Tag Archives: Papua New Guinea

‘LAND OF THE UNEXPECTED’ BY BRIAN D. SMITH

‘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.

LAND OF THE UNEXPECTED

Summary

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.

Review

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.

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BEST BOOKS ABOUT PAPUA NEW GUINEA

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

This is one of the best books you can buy if you want to get to know Papua New Guinea. Written by a woman who comes to the islands to work on a development project, it provides readers with revealing insights regarding the local culture and ways of being.

Trish Nicholson’s background in anthropology makes the account a fascinating and multi-dimensional read. As an astute observer, she will tell you more about the Land of the Unexpected than you would like to know.

‘Land of the Unexpected’ by Brian Smith

Brian Smith’s book is a very unusual one. Those who are curious about Papua New Guinea as a tourist destination will find this read tremendously interesting. Brian Smith will tell you exactly where to stay, where to eat, how to travel, and what to see.

This memoir can double as a tourist guide that will help you explore the biggest Melanesian country. It may not be the most compelling account, nevertheless it will certainly be of great value to people who plan to set out on a journey of their own.

‘Two Years in Paradise: Diary of a Missionary’ by Christopher Kontek

Not every day you get to read a memoir written by a missionary. Especially such an absorbing memoir with a plethora of little-known facts about Papuan culture. The book is not a literary masterpiece, but you won’t regret buying it.

Christopher Kontek writes a lot – and I mean a lot – about the country, its people and their customs and traditions. What is more, he makes interesting comparisons between Papua New Guinea and Europe, where he comes from. Read the book, and I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.

‘Brokenville’ by Leonard Fong Roka

Leonard Fong Roka’s account of the ten-year-long civil war that broke out on the island of Bougainville in 1988 is a heart-wrenching story that will stay in your head long after you’ve finished reading it.

The book throws much light on the Bougainville conflict, presenting the point of view of a person who experienced the tragic events. The author writes with such passion and honesty that you feel his fear, his pain, his struggle to survive. An exceptional history lesson you will never forget.

‘Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea’ by Kira Salak

Have you ever dreamt of travelling to the far-flung, remote regions of Papua New Guinea? Of seeing what other people will never see? Of experiencing what other people will never experience? Yes? Then Kira Salak’s memoir is a must-read for you.

When you read this book you cannot help but marvel at the author’s courage. She describes her journey in meticulous detail, and at times – believe me – you are happy that you’re sitting comfortably in your own home. But then Kira starts her vivid descriptions of Papuan flora and fauna, and you’re wishing you were there with her.

A BIT OF HISTORY (PART 1)

‘”Does anyone still call this Savage Island?”

Hafe’s face reddened. “Cook called Tonga the Friendly Isles, probably because he had so many girls there. Tahiti he called the Society Islands, same reason. The Cook Islands were named after him. Nice names. But because we throw a few stones and spears, we’re savages.” He stubbed out his cigarette. “No one likes Cook much in Niue.”’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’


‘”Here is where your Herman Melville stayed. They were very kind to him, but he writes about them like they were all cannibals.”

Um, weren’t they?

She smiled. “Well, okay, a little bit. But you’d think all we did was kill people and eat them every day. We eat fruit and fish too, you know. Eating people was for special occasions, like your holiday. What do you call it? Thanksgiving.”’

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


‘Queen Salote (Tongan for Charlotte) had more or less upstaged Queen Elizabeth at her own coronation in 1953. It rained hard that day. Tongan custom insists that in order to show respect you must demonstrate humility, and you cannot imitate the actions of the person you are honoring. At the first sign of rain, Queen Elizabeth’s footmen put up the hood on her carriage as it rolled toward Westminster Abbey. Hoods were raised on the rest of the carriages in the procession — all but one, that of the Queen of Tonga. She sat, vast and saturated and majestic, her hair streaming with rain, in a carriage that was awash; and from that moment she earned the love and affection of every person in Britain.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘The island of Buka had been named by the explorer Louis de Bougainville after he had come across the natives in their canoes and who no doubt at the astonishment of seeing his superior sailing ship, had greeted him with the cries of “Buka, Buka” which actually meant “Who” or “What?” The island had been occupied by the Japanese from 1942 during World War Two and had been a strategic base for their fighter aircraft. Fortunately for the allied forces “Coastwatchers” had monitored and warned them of impending  air strikes which had saved Guadacanal and turned the tide of the war in the South Pacific.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land of the Unexpected’


‘Was he not aware that nearly every colony in the world achieved independence, I don’t know, sixty years ago, and yet Tahiti remained as French as Bordeaux?’

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

BEST SAILING BOOKS

‘Reach For Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

This beautiful and immensely interesting book is a well-researched guide, which will certainly come in handy for those who plan to sail the South Seas. With lots of photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps, this memoir is a must-have on board. No, not because it is a sailing manual, but because it is an unparalleled source of inspiration.

‘Sailing To Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

Kelly Watts’s memoir is a perfect ‘sailing book’ for all the female sailors. Not only does it tell the story of Kelly and Paul’s emotional journey, but also presents readers with comprehensive and accurate descriptions of a nautical life. The author’s tips and advices, as well as her honesty in showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruising, makes this book an engaging and worthwhile read.

‘Sailing With Impunity’ by Mary E. Trimble

If you need a book that will encourage you to set sail for the Pacific Islands, this memoir should be your choice. Written in a lovely manner, it shows the breathtaking beauty of Polynesia, which will surely wake up your wanderlust. Do you also want to know what life on board is really like? Mary will tell you all about it.

‘Beer in the Bilges: Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, Bob Rossiter

This book is about sailing, so anyone interested in reading about high seas, fierce winds, waves washing onto the deck will simply love it. ‘The Professionals’ write almost exclusively about their ocean adventures – and they do it so well that you will feel like a member of the crew every time you’ll have this title in your hands.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Gwenda Cornell’s memoir is not so much about sailing as it is about the islands of the Blue Continent, but it’s still a book you want to read if you are interested in cruising in the Pacific region. The author shares her first-hand knowledge of the island countries, giving you a chance to ‘visit’ them even before you set off on a journey of your own.

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history.

Review

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

GREAT SUMMER READS (2017)

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

Working overseas has always been Trish’s dream. When she is offered a job in Papua New Guinea, she’s more than willing to take it.

Upon her arrival, Trish discovers a completely new world with hundreds of languages and a multitude of different cultures. And although she is eager to help the country and its inhabitants, she quickly realizes that it may not be as easy as she initially thought.

This is such a good book! The author’s adventures and experiences in the Land of the Unexpected throw much-needed light on the international aid, which is a very sensitive topic. But Trish Nicholson deals with it in a very light-hearted manner. Her poetic style and brilliant sense of humour makes ‘Inside the Crocodile’ a thoroughly enjoyable (but enlightening and thought-provoking!) read.

‘All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti’ by Sarah Turnbull

When Sarah’s husband is asked to set up a new law office in Tahiti, she agrees – albeit reluctantly – to move to the end of the world (at least that’s what Tahiti looks like on the world map).

The picture-perfect country welcomes her with sounds, smells, colours, and views fit for paradise. Only her life is far from idyllic. Her overwhelming longing for a child makes each day a challenge. But as they say, all good things come to those who wait.

Sarah Turnbull wrote a very personal memoir – and did it masterfully! Her beautiful, lyrical depictions will transport you to French Polynesia, which – as you’ll have a chance to find out – has also a darker side. This is an engaging travelogue with a moving and poignant story that gives hope. You won’t be able to put it down.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Sailing the Pacific? Why not! Together with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Gwenda decides to take a journey of a lifetime.

In the Blue Continent, they visit Samoa – much loved by Robert Louis Stevenson; meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn; and take part in independence celebrations in Tuvalu. What is more, Jimmy even gets a chance to star in a movie in French Polynesia.

A boat, tropical islands, and great adventure. Isn’t that what we associate with a perfect summer? Well, that’s exactly why this memoir is a perfect summer read. It will surely satisfy your wanderlust, but it may also make you green with envy. Gwenda’s compelling stories plus her vivid descriptions will be reason enough to stay at home with this book in your hands. Ok, I’m just kidding. But be prepared that you’ll want to sail from chapter to chapter until you reach the very end.

‘Boxed Wine at Sunset: Two Americans. Two years. A small village in Vanuatu’ by Judy Beaudoin

What can one do after sending their kids off to college? Travel the world perhaps? Volunteer? Or maybe do both? Exactly! That’s the perfect plan, especially if one wants to avoid an empty nest syndrome.

After selling all their possessions and quitting their jobs, Kim and Judy travel to Vanuatu as Peace Corps volunteers. Working in the local primary school, the couple not only teach the youngest generations of ni-Vanuatu but also – or rather most importantly – learn a great deal about life in a different culture.

This is a wonderful memoir if you want to relax and get to know something interesting. Judy Beaudoin’s writing style is graceful and vivid, and the stories she shares… Well, they are impossible to describe in a few words – you have to believe me! Read this book and I can assure you that you won’t regret it!

‘Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal’ by Paul Gauguin

Having decided to leave Europe, Paul Gauguin travels to Tahiti in the hope of finding an unspoiled paradise.

What he discovers is a unique place full of beauty. Living among the natives, he gets to know the local culture – full of ancient customs and traditions – which totally engrosses him. This fascination with Polynesian way of being inspires him to create.

Although quite controversial, Gauguin’s memoir is a terribly good read. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part study of the Tahitian society, this book is a valuable piece of literature. Magnificent illustrations, painted by the artist himself, only add to the overall charm. Definitely worthy of your attention!

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 2)

‘An Island in the Autumn’ by John Smith

After spending twenty years as a Commonwealth administrator in Nigeria, John is given a fresh assignment – he is sent to Solomon Islands to serve as Financial Secretary. Although his job is quite fulfilling, he changes it three years later for the post of Governor of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.

This is an enormously interesting memoir you will not want to put down until you reach the last page. John Smith shows and carefully explains the process of decolonization, describing at the same time what life on a Pacific island is really like.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

When you are offered a really great job in a really great place, there’s nothing that can go wrong. Or is there? After moving to Guam to work as a general manager of Tropical Gym, Dave thinks his life just can’t get any better. Everything changes when he is drawn into a bitter dispute with his corrupt boss, who happens to be a very wealthy businessman, well-known on the little island.

Dave Slagle’s book is a terrific piece of travel literature. A bit controversial, yes, but extremely informative and laugh-out-loud funny. What’s it like to work in paradise for one of the richest men? Read this book and you will find out.

‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Arthur Grimble

In 1913, Arthur Grimble gets nominated to a cadetship in the Gilbert and Ellice Island Protectorate. A few month later he steps foot on the islands he will call home for the next nineteen years.

Not only is Sir Arthur Grimble’s memoir a gripping account of one man’s experiences and adventures in a foreign land, but also a very honest portrayal of colonial administration. As it turns out, it’s not always easy to be a representative of a British government in a small Pacific country.

‘Land of the Unexpected’ by Brian Smith

When Brian sees a job advertisement for an architect in the Daily Telegraph, he packs the bags and together with his wife and two children hops on a plane to Papua New Guinea to work for the PNG Works Department. Trying to revamp the county’s health care facilities, he travels from one province to another. In each of them he learns something new about the country, its people and their culture.

Despite the fact that some readers may find this book a little bit boring, it is a very nice account of an expatriate life in the Land of the Unexpected. Everything is described in great detail, so if you want to get to know Papua New Guinea, this is a title for you.

‘Letters from the Sleeping Lady – The Kindling of Two Teachers and Kosrae Island’ by Malcolm Lindquist, Tarry Lindquist

When Malcolm and Tarry decide to accept teaching positions at the local elementary school in Kosrae, they don’t really know what to expect. What starts as an exciting adventure, turns out to be a life-changing experience.

This written in the form of letters (to the authors’ granddaughters) book is a lovely, emotional, insightful look into the history and culture of one of the most fascinating places on Earth. Terry and Malcolm share with readers a small yet important piece of their lives, and they do it in such a wonderful and engaging way, you’ll probably want to become a teacher yourself right after you reach the last sentence.

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 1)

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Having spent 9 years as a street cop, Bryan gets a job as a law enforcement specialist in Saipan. Soon after his arrival he discovers that the islands of Micronesia, although dazzlingly beautiful, will be quite a challenge.

This is a brilliant book! Exceptionally well written, funny, and very informative. Bryan recounts his experiences in a refreshingly honest manner, showing readers what it was like to be a police officer in Micronesia in the early 1980s.

‘The Coconut War: Vanuatu and the Struggle for Independence’ by Richard Shears

Richard, a journalist working for the Daily Mail, is sent to the Pacific to cover the war that has just erupted in the New Hebrides. Trying to deliver a good story, he is forced to manoeuvre his way through the complexities of the country’s politico-military situation.

Richard Shear’s account is a wonderful description of a foreign correspondent’s job. Even though it’s a history book, it’s far from being boring. Actually, it’s a page-turner that reads like the most interesting novel.

‘Solomoni – Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’ by Roger Webber

Roger, a fledgling doctor with a committed passion for helping others, travels to Solomon Islands to provide medical assistance to those in need. But as he quickly learns, treating people from a completely different culture is not always as easy as he may have thought.

If you are curious what it’s like to live and work in Melanesia, this is a perfect book for you. Filled to the brim with interesting facts and information, it will show you the real Pasifika; Pasifika like you’ve never seen it before.

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ Trish Nicholson

To fulfil her youthful desire, Trish decides to apply for an overseas job in Papua New Guinea. After being chosen, she flies to the dragon-shaped island to work on a development project. At the time she has absolutely no idea what the realities of life for a development worker in Melanesia are.

When a foreign consultant comes to a faraway country to implement and guide changes, he must know it’s going to be hard. When that foreign consultant is a woman, she must know it’s going to be very hard. You don’t believe me? Just read Trish Nicholson’s engaging memoir.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

What’s the easiest way to become an international football manager? Find a team bad enough you’ll be allowed to coach them. For Paul and Matt, that’s Pohnpei.

This hilarious book is a proof that if you can dream it, you can do it. Paul and Matt’s adventures show the different side of football – without big money, famous players, and magazine-perfect WAGs. Although their job is not always easy, it brings more satisfaction than winning the World Cup.

IDYLLIC MELANESIA

‘Thick dense cloud cover obscured the central mountain ranges of the mainland, but once out over the Solomon Sea visibility was excellent and I was enthralled at the beautiful turquoise colour of the shallow waters surrounding small islands and coral atolls which appeared to be floating in the deep blue ocean.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land Of The Unexpected’


‘With the morning sun, Savusavu revealed itself to be located in one of the most extraordinarily beautiful settings I had ever encountered in the islands. The town overlooked Savusavu Bay, an alluring expanse of blue water hemmed in by verdant peaks.’

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


‘The Île de Pins, touted by guidebooks to be the South Pacific’s most beautiful island even though used by Napoleon III as another Devil’s Island to incarcerate French convicts of a political nature, lies within extensive reefs at the lagoon’s eastern boundary. Like all the islands raped by loggers and sandalwood traders of the nineteenth century, its forests are gone, though a scattering of pines remains to illustrate its name. Hidden within is the landlocked lagoon of Upi, several square miles of pristine water broken only by coral mushroom islands dotted here and there and a single pirogue with rickety outrigger and ancient pointy sail to riffle the surface.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach For Paradise’


‘Vanuatu is misty mountains cloaked with lush tropical rainforests dotted with quaint thatch villages next to cold bubbling springs.’

Bryan Webb, ‘The Sons Of Cannibals’


‘We now returned to the other islands in the group Vanikoro (Vanikolo) and Utupua, Vanikoro particularly impressing me with its isolated beauty. A sheer-sided mountain plunged into the fjord like inlet where the ship anchored, while in contrast a narrow strip pf land at its base housed lush meadows and the peace and tranquility of the mission school. The sun set, completing the picture; a blazing red sky setting the mountain on fire, then almost before the magnificent show had disappeared, stars showed through the evening dark and the sky was a mass of delicate lights.’

Roger Webber, ‘Solomoni: Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’

‘THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA: PADDLING THE PACIFIC’ BY PAUL THEROUX

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Summary

What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.

Review

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.