconut shell.

Experience the imene tuki

There are few things more spine-tingling and arm-hair-raising than hymns sung at church in the Cook Islands. They’re a capella harmonies resounding with indescribable Maori power. Go to church on a Sunday – wear something nice that covers your knees and shoulders, and take some loose change.

Eat umukai

Food prepared in the earth oven. I don’t even know if you can sign up for this as part of a tour – but make some friends!

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A CHAT WITH… RACHEL REEVES

Rachel Reeves is a journalist whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu in the Cooks. In 2014, she was commissioned to write a book that would tell the story of Cyclone Martin. This is how ‘Mātini’ came into existence. If you want to know more about this wonderful title, just read the interview.

RACHEL REEVES

Pasifika Truthfully: ‘Mātini’ is not your ordinary non-fiction book. It tells a powerful and unbelievably tragic story. Why did you decide to write it?

Rachel Reeves: I was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust, whose board includes cyclone survivors who wanted their stories recorded for two reasons – for the sake of their offspring and for the betterment of disaster management in the Cook Islands and the greater Pacific Islands region.

PT: So you were chosen as the author. How did that happen?

RR: I have no idea! By the grace of The Big Man Upstairs. I owe the opportunity to John Woods, who was my editor when I worked as a reporter for Cook Islands News. When the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust approached him about what it would take to publish a book, he suggested me as a possible writer. He then trusted me to deliver on deadline even though I absolutely did not trust myself.

PT: Your paternal heritage derives from the Cook Islands. How personal is this book for you?

RR: Very. My grandma’s from Atiu, not Manihiki, but the Cook Islands are part of me. Writing this book was for me about telling a particular story, but it was also about highlighting the nuances that make the Cook Islands and the Cook Islands people so special.

PT: Was it difficult to hear all those first-hand accounts from people who had been lucky enough to survive Cyclone Martin?

RR: Yes. I got sick a lot. I felt a lot of sadness and fought a lot of tears. But whenever it was tough I thought about how much tougher it had been for the people I was interviewing.

PT: Whose story moved you most?

RR: I can’t answer that. I felt every story in my soul. Watching big island men cry over lost children was emotional, but so was talking to people who were overseas when the cyclone hit and couldn’t get through to Manihiki when they tried to ring their families.

PT: You had a chance to visit Manihiki, didn’t you? Does the 1997 tragedy still linger over the Island of Pearls?

RR: There are psychological reminders and there are also physical ones – memorial plaques, new emergency shelters, cracked foundations, vacant buildings. Locals say there’s a sense of emptiness now that wasn’t there before. Before the cyclone, Manihiki’s population was 668. Today it’s about 250. Cyclone Martin wasn’t the only reason for the population decline – there was also the decline of the contraction of the black pearl industry, and the larger national depopulation trend – but many people believe it bears the greatest responsibility.

PT: You don’t collect royalties from this book, which is very admirable. Who benefits?

RR: The Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. The trustees are Manihiki people who care a lot about their island and their people. Two are cyclone survivors.

PT: It can’t be denied that you are an extremely talented writer. Do you plan to write more? Is there a new book on the horizon?

RR: I’m still coming to terms with all of this! Writing a book has always been my life goal, and honestly I’m still pinching myself. But now that this one’s finished, I’m dreaming about – and also dreading! – doing it all over again.

‘MĀTINI: THE STORY OF CYCLONE MARTIN’ BY RACHEL REEVES

‘Mātini: The story of Cyclone Martin’ is a chronicle of the tragic events that took place in the Cook Islands in 1997. It was written by Rachel Reeves, a young journalist from California whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu.

MATINI

Summary

For the inhabitants of two small villages of Manihiki Atoll, November 1st has begun just like any other Saturday. It is the end of pearl harvesting season, so the farmers are quite busy with their usual chores. The sea is high, but people aren’t overly concerned. It is, after all, the time of year when storms are the norm. And Cyclone Martin is said to be nowhere nearby.

But then something changes. Coconut trees start to fall down. Fish are found lying on the ground – in places, where they aren’t supposed to be. There’s rubbish everywhere. Within hours, Manihiki is hit by the series of waves. The Islanders know that Mātini has officially arrived.

Review

Rachel Reeves was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. She was given seven months. Only seven months to research and deliver a finished story. She managed to do just that. The result? A masterpiece, pure and simple.

‘Mātini’ is not a pleasant read – a chronicle of such tragic occurrences can never be considered enjoyable – and yet it’s impossible to put it down. Although written in a journalistic manner, there’s magic at work here. I must admit, in all honesty, that Rachel Reeves has a gorgeous way with words. Her cinematic approach makes every single scene unveil before your eyes. You don’t just imagine Manihiki during those dark days in November, you feel as if you were actually there. Everything is incredibly vivid, and you can’t help but be moved by this emotionally-charged narrative.

Especially that the story is told through the eyes of Cyclone Martin survivors. The author shares the accounts of people who experienced ‘waves tall as the coconut trees’; who experienced fear, helplessness, and unimaginable despair. The disaster changed the lives of all Manihikans. But for some of them, particularly those who lost their relatives, it was the most agonizing night ever. The Islanders’ exceptional courage, willingness to fight, refusal to give up must be admired. Not once do they express their resentment towards God or Mother Nature. Most of the atoll’s residents don’t blame the Cook Islands government either. They accept that natural calamities happen. They say it is the price of living in paradise. However, in the case of Cyclone Martin not everything can be explained so easily.

Apart from being a heart-rending record of one of the worst catastrophes in the Cook Islands’ history, the title is also an extremely valuable educational resource. It is a manual on what not to do that should probably be read by every aid agency worker and every government official that deals with disaster management. Although the author makes no accusations, she closely examines the performance of those responsible for dealing with emergencies. She documents mistakes that were made. And she raises questions: Could the cataclysm have been averted? What could have been done differently? Who should have been held accountable? What steps must be taken in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future? The book doesn’t provide clear-cut answers, but it sparks ideas that will hopefully incite discussion.

‘Mātini’ can’t be praised enough. It is an exquisitely written, embellished with incredible photographs and beautiful illustrations piece of non-fiction literature. It gives hope. It enlightens. It makes you think. It reminds you to appreciate your blessings. It memorialises those who survived Cyclone Martin, and those who didn’t. It is a book of remembrance that should be treasured. Superb, absolutely superb!

Ms Reeves, chapeau bas!

BEST BOOKS ABOUT COOK ISLANDS

‘Cannibals and Converts: Radical Change in the Cook Islands’ by Maretu

This is probably the best book to read if you want to learn about the Cook Islands’ past. Written by Maretu in the Rarotongan language (translated into English by Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe), it tells the story of the archipelago immediately before the arrival of Europeans.

The author wonderfully describes how and in what ways the Westerners changed the local culture, and how the native inhabitants had to adjust to the new order established by those who had suddenly appeared on their shores. Fantastic, enlightening publication well worth your time and attention!

‘Mātini’ by Rachel Reeves

In 2014, Rachel Reeves was commissioned to write a book that would document the stories of Cyclone Martin survivors. She was given seven months. And she created a masterpiece.

‘Mātini’ is a detailed account of the tragic events that took place in the Cook Islands on November 1st, when the tropical cyclone nearly destroyed Manihiki Atoll. Although the author portrays the catastrophic occurrences in a rather matter-of-fact manner, the book is deeply touching and emotional. It is also extremely thought-provoking and surprisingly revealing. Simply put, it is a true gem you should have on your bookshelf.

‘Don’t Walk Under the Coconuts’ by Robert Borden

I don’t think any other book conveys the tranquil atmosphere of the Cook Islands better than Robert Borden’s memoir. His words paint a vivid picture of Aitutaki, where Robert and his wife Mary Lou used to spend the winter months.

If you wish to experience life in the tropics – get to know the locals, discover their culture, ‘do’ what they do every single day – this is a perfect title for you. It will transport you to one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth the moment you start reading the first chapter. Fantastic way to enjoy the Cooks from the comfort of your home!

‘The Book of Puka-Puka’ by Robert Dean Frisbie

This is a classic of the South Seas genre and a must-read for anyone interested in the Cook Islands. Samoa had Robert Louis Stevenson. The Cooks had Robert Dean Frisbie.

‘Ropati’ knew the archipelago probably better than any other sailor that has ever visited it. His wonderful memoir about the years he spent on the atoll of Puka-Puka is not only an extremely entertaining piece of literature but also a gold mine of information that offers detailed, often humorous descriptions of island life in the Pacific. The book was written in the 1920s, but some of the Frisbie’s observations are still relevant today.

‘Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka: The Autobiography of a South Sea Trader’s Daughter’ by Florence Johnny Frisbie

Robert Dean Frisbie’s book is a classic, but his daughter’s autobiography – although incomparably less known – is equally worthy of note. Written from a young girl’s perspective, it shows a different side to life in the Cook Islands.

In this fascinating memoir, Florence Johnny Frisbie tells her version of the story. It is simpler than her father’s, definitely not as thorough and sophisticated. And this is exactly why it makes for such an unusually interesting read. Puka-Puka may be just a small atoll. However, for little Miss Frisbie it was a whole world packed with delightful adventures… Just try to imagine how delightful her reminiscences are.

A CHAT WITH… ANDREW RAYNER

Andrew Rayner is not your ordinary man, and his book, ‘Reach for Paradise’, is certainly not your ordinary publication. But, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who spent eight years sailing the blue waters, would you? If you want to know what Andrew had to say about his adventure, book, and – of course – Pasifika, just read the interview.

Pasifika Truthfully: People embark on a voyage for various reasons: they want to escape, forget about their problems, or simply see the world. Why did you decide to set sail?

Andrew Rayner: Most opportunity is luck, and venture’s often a combination of push and pull. In my case the children fledged, my wife gone and my business sold on one hand, and an insatiable travel lust for the Pacific on the other made circumstances that both enabled and stimulated me to get a boat and head for the horizon. Like many before me, the original intention was traduced as my intended three years afloat to be followed by a return to city work turned into five, seven and eight before the circumnavigation was completed.

PT: I do believe you can now say it was a life-changing experience.

AR: No question. Sailing gives quality time for thinking not often available on land. Clear starlit skies and a vast ocean lit from within by bioluminescence make a great page on which to reckon one’s view of things. And there’s an impression of more uncluttered society in the island communities that’s an aid to clarity of mind and appreciation of the precious aspects of human nature.

PT: What was the most and the least enjoyable part of the journey?

AR: Blue water sailors spend more time fixing the boat than sailing. Everything breaks sometime, most often when the nearest help is hundreds of miles away. ‘Boat maintenance in exotic places’ is a reasonable description of low latitude cruising. Another aphorism ‘The two best days of your life are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell her’ has several grains of truth. Yet a boat is the only way to Pacific islands, bar a handful. Thus I’d say being faced with boat problems you can’t fix but have to fix is among the most testing.

The other side of this coin that makes it all worthwhile is the endless variety and joy of islands, of passages, of the ocean and the submarine life, and most of all the wonderful people out there.

PT: Knowing what you know now, would you like to repeat your adventure?

AR: Yes, at least at the age I set sail I would go again. Anyone who has the chance to undertake such a journey is hugely privileged.

PT: Now, let’s concentrate on Pasifika. For you, paradise?

AR: Foregoing quibbles about definitions, yes.

PT: If you were to describe in a few words each of the Pacific countries you had a chance to visit, what would you say?

AR: An impossible task that might produce a result unfair to everywhere. People need different things from their travels, and when asked standard questions about best islands I try to gage what the questioner is looking for. Intrepid travelers I’d send to Vanuatu, divers to the few places operating in PNG or the Solomons. Those looking for beauty combined with comfort love Bora Bora, and for an excursion into anthropology Rapa Nui. Vava’u has charter sailboats available and a magnificent archipelago to explore, and Aitutaki produces the finest dancing in the ocean. The tamelife of the Galapagos is wondrous, while the rest of the oceanic Pacific Ring of Fire never disappoints rookie geologists. Fiji, Niue, the Micronesian islands, the Kula Ring islands of PNG, there’s almost nowhere I wouldn’t wish to return to. But most important is to have time with the people.

PT: Your book can certainly help people visualize all those places. I must say it is a magnificent publication. The pictures, illustrations, maps simply delight. Why did you choose to embellish the written word?

AR: I remember ‘Treasure Island’ among the books I read when pretty small. The images left, Blind Pugh bringing the Black Spot, the Island, the chest of treasure, were drawings. I’m sure my enjoyment and recollection depended considerably on these drawings. Non-fiction books can of course survive without illustration, most in fact very easily, but some seem to cry for help. I felt ‘RFP’ could not convey the relationship of islands without maps, and my pen isn’t adequate to describe all that I wished without the help of illustrations. I am most fortunate in having as my wife and travel companion a superb painter and mapmaker.

PT: ‘Reach for Paradise’ is so unusual that it’s difficult to categorize. In your opinion, is it a memoir, a travelogue, or maybe a travel guide?

AR: Aah, it’s those and more, with plenty of history, anthropology, literary reference, and even a naughty bit of my own verse thrown in. But none of that is the aim. ‘RFP’ is a celebration of Pacific islands, something I found despite diligent inquiry was lacking from contemporary bookshelves. The islands are magnificent and to varying degrees outside the modern world, not as colonial left-overs or some sort of a curiosity goggled at by boatloads of tourists but vibrant societies with rich culture and story. They deserve a reasoned overview through sympathetic eyes. Though ‘RFP’ may prove to be a travel companion where there was none like it before, I hope, too, it conveys the true spirit of the islands.

PT: I’m sure you have many more stories to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

AR: No, though tempting. I cut some 40% of the original manuscript to make ‘RFP’ manageable.

PT: Last question that I need to ask… Have you found your paradise? Is it Hawaii, where you now live?

AR: Location is as much a compromise as most things in life. We farm fruit in the most Hawaiian, thus Polynesian, part of Hawaii. It’s beautiful, remote and traditional. But 800 numbers, cable internet, and Costco a couple of hours away serve to make life easier. We are happy here.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

A CHAT WITH… GWENDA CORNELL

Gwenda Cornell is an extraordinary woman. 35 years ago she packed her family and set out on a journey across the Pacific Ocean. She shares her adventures in an engaging memoir called ‘Pacific Odyssey’. If you want to know more not only about her book but also about her time spent in the Blue Continent, just read the interview.

GWENDA CORNELL

Pasifika Truthfully: Let’s start with the ending. You’d spent three years on a boat cruising the Pacific Ocean. Then you decided it was time to go back to England. Did you have a hard time getting used to leading a ‘normal life’?

Gwenda Cornell: In fact we had spent a total of six years roaming the oceans before we returned to England. Personally I had no problems getting back to shore life and enjoyed meeting up with family, old friends and luxuriating in a bath. Our children however had a much more difficult time, although they had looked forward to going to ‘proper’ school. They were regarded by other children as being a bit strange as they did not know the characters of popular TV programmes or which football team (soccer) to support. After many years my daughter Doina has written about all this in her memoir of growing up at sea called ‘Child of the Sea’. Her book also includes quite a lot about her experiences in the Pacific.

PT: Now let’s get back to the beginning. Why did you decide to set sail in the first place?

GC: My husband Jimmy had always wanted to go to sea since he was a child and he persuaded me that this was the best way to see the world. We had both always enjoyed travelling, but did not have much money, so he fitted out the boat himself and that way we could get to see a lot of extraordinary places that were not easy to reach in those days, when air travel was much more expensive than nowadays. Many of the places we visited did not even have airports.

PT: Didn’t you hesitate to take your children out of school for such a long period of time?

GC: At the time, I thought that the experiences they could have would be so much more than anything they could learn in the classroom. Also they were at a good age 5 & 7 when we left. I prepared for the voyage quite carefully, qualifying as a teacher and had the full support of the school in London that the children were attending. When we first set sail we only thought of staying away for 2 or 3 years, spending one year in the Pacific, but our life was so entrancing we ended up spending much longer. Also the children did enjoy going to school in a lot of places, six months in New Zealand, one month in the Gambier, a week in Aitutaki and one day in Pitcairn.

PT: Would you say that your adventure taught Ivan and Doina more than they’d have ever learnt while sitting in the classroom?

GC: Absolutely, there is no question of that. For a start we had no TV, so they read voraciously. We always made sure we had topical books, so they read Thor Heyerdahl on the way to Easter Island, ‘The Mutiny of the Bounty’ on the way to Pitcairn and so on. They learnt so much about other cultures by making friends with local children and also a lot about nature, from tropical islands to free diving on coral reefs.

PT: And what did you learn?

GC: I learnt a tremendous amount about geography, nature and Pacific culture, plus an abiding respect for the Pacific peoples who have so much to teach us about how to live life fully and care for the less able members of our society.

PT: You described some of your experiences in ‘Pacific Odyssey’, which is an amazing book. How did that happen?

GC: I started while still in the Pacific by writing small pieces for the magazine Pacific Islands Monthly (I believe it no longer exists). When I returned to England, someone suggested that I expand these articles and turn them into a book. Fortunately, I had kept a detailed journal about our voyage so it was not difficult.

PT: I’m sure there are stories you didn’t include in your memoir. Would you care to share one of them?

GC: I have been trying to think of some instance, but could not come up with anything. The voyage I describe took place 35 years ago, so some of the memories are unfortunately fading a little.

PT: I understand. Let me ask you about the people you met. Do you keep in touch with any of the Islanders?

GC: Again 35 years ago communications were much different. There was no e-mail, Internet, Facebook, etc. We even made the first phone calls out of some places. Pacific Islanders were not very good at writing letters, especially where there was no post office on their island. But when we did meet up with some of them again, such as at the Pacific Festival of Arts, friendships were easily renewed. In the epilogue I wrote to the book after 30 years I do describe some of the people we encountered again.

However we have kept in touch with many of the people from different nationalities that we met on other sailing boats and the French Bouteleux family described in the book are still among our closest friends today.

PT: Would you say the voyage changed your life?

GC: Yes, it certainly did. We became much more involved with sailing and the cruising life. It also changed my view of the world and its various peoples and cultures.

PT: What advice would you give people who’d like to follow in your footsteps and set out on a journey?

GC: Just get out there and do it while you can. Some of these places may change or even disappear as a result of climate change. Make a plan and stick to it, be prepared to live a simpler life, less dependent on all that stuff you can have these days, that way it becomes more affordable.

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

‘FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS’ BY JAMES NORMAN HALL, CHARLES BERNARD NORDHOFF

‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’ is a travelogue written by James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Nordhoff. It recounts their various adventures in the Blue Continent, mainly in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. This is the second book the two men co-authored.

FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS

Summary

Fascinated by the islands of the South Pacific, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff decide to set out on a journey that would fulfil their dream of an escape.

After making a landfall in Tahiti, the two friends choose to take different routes. However, before going their separate ways, they arrange for a rendezvous at a distant date.

As they travel from shore to shore, Hall and Nordhoff encounter the most charming and intriguing individuals, who warmly welcome the unexpected guests into their little worlds. The visitors are given a rare chance to observe local communities and get to know their customs, traditions, and beliefs. Leisurely wandering through the lush paradise, they spend their time listening to amazing tales, legends, and stories of the past. They also learn quite a bit about the islands’ half-caste population – people that belong ‘neither here, nor there’.

Review

This travelogue is a classic of the South Seas genre. It’s written in a style reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, so you may imagine that it not only entertains and delights but also educates. The book is a fantastic history lesson. Like a time machine, it takes you to the beating heart of colonial Polynesia, where you get a guided tour of some of the most fascinating places on Earth. It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is.

As this title is a collaboration between two authors, the stories vary widely. James Norman Hall focuses mainly on society; his accounts are filled with perceptive depictions of people’s daily activities, habits, and practices. He is the one that shows readers the now-famous ‘Pasifika way of life’. His careful and extremely detailed observations provide startling insights into the islands’ culture of the early 1900s, letting you understand this unique corner of the globe slightly better. Especially valuable are the notes he took during his unplanned stay on Rutiaro – the lonely atoll ‘as little known to the world at large as it has always been’.

Charles Nordhoff, on the other hand, is a storyteller. With a thousand words, he paints a vivid picture of the colourful lands, golden shores with swaying palm trees, azure lagoons sparkling in the dusk. His poetic imagery, which appeals to all the senses, allows you to experience everything he describes – from a voyage aboard an old schooner to a friendly gathering on the beach. It’s quite impossible not to be moved by Nordhoff’s writings – each and every tale exudes great charm and yet is still solidly anchored in reality.

Two authors usually mean two different styles. You would think this couldn’t result in a good book. Well, Hall and Nordhoff’s marriage was a perfect one – an ideal combination of talent, vision, and skills. This can certainly be seen in ‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’. The travelogue is characterized by coherent, smoothly flowing narration that is a pleasure to read. It might not be the most acclaimed work of the two friends, nevertheless it deserves to be considered a masterpiece – an artfully written, unraveling, and thoroughly enjoyable. And as such it should never be forgotten.

I could not recommend this title more. It engages both the mind and the spirit. It won’t appeal to everybody, but if you are a Pasifika aficionado, give it a try. It is one of the best of its kind.

‘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.