Tag Archives: Samoa

‘THE STORY OF LAULII: A DAUGHTER OF SAMOA’ BY ALEXANDER A. WILLIS, LAULII WILLIS

‘The story of Laulii: A daughter of Samoa’ is the memoir of Laulii Willis, the first native born Samoan woman to become educated in and a permanent resident of the United States of America. The book was edited by William H. Barnes.

THE STORY OF LAULII

Summary

Laulii, a young woman of noble birth, has always been a rebellious soul. Eager to learn and help others, she aspires to lead a fruitful life.

When Alexander Willis – a Canadian carpenter – arrives in Samoa, Laulii gets intrigued by this bald-headed white man, who seems to be equally bewitched by her.

As time passes by and Alexander and Laulii get to know each other better, the feeling between them grows stronger. They take vows to spend the rest of their lives together, and soon after that Laulii leaves her beloved country and travels to America with her newlywed husband.

Review

Calling this book interesting would be an understatement. This is a marvelous piece of literature, in which the authors focus their attention on Samoa rather than on their own experiences. Laulii Willis writes: ‘I have been requested to give to the world a sketch of my life, including a description of my tropical native land, together with the domestic customs, habits, amusements and legends of the far-away country of Samoa. In doing so I have a two-fold object: One is to make other lands better acquainted with my people (…).’ Well, she definitely managed to accomplish what she had intended.

To be honest with you, I am not sure if I should say that Samoa serves as a backdrop for Laulii’s and Alexander’s stories, or if it is the other way round. I think I am leaning towards the latter.

The descriptions of the Samoan archipelago are omnipresent – they fill almost every chapter. Even the most personal narratives contain little snippets that show what the South Pacific country was like in the 19th century. Laulii Willis provides invaluable and utterly engrossing insights into the ways of being of the native Samoans. She carefully explains their culture, beliefs, traditions, practices, social mores, likes and dislikes, sparing no details whatsoever. Everything she writes about is so revealing, so thoroughly fascinating that you can’t help but read one more page, one more chapter until you reach the very end.

Even the part written by Laulii’s husband isn’t bereft of the commentary on Samoa and its inhabitants. Obviously, as a foreigner he couldn’t possess the same knowledge of the country as his wife, nevertheless his observations are just as interesting.

One can’t forget though that this volume is a memoir. Laulii’s life story is a riveting account, full of serious reflections mixed with amusing anecdotes. The journeys she undertook as well as the experiences she encountered make the book read like a novel. Laulii Willis certainly was an extraordinary woman – kind-hearted, passionate, bright, talented on many fronts. She didn’t want to ‘just be’; she wanted to make a change, to open doors for other women in her motherland.

As the memoir is written in a rather informal style, it reads very well. Actually, you may feel as if you were chatting to a best friend, who’s done things in her life you really want to hear about. In retelling her story, Laulii Willis is candid, straightforward, and very charming. Her husband is much more matter-of-fact, but his recollections take up only a small part of the book.

All in all, ‘The story of Laulii’ is something you should – must – read if you have any interest in Samoa or Pacific Islands in general. It’s a great – terrific – volume that scores high on all fronts. Buy it! You won’t regret doing so.

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FA’A SAMOA (PART 2)

‘If a man thinks he likes such a girl for his wife, he goes to his best friend, perhaps his brother of father, whom he thinks he can trust, and says: “Now, my friend, I will do anything for you, no matter what it is, if you only do me a great favor. I love, and I will make her happy if she will only be my wife.” If his friend agrees, which he generally does, he goes to the girl and tells her he has a friend for her. She asks “Who?” He says, “I will not tell you his name now, as you might not like him; you might like some other man better.”’

‘When visitors are at the house, children never speak to them until they are spoken to first or requested to speak. They would be punished if, of their own accord, they should attempt to take part in any conversation or express their opinions. When told by their parents, to do anything, they immediately do as they are bidden without for a moment thinking of asking why or questioning authority.’

‘It is not generally understood why mats are so valuable to the natives, but when it is remembered that they represent events and traditions, wars and families, one may realize what they mean to the Samoan.’

‘The turtle is what may be termed national property, and should a man catch a turtle and carry it to his own house and eat it with his own family, without letting the town know and inviting them to partake of it, the finger of scorn would be pointed at him as one destitute of liberality or the true spirit of a Samoan.’

‘It is a tradition and a belief to this day among the Samoans that when they “die” as we call it, they only “go to sleep”, and that as soon as they do so the spirit leaves the body and goes to the farthermost end of the island (some imaginary point) where there is always a large number of canoes that the spirits take. These canoes in the twinkling of an eye transport them to eternity, and come immediately back.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’

FA’A SAMOA (PART 1)

‘The children’s heads are kept shaved. This process was performed with a sharp stone or piece of bamboo before the white people came and brought razors. The hair was all taken off with the exception of what would be termed here a “beauty lock”, which was left, sometimes in front, sometimes at the side, or at the back of the head; we called this lock “sope”.’

‘Soon after a baby is born the mother presses its head by putting one hand at the back of its head and the other on its forehead, as they do not like projecting foreheads; then the mother pinches its nose between its eyes and flattens the end of its nose by pressing. When the baby sleeps it must always lie on its back, as they think it will tend to heighten the forehead to lie on the side of the head.’

‘The Samoans are a religious people; while they make no pretensions their every act is characterized by a fervent belief in, and dependence upon a heavenly father; here again they differ somewhat from the majority of the inhabitants of more civilized countries. After rising in the morning their first act is prayer, which is always accompanied with the singing of the hymn; no meal, or even the slightest refreshment at any time, is partaken of until preceded by a prayer or blessing.’

‘Our houses are oval. When a man has made up his mind to build a house he notifies all his relatives for miles around, and they all come together and help.’

‘The Samoans tattoo the whole of the body from the hips to the knees, covering the skin so completely with the pattern that it looks at a little distance exactly as if the men were wearing a tight pair of ornamental drawers.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’

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.

A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS

‘Christmas is a big holiday. Lots of feasts and kava drinking. Basically they do the same thing on all the holidays, eat and drink kava.’

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


‘Gift giving is not a custom here. Christmas is a Holy day, but it’s nothing like what it is in the West, and there is certainly little if any commercialism associated with it at all.’

Dave Hart, ‘Solomon Boy: Adventures among the people of the Solomon Islands’


‘Living in Tonga, it is hard to believe that it is almost Christmas. It has little to do with the warm – make that hot – tropical weather, but more to do with the complete lack of Christmas commercialization here. There are no advertisements promoting last-minute Christmas sales and no obvious indication in the shops that Christmas is just about here. But make no mistake, this is a very Christian country, and Christmas will be celebrated in a big way.’

Steve Hunsicker, ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’


‘As Christmas approached, the Samoans definitely got into the spirit with decorated stores and Christmas music on the radio. Samoans don’t hesitate being blatantly Christian, and separation of church and state wasn’t practiced at that time. Local business people, government employees and bankers were expected to take time off from work to rehearse for these Christmas programs.’

Mary E. Trimble, ‘Sailing With Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’


‘Christmas shopping in Vanuatu has many of the same frustrations as it does in America. The traffic is terrible; one day I had to wait almost five minutes before I could make a U-turn. The weather is frightful, often over 90 degrees with high humidity. You can never find a parking space – Chinese businessmen don’t believe in wasting real estate on parking lots. However, the greatest challenge in Santo is not avoiding the over commercialization of Christmas. No, our challenge is finding something to purchase in the first place.’

Bryan W. Webb, ‘Hungry Devils and Other Tales from Vanuatu’

‘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!

‘SAILING WITH IMPUNITY’ BY MARY E. TRIMBLE

‘Sailing With Impunity’ is Mary E. Trimble’s memoir depicting the voyage through the islands of Polynesia that she set out on together with her husband, Bruce.

sailing-with-impunity

Summary

Longing for a change and following the dream of an offshore sailing, Mary and Bruce make a decision to quit their jobs, sell their house, buy a boat, and spend some time cruising the Pacific Islands. After weeks of meticulous preparations, they are finally ready to leave the marina.

They make their first landfall in French Polynesia. The country surprises them with enchanting beauty, the sweetest scents of flowers, and…an extremely nice gendarme trying (unsuccessfully) to buy their gun. Together with other yachties, Mary and Bruce tour the islands, savouring every minute in this picture-perfect paradise.

When the blissful days in the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Bora Bora come to an end, the couple continue their adventure. They agree to moor in the Pago Pago harbour to wait out the hurricane season. The capital of American Samoa turns out to be a safe yet very dirty harbour, especially after the country gets clobbered by Cyclone Ofa.

Before heading home, Mary and Bruce sail to Tonga, which definitely lives up to its friendly reputation, and then to Hawaii. The last leg of their journey isn’t as smooth as they would expect it to be.

Review

The Blue Continent is a perfect destination for…for everyone, I think, but sailors in particular. They have favoured this part of the world for a very long time. Who can blame them? Those tiny islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean are delightfully reminiscent of paradise (at least on the surface), so cruising from one little slice of heaven to another is a dream come true. And when in paradise, it’s a sin not to share all those paradise-ish experiences. Hence the almost countless amount of different memoirs and travelogues – some good, some not so much – that you may choose from to ‘travel’ (or no, in case of the bad ones) to the South Seas without leaving the comfort of your home. Will you be able to ‘visit’ the islands while reading Mary E. Trimble’s book? Oh, absolutely!

‘Sailing With Impunity’ makes for a very engaging read, mostly due to the fact that the author managed to maintain the right balance between the descriptions of their life aboard the craft and the descriptions of the places they had a chance to see. Before you go on land with the Trimbles, you will encounter fierce winds and rough waters; you will know what it’s like to cook on a rocking boat while battling a bout of seasickness; you will have to come to terms with the idea of sleeping no more than 4 hours at one time (let me tell you, you can feel exhausted just reading about it). Mrs Trimble is very truthful in recounting her and her husband’s journey. She spares no details, so those of you who have thought that sailing is an easy activity might get disillusioned. It is fun, yes; but it’s definitely not child’s play.

If you ‘survive’ the voyage, you will be rewarded with some wonderful stories about the islands and their inhabitants. The author’s vivid and surprisingly objective portrayals of the visited countries show them as they really are – ravishing, romantic, but not sugar-coated; filthy, unpleasant, but not repulsive. The memoir doesn’t present a one-sided view of Polynesia – and it’s worth remembering that all the opinions clearly reflect the author’s personal feelings and judgements – but rather the actual state of things. There is no criticizing, no comparing, no saying that something is better or worse. Mary E. Trimble made sure to stay open-minded throughout the journey and, most importantly, throughout her book. Even if she wasn’t free from cultural bias, she hid it extremely well.

The story is told in a lovely manner. Every page is written with passion only keen travellers possess. Detailed yet not overdone descriptions seize the imagination, arousing an abundance of different emotions. One minute you are green with envy, the next happy and relieved that you’re safe in your abode. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This concise book is a very impressive piece of travel literature. But it isn’t only an engaging memoir. It is a tale about chasing your dreams and believing that everything is possible, especially if you have someone you love and can rely on by your side.

GREAT SUMMER READS (2016)

‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

When reality doesn’t always meet your expectations, you need something that will set you free from your worries and bring back a smile on your face. For Kelly and Paul, a happily married couple dealing with fertility problems, that ‘something’ turns out to be a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

As they sail from one island to another, they discover the beauty of life anew. Visiting fascinating places and immersing themselves in the exotic cultures of the South Seas, they finally start to look to the future with optimism and hope in their hearts.

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a beautiful, uplifting story that will make you both laugh and cry. Being first and foremost a great adventure book, it will speak to all the sailing aficionados who can’t imagine their lives without a daily dose of thrill and excitement. Kelly Watts describes the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop reading until you reach the last sentence.

‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’ by Mary E. Trimble

Fulfilling her husband’s lifelong dream, Mary agrees to set out on a journey from Seattle to the islands of the South Pacific. After finding the right boat and saying their farewells, the couple is ready to set sail to paradise.

Despite dealing with the unpredictable power of nature, they manage to enjoy their new life aboard Impunity. They get to know the alluring world of Polynesia, taking delight in meeting local inhabitants and experiencing their ways of being.

Summer is the time of year when most of us feel the urge to travel. It’s not always possible to leave everything behind and just get away, but a good book will definitely satisfy your needs. I promise you that Mary’s words will transport you to the tropical isles. You’ll be able to feel the hot air, smell the sweet scent of flowers, and hear the cheerful buzz of people’s voices.

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

Following in James Cook’s footsteps? Why not! Two centuries after the great Englishman’s voyages, Tony Horwitz decides to embark on his own adventure, recreating Cook’s epic journeys through the Pacific Ocean.

Trying to fully grasp the Captain’s accomplishments, Tony happily explores the tiny islands. He spends time chatting to the natives, asking questions, and waiting for answers. He isn’t afraid to dig deep and, as a result, gets awarded with a riveting tale of the navigator’s life.

Not only will this masterfully written travelogue give you a lot of enjoyment, but it will also provide you with a great deal of information about history, Westernization, and most of all Captain James Cook. It is a compelling read that will let you discover the Blue Continent from the comfort of your home.

‘The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific’ by Charles Montgomery

Ever since Charles came across his great-grandfather’s box as a 10-year-old boy, the pieces of paper that were tucked inside have been constantly in the back of his mind. Inspired by the unusual discovery, and especially by one intriguing description of the events that had taken place in Melanesia in the 19th century, he decides to visit the islands of the Pacific.

In Vanuatu and the Solomons, he searches for old myths and legends; for reality that blends with black magic. What he finds is a bewitching world of ancient rituals and traditions that completely engrosses his body, soul, and mind.

This book is as much about the author’s journey as it is about religion and different belief systems. It’s very thought-provoking but at the same time extremely entertaining. Charles Montgomery, being a talented writer he is, invites you to accompany him on a guided tour of Melanesia. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that chance.

‘The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Julia Whitty

The Blue Continent has always been heaven for deep-sea divers. While shooting for nature documentaries, Julia Whitty ventures underwater to discover the kingdom of the great Pacific Ocean.

In three different locations: Rangiroa atoll, Funafuti, and Mo’orea, she explores the mesmerizing world of sea creatures and coral reefs, occasionally going on land to acquaint herself with the local cultures and see how globalization has been changing the remote places.

If you like watching nature documentaries, you will absolutely love this book! The author’s incredibly vivid descriptions will let you picture every scene in your mind’s eye. It’s a pretty spectacular ‘visual’ experience that may surprise you quite a bit.

‘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.