THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA by Paul Theroux

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Paddling the Pacific

KIRKUS REVIEW

 The peripatetic author of Riding the Iron Rooster, etc., etc., ventures with a collapsible kayak to the remote and scattered islands of the South Pacific. With a farewell to his marriage, and loneliness at his back, Theroux begins his extraordinary mission in New Zealand's Fiordland (``As long as there is wilderness there is hope''), moves on to Australia (a continent ``terrified by its own emptiness''), and then to Melanesia, Polynesia--Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, New Guinea's Trobriands, etc.--and, finally, Hawaii. He paddles the sea, he says, in the wake of myth-makers Melville, Stevenson, Gauguin, Maugham, and the Frenchman Captain Bougainville, who, in 1768, believed he'd found not only the Garden of Eden but Venus when a ``barebreasted Tahitian girl'' climbed into his ship from a canoe. To keen-eyed Theroux, the Polynesian islands are ``pleasant and feckless'' but far from paradise. Even Gauguin's Marquesas are ``dramatic at a distance'' but ``close up--muddy and jungly and priest-ridden.'' Traditional islands are ``riddled with magic, superstition, myths, dangers, rivalries and its old routines.'' Always interesting are Theroux's encounters with archaeologists who have disproved Thor Heyerdahl's popularizing theories about Polynesia. Sifting through human and animal bones, they study a still-mysterious people who carved some 800 stone statues on Easter Island and who boasted navigational skills that sent them migrating during what was Europe's Dark Ages. A sense of being beyond the reach of civilization comes when, in his intrepid kayak, off Easter Island and between the rock-battering surf and the Pacific, Theroux removes his headphones, ``hears the immense roar of waves and the screaming wind,'' and is terrified. A vast and contemplative book, seeing the ``Pacific as a universe, and the islands like stars in all that space.'' Informative not only for the voyager, but also for those wanting a new perspective on the Western continents of home. (Sorely lacking a map.)

Pub Date: June 8th, 1992
ISBN: 0-399-13726-2
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992




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