by Tim Severin ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1998
Following in the footsteps of Alfred Wallace, the 19th-century naturalist who perhaps beat Darwin in formulating a theory of evolution, author/explorer Severin (The China Voyage, 1995, etc.) sails among the island groups of eastern Indonesia, assessing the differences a century and a half has made on the region's flora and fauna. The situation is decidedly mixed, although the narrative is consistently absorbing and quite exciting. Severin commissions the building of a prahu, the same craft Wallace sailed. The crew of the appropriately named Alfred Wallace, a motley yet efficient group, jam onto the cramped, fast, and sometimes unwieldy native boat for destinations described in Wallace's account, The Malay Archipelago. What they find is both encouraging and depressing. On several of the less developed islands, the forests and their exotic bird populations seem intact, and the islanders themselves live much the same way Wallace described, by fishing and tilling cassava fields. A few nature preserves set up by the Indonesian government are functioning well. However, these islands, once the richest on earth due to their treasure of cloves, nutmeg, and mace, now export their unreplenishable wealth of rare and exotic birds, especially the Bird of Paradise, one of the most interesting and colorful of all birds. The waters surrounding the trading ports are polluted, the coral gardens long destroyed. While this adds some gloom, most of the narrative is sprightly. Severin and crew battle squalls, pick their way through lethal coral reefs, visit vibrant marketplaces, and endure various ailments with unflagging bonhomie. Paralleling Severin's narrative is the tale of Wallace's sojourn among the islands; Wallace endured every conceivable ill which nature could dish out--and his notes, sent back to England, arrived suspiciously close to the time Darwin made public his treatise on evolution. As an expertly illustrated travelogue, nature book, sea tale, and biography, Severin's work qualifies as great entertainment.
Pub Date: May 1, 1998
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Carroll & Graf
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998
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