Tag Archives: Paul Theroux

IDYLLIC POLYNESIA

‘The Marquesas were unique, unlike any island group I’d ever seen, a dream landscape for both poets and scientists.’

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


‘I’ve snorkeled all over the South Pacific, but nowhere have I seen a place more bewitching than the South Pass of Fakarava.’

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


‘Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands, a country in central Polynesia, west of Tahiti and east of Tonga. Tiny and beautiful, it is surrounded by a wide turquoise lagoon and sharp coral reef.’

Kathy Giuffre, ‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything, and Finally Falling in Love’


‘In an attempt to attract a dribble of tourism, Niue has adopted the sound-bite title Rock of Polynesia for its two hundred fifty square miles, which rise from a narrow fringing reef like a two-layer wedding cake. It’s different from any island we’ve seen. It is girt by cliffs that continue down to some of the world’s deepest ocean bottoms, without lagoons or beaches. Nor does Niue have rivers and streams, for the plentiful rainwater simply sinks into porous limestone. This renders the coastal waters unbelievably clear. More than a hundred feet of underwater visibility is routine, the diving among the very best for the very few who get there.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands “paradise” was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava’u; the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kaua’i. The climate is perfect.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’

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‘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.

PADDLING THE PACIFIC: OCEANIA ACCORDING TO PAUL THEROUX

‘Something about Cook Islanders (there were only 20,000 of them altogether) made them seem special. Even with all the patronage from New Zealand, and their passionate interest in videos, the people remained themselves. They were not greedy. They were not lazy. They were hospitable, generous and friendly. They were not violent, and they often tried to be funny, with little success.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’


‘Tahiti has its drawbacks – it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt, and Frenchified – but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in spite of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma – the noanoa – of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti’s national blossom.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’


‘These Tongans were elegant – it was something in their posture, in their features, many actually looked noble – a prince here, a princess there.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’


‘Paddling out to the island of Aunu’u I thought again of the pamphlet that had been given to me, with the rules that all visitors were urged to observe.

– When in a Samoan house, do not talk while standing.

– Do not stretch your legs out when seated.

– Do not carry an umbrella past a house.

– Do not drive through a village when chiefs are gathering.

– Do not eat while walking through a village (it seemed to me that Samoans ate no other way, and usually were munching a very large jelly donut).

– Samoans are deeply religious – pray and sing with them.

– Do not wear flowers in church.

– When drinking kava, hold the cup in front of you and say “manuia” (“when drinking Coke” would have been more opposite, since that seemed firmly part of the culture).

– Bikinis and shorts are not considered appropriate attire in Samoan villages or town areas.

– Ask permission before snapping photos or picking flowers.

– Be extra quiet on Sundays.

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’


‘At the very frontier of the Black Islands lies Fiji, the edge of Melanesia – so close that some of its tinier islands, Rotuma and the Lau group, for example, overlap Polynesia. In these transitional straddling dots of land, the people are regarded as Polynesian. There is a strong Tongan influence in the Lau culture. They make and sail canoes in the Lau group. They wear crunchy mats around the waist, Tongan-style. They paddle. They fish. They dance. They recall their great sea ventures. In a village on the Lau island of Lakeba they hold an annual ceremony in which sharks are summoned – a “shark-caller” up to his or her neck in the lagoon is circled by a school of sharks, attracted by the person’s chanting.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’

KAVA, ANYONE?

‘Served in coconut shells, the kava had the grayish-brown tint of old dishwater, and a flavor that was faintly bitter and peppery.’

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


‘Now let me tell you what kava really is and how it is a part of the culture in the Fiji Islands. Kava is called yagona, and the slang name for the liquid form is ‘grog’. It is the drink of chiefs and the drink of the farmers, the drink of the people.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Fortunately, I was now in Vanuatu, where getting profoundly stoned every night is a venerable tradition. In the gold hour before sunset, the men of Vanuatu gather in a nakamal, typically a clearing under a banyan tree, where they consume kava, which, to the uninitiated, is the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man. Kava derives from Piper methysticum, a pepper shrub that thrives high in the hills of Vanuatu. Traditionally, the kava is prepared by having prepubescent boys chew the root until it becomes a mulch of pulp and saliva, whereupon it is squeezed through coconut fiber, mixed with water, and swallowed all in one go from a coconut shell. Pondering this, you have to wonder And whose idea was that? I could not think of any circumstance where it would occur to me that consuming some kid’s globby spitballs might enhance my well-being. But we humans are a mysterious species, willing to try anything for a buzz, and fortunately for us, a long time ago, somewhere in Vanuatu, and enterprising individual discovered the secret to the most satisfying narcotic available for our pleasure.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’


‘Kava-drinkers were never aggressive. They looked numb, like hypothermia victims, or patients who had just been dragged from a dentist’s chair. Kava-drinkers were weak and compliant; they whispered; they swayed when they tried to stand straight.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘”What does kava taste like?” I ask Lani. She shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. In Tonga, women can’t drink kava, they just serve it to the men.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’

GREAT SUMMER READS (2015)

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ by Paul Theroux

Having just separated from his wife and facing the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer, Paul comes to the conclusion that the best way to forget his problems is to set out on a journey. So he quickly agrees to go on a book tour in Australia and New Zealand and whilst there, he decides that it would actually be fun to travel across the Pacific using an inflatable canoe.

As he paddles the vast ocean, he visits the black islands of Melanesia; the grand archipelagos and tiny atolls of Polynesia; and the one and only, heavenly Paradise. The farther he goes, the merrier he gets. Because in the Blue Continent, everyone finds their bliss.

This is one of the greatest travel books ever written and a perfect summer read. Paul Theroux’s words will transport you to the most alluring exotic lands, introduce you to the most incredible societies, and let you discover the most fascinating cultures you can encounter. This is the great Pacific as seen through the eyes of a cynical Westerner.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

After being offered a job on Guam, Dave moves to the tiny Micronesian country, not really sure what to expect.

As he lands on the island, he finds himself in a world very different from anything he has experienced so far. Although Guam seems quite surreal, Dave realizes he needs to adapt to the new surroundings in order to fully enjoy his little sojourn. So he does exactly what the natives do: he visits local bars, sings karaoke, and flirts with beautiful girls. And when he thinks that his life could not be any better, everything starts to fall apart.

Despite being somewhat controversial, Dave Slagle’s account is a page-turner that entertains and educates at the same time. It’s a light, often hilariously funny, read that will show you Guam like you haven’t seen it before.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ by Graeme Lay

For Graeme Lay, the South Pacific is unquestionably the most appealing corner of our globe. Travelling from island to island, he absorbs the enchanting atmosphere of Polynesia, learning what it really means to spend time in paradise.

Whenever he goes, he meets intriguing locals and even more intriguing foreigners. He familiarizes himself with the unique cultures of the region and does everything possible to get to know the many secrets it hides.

This book is like a sweet, tasty summer cocktail. The perfectly mixed collection of stories and tales will take you to the fabulous places not many people have had a chance to see. You will have fun, and you will laugh whenever you take this refreshing title in your hands.

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

Looking to escape the office treadmill, Philip agrees to become the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world.

Tuvalu, his new adopted home, turns out to be quite a challenging place to live and work. As he learns to deal with everyday obstacles, he tries to perform his legal duties as best he can. Which is not an easy thing to do taking into account that he is forced to handle a wide variety of criminal offenses, from a slightly amusing pig theft to extremely difficult and heartbreaking domestic violence.

If the author of a book is British, you may assume that the publication will be laugh-out-loud funny. And this personal memoir certainly is funny. Funny, witty, and thought-provoking. Although it’s written in a light-hearted manner, it touches on a few sensitive subjects. Well, no one has ever said that a summer read can’t make you ponder important issues, right?

‘Reach for Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

Motivated by his dream of visiting the Blue Continent, Andrew buys an old steel ketch and without hesitation starts his voyage through the Pacific Ocean.

What he discovers along the way amazes him. The breathtaking beauty and the irresistible charm of each country, archipelago, and atoll attract him with an almost magnetic force. With every nautical mile he sails, his desire to get to know the serene places grows stronger.

Andrew Rayner’s memoir will make you crave Pasifika. Literally. It is a beautiful book that perfectly conveys the beauty of the region, making you want to leave everything behind and travel to the islands of tranquil delights.

BEST LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BOOKS (PART 1)

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux never fails to deliver a compelling story. His travelogue – which is a truly wonderful journey across the Pacific Ocean – provides fascinating insights into the islands of the Blue Continent, giving readers a chance to absorb its undeniable charm. This informative, enthralling, witty, and – most of all – genuinely funny account captures attention right from the beginning. It simply could not be written any better. Ultimate reading enjoyment is guaranteed.

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’, ‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ by J. Maarten Troost

J. Maarten Troost’s ‘South Pacific trilogy’ is everything you’d ever want from travel literature. Not only do the books let you ‘experience’ different cultures, but they also give you the opportunity to see them through the eyes of another human being. The author’s adventures keep you absolutely riveted, and his astonishing sense of humour makes each story a pleasure to read. Phenomenal work!

‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’ by Will Lutwick

Finding love in a tropical paradise… How cheesy is that? Well, Will Lutwick proves that even such ‘ordinary’ story can be turned into a thrilling and highly amusing narrative. This thought-provoking memoir is a real page-turner. Finely created with a good dose of jocularity and intelligence, it not only entertains but most of all enlightens and educates.

‘Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years in Micronesia’ by Jonathan Gourlay

This is a truly wonderful, brilliantly written collection of essays. Even though some of the stories deal with quite serious subjects, Jonathan Gourlay’s wit and delightful wry humour lighten the overall tone of the book, making it almost hilariously funny. One thing you should bear in mind: this is not a title for very young readers!

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan Carson’s travelogue is pure entertainment, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a fantastic adventure story written in a light-hearted manner that makes you smile from the very first to the very last page. If you have ever dreamt about cruising the Pacific, hopping from island to island, and meeting new people – this is a book for you.