Crossing the red-clay terrain from Sierra Leone to the coast of Grand Bassa with a chain of porters, he came to know one of the few areas of Africa untouched by colonization. Western civilization had not yet impinged on either the human psyche or the social structure, and neither poverty, disease, nor hunger seemed able to quell the native spirit. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world.
Paddling the Pacific, by Paul Theroux. Dame Catherine Tizard has an odd way of eating. As Paul Theroux describes it, she scrapes food onto her fork, and then uses her thumb to nudge on more.
After chewing, the Governor General of New Zealand licks her thumb. She also picks her teeth to dislodge fragments of her meal while conversing with guests. Some of his disgusted reactions to people and places are, as he freely admits, purely subjective.
Others seem undeniable to anyone, as these words describing Port Moresby: Dusty and felling apart, it had been thoroughly vandalized before it could ever be finished, so it looked like an enormous building site, slums and flimsy bungalows scattered across a number of ugly hills.
Tormented by a mob of boys with fish spears, he is surprised by their cruelty: There was nothing idyllic about the lives of these islanders, whose existence is riddled with superstition and violence. But he frequently meets with kindness and extraordinary natural beauty, paddling near white beaches with slender palms against the backdrop of spectacular dormant volcanoes, Kiri singing Puccini through his earphones.
Solomon Islanders treat him well. They admired the movie character Rambo, who has become a folk-hero throughout Oceania as I discovered myself in New Guinea at about the same time.
As Theroux says, anyone inclined to condemn this as simple-minded savagery should remember that Ronald Reagan saw Rambo and claimed to be uplifted. In Vanuatu, Theroux finds villages where Christianity had been abandoned in the late s in favour of the John Frum cult.
If the Solomons and parts of Vanuatu were high-points because their traditional cultures were still somewhat intact, other isles fare less well.
The political disaster of Fiji is nicely described, with blame apportioned to all. He lectures Theroux on the origins of the Franco-Prussian War, explains the Chinese etymology of certain Japanese words, and denounces the French.
In contrast he admires New Zealand especially for its nuclear policy, and is positively enthusiastic in reporting a long conversation with David Lange in the Cook Islands.
Such summary judgments do not convey the richness and descriptive complexity of this book. Theroux is not an old Pacific hand, but his wide knowledge of other cultures and races gives his view of the region depth and penetration.
The Samoans had been good humoured and helpful. He sees a happy family having dinner in the Californian Fried Chicken restaurant on Papanui Road and breaks into tears.
He did not like Dame Cath, characterising her as bossy, shallow, and unimaginative. In contrast with the stupid, racist Australians he describes, and the dreadful, hypocritical French, this is high praise, however grudging.
In fact, New Zealanders seem rather well regarded by this grumpiest of travel writers. However, speaking as one of his victims, I have news on that score. I ran into Paul Theroux in Port Moresby in and spent a few hours with him in shops looking at carvings, which I was there researching at the time.
We chatted for over an hour, said our good-byes, and I thought no more of it. What an bracing little shock then to find myself in this book.
I have a different name and the place of our encounter has been changed, but Theroux has managed to record with uncanny accuracy what I told him. I imagine he holds conversations long enough in his memory to write them down as soon as he is alone. My page in The Happy Isles leaves me both astonished and mildly embarrassed.Enchanted Isle.
Betsy Wyeth's Magical Benner Island, Off the Coast of Maine. Text by. Paul Theroux. This brilliant vision of whiteness lies at the approach to Tenants Harbor. Betsy lived on.
Paul Theroux’s trademark unequivocal, unapologetic takes on writing, reading, and living. To our backs, the train tracks of the old White Pass Railway. Before us, mountains and blue sky. Beside us, the weathered and dapper Paul Theroux. The proof lies in vivid encounters retold in his travelogues.
Yesterday, we bumped into Paul in. The Peace Corps is a sort of Howard Johnson's on the main drag into maturity.
- Paul Theroux. Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves. - Paul Theroux.
There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish. Get this from a library! World's end and other stories. [Paul Theroux]. - Paul Theroux The Peace Corps is a sort of Howard Johnson's on the main drag into maturity. Please sign up for my Daily Inspiration - Daily Quote email using the form below.
Theroux would use this Peace Corps experience in a short story he has said is one of his favorites, “White Lies.” It was published in May, in Playboy and was included in a year retrospective of Playboy fiction.