» » The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

Download The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific epub

by Paul Theroux

This travel book follows Paul Theroux's explorations of Micronesia and Polynesia by canoe.
Download The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific epub
ISBN: 0241131847
ISBN13: 978-0241131848
Category: Reference
Subcategory: Writing Research & Publishing Guides
Author: Paul Theroux
Language: English
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; 1st edition (September 14, 1992)
Pages: 542 pages
ePUB size: 1253 kb
FB2 size: 1156 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 213
Other Formats: lrf docx doc lit

I read this as I like travel logs about small boats. Theroux is an excellent writer, and it's fun to get lost in the details of this trip that covers all of the major stopping points in Oceana. The only reason I have left off the fifth star is that as a traveler and an ethnographer, he tends to form a negative view or at least a narrative that focuses on the negatives of each culture he encounters. After a while, the book starts seeming like a catalog of "what is wrong with these people and this place". A great deal of that is appropriate, however, and the book is a definite knockdown of any dreamy ideas of "Gaugin's Paradise" in favor of the brutal realities of how the modern world is affecting or has affected the places and cultures of Oceana as of the late '80s. It also presents some pretty good evidence as to why Thor Heyerdahl's theories about migration are dead wrong.
Many reviewers of this book cited the author's melancholy in the early chapters. Divorce is depressing!
I have visited many of the islands covered in this comprehensive overview of Oceania and found the descriptions to be remarkably consistent with my experiences. If you've never been to the Pacific Islands, this will give you a true feel for the varied and exotic peoples and locations. Mr. Theroux spent a good deal of time in the Solomons, which are not nearly as developed and accessible as the better known chains (Cook Islands, Society Islands, Hawaii). I found his description of American Samoa particularly interesting as I was married to a Samoan and visited family on the island. The comments about Pago Pago are spot on. The opening chapters on Australia and New Zealand were fascinating.
He is one of my favorite authors. He is usually a bit cynical but almost always has good, insightful comments to make regarding what he sees and does during his travels. I have read most of his travel books but still have a couple to go.
Before reading this book, I read through some of the reviews on here. Needless to say, I had the preconceived notion that this book was going to be the diatribe of a misanthropic, bitter wanderer. Although there are some moments where Theroux gets carried away with unkind portraits - his descriptions of Tongans and Samoans, for example - he is not the monster that many of the reviews here paint him as. Not everybody can be happy all the time, and that's more or less how he tells the story.

If you have never read Paul Theroux, then perhaps you will be a bit shocked at his raw cynicism. I, for one, am a big fan. This is the blood and guts of world travel. Nobody can be completely open to a new culture or worldview, and certain things are bound to be annoying. The entire adventure of his literary tour in Australia, for example, points out the nagging, dragging questions of people unfamiliar with his work yet trying to conduct journalistic interviews. It isn't until he is rumbling over the outback that he meets a rural Australian who knows and admires his work - rather unexpectedly, at that. Also, one must remember that Theroux puts it right on the table that he is going through some serious issues in his life - a rough marriage break up, health issues, and feelings of alienation - and is removing himself from the mundane to paddle away his problems.

I, for one, feel like this is one of Theroux's finest books. It is devoid of a real theme and lets you paddle alongside Theroux and his emotional travails. I've traveled a bit in Melanesia, and I find his descriptions to be quite apt. Trouble is everywhere in paradise. Murky, trashed lagoons and quarreling kin networks. Bugs, nagging children, and hustlers. But also, there is the hospitality, the betel nut, the amazing conversations, the unique and unexpected characters and, of course, the bleeding sunsets and turquoise, coral-studded seas.
I can't remember if it was this book or Kingdom By The Sea that was the first of Theroux's travel books I ever read. 'Kingdom by the Sea' turned out to be one of may favorite books and I have read it several times. This book, though, is also quite good and I have read it twice now.

A lot of people have been very critical of Mr Theroux's travel writing but I do not share their opinions for the most part. I am not a happy traveler so I like to hear about somebody else's experiences in places I will likely never visit. I don't require a thorough, properly researched and documented sociological study in these books... I just want to be entertained. Theroux does so in this book and quite a few of his others that I have read.

After reading this book I had a fuller appreciation that many of these pacific islands are considerably less like the paradises they have elsewhere been held out to be. Perhaps Theroux rather crankily overstates this, as some have suggested, but I recognize people will come away from a given place with different impressions than others. That is only to be expected and should in no way diminish one's enjoyment of a good read.

C John Thompson